Fans of Harlan Ellison will be thrilled by this recent publication by Kicks Books. This collection of stories from the Fifties show the early Harlan Ellison, all energy and froth. As Ellison says in his Introduction: “No point in apologizing for these original 11 stories. I did ‘em for the buck. I was married at the time and needed the money and did what everybody does. I pulled the plow.
The stories are simplistic not the greatest literature ever proffered but I got a thousand dollars for the tome. That was big money in the Fifties. It was my third book published, in a lifetime of more than a hundred such. But the only one not under my name.”
If you’re a Harlan Ellison fan, this is a must-buy. But even casual readers will find plenty to enjoy in this collection. GRADE: B+

20 thoughts on “FORGOTTEN BOOKS #178: PULLING A TRAIN By Harlan Ellison

  1. Todd Mason

    And, frankly, he was doing as good as work as he’s done in crime fiction not long after, with SPIDER KISS and some of the short fiction. His best work in fantasticated fiction came later, in the ’60s, ’70s (I’d still pick “The Deathbird” as his best single work), and ’80s, and work matching his best on occasion since.

    1. george Post author

      Harlan Ellison gets criticized for not writing a great novel, Todd. But it’s obvious Ellison is a master short-story writer. You’re right about Ellison’s crime fiction being first-rate. His non-fiction is excellent, too.

  2. Todd Mason

    SPIDER KISS and that short fiction I mention (“All the Sounds of Fear” isn’t the best of those early stories, but might be the most famous), in case I was unclear, was by me excellent.

    1. george Post author

      Excellent, indeed, Todd! I hope Ellison fans buy PULLING A TRAIN to see a wider range of Ellison’s story-telling than they’re used to.

  3. Stan Burns

    I remember back in the day Harlan had a column in the underground Free Press, and I still remember his touching tribute to his dog when he died. I dare anyone who has owned a dog to read it and not cry . . .

  4. Todd Mason

    Stan Burns…if you haven’t, you might want to read “The Deathbird,” that novelet of apparatus I cited as my favorite of his works, in which Ellison incorporates a short essay about his life with Abhu the dog, and having to put the dog down. That might not be the only piece of that story to get under your skin, to say the least.

    While the balance of the short story can’t quite live up to the opening, the first passage of Ellison’s “Strange Wine” (first published in the AMAZING SF 50th anniversary issue, and the title story of one of his best collections, among many good collections) is also among the most devastatingly effective bits of writing he’s done.

    1. george Post author

      You’re right about STRANGE WINE being one of Ellison’s best collections, Todd. I have a fondness for the first Harlan Ellison book I ever bought and read: ELLISON WONDERLAND. Here’s the Table of Contents:

      Introduction: The Man on the Mushroom
      Commuter’s Problem
      The Silver Corridor
      All the Sounds of Fear
      The Sky is Burning
      The Very Last Day of a Good Woman
      Deal from the Bottom
      The Wind Beyond the Mountains
      Back to the Drawing Boards
      Nothing for My Noon Meal
      Rain, Rain, Go Away
      In Lonely Lands

  5. Drongo

    George, I’m amused by the PULLING A TRAIN title. As mentioned though, the cover art is rather bad.

    He wrote a lot good fiction and non-fiction over a long period of time. He’s more famous for his fantasy and sf stories, but I’ve always thought his best work were the crime pieces of the late 50’s and early 60’s. GENTLEMAN JUNKIE seems to me to be his finest book. Among his other collections, I’m very fond of SHATTERDAY.

    Ellison seems to have a reputation for being equal parts asshole and genius. As a teenager I met him briefly, and he was quite nice to me. I find it a shame that he sort of faded away. Very few writers have given me as much reading pleasure.

    1. george Post author

      I was in an elevator with Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov at the World SF Convention in Toronto’s Royal York hotel in the Seventies, Drongo. With that high wattage celebrity power just a few feet away, I was rendered speechless. I’ve always admired Harlan Ellison, both as a writer and as a person. We all have our asshole moments. When you’re a Big Name, those moments get blown out of proportion. Like you, I’ve been entertained and delighted by Harlan Ellison’s works for decades.

  6. Randy Johnson

    I need to get this one. I’ve heard tales of Ellison over the years and wondered about them. I did a minor post on him and the documentary about him and received a nice thank you from him. Never expected that. Who am I?

  7. Todd Mason

    Though, Randy, you really should read SPIDER KISS or MEMOS FROM PURGATORY or NO DOORS, NO WINDOWS before this one, to get a sense of what Ellison’s cf is about. And then this one. Or so I suspect.

    Or read PARTNERS IN WONDER, which has a solid chunk of cf, among the various collaborations (it’s a book full of collaborations, except for the stories by Robert Bloch and Ellison, which are [the Bloch] a commissioned sequel to “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” and [the Ellison] a sequel to the new Bloch story). ELLISON WONDERLAND or DEATHBIRD STORIES or STRANGE WINE or SHATTERDAY or STALKING THE NIGHTMARE might just do, too. ANGRY CANDY. Reading this book to get a range of Ellison would be a bit like reading the similar collection of Lawrence Bloch’s pseudonymous erotica and such, ONE NIGHT STANDS, the ones he segregated out of his omnibus of short fiction, to get a range of Block.

  8. Todd Mason

    If I’m not mistaken, George, the LA FREE PRESS version of the Abhu essay is collected in AN EDGE IN MY VOICE, which was the title of the FREEP column which moved briefly to the STARLOG sibling magazine FUTURE LIFE.

    And here’s the Contento index of SEX GANG:

    Sex Gang Paul Merchant (Nightstand NB 1503, 1959, 50¢, 191pp, pb)

    5 · Sex Gang · na
    68 · The Girl with the Horizontal Mind [“The Gal with the Horizontal Mind”, as by Price Curtis] · ss Mermaid v1 #6 ’58
    77 · Wanted: Two Trollops · ss
    87 · The Ugly Virgin [“God Bless the Ugly Virgin”] · ss Dude Mar ’57
    103 · Sin Time [“The Silence of Infidelity”] · ss Caper May ’57
    112 · The Pied Piper of Sex [“The Pied Piper of Love”] · ss Knave Mar ’59
    122 · Bayou Sex Cat [“A Blue Note for Bayou Betty”, as by Derry Tiger] · ss Mermaid v1 #6 ’58
    132 · The Lady Had Zilch · ss
    147 · Girl with the Bedroom Eyes [“Jeanie with the Bedroom Eyes”] · ss Rogue Dec ’56
    163 · The Lustful One [“The Hungry One”] · ss Gent Feb ’57
    176 · Bohemia for Christie [“The Bohemia of Arthur Archer”] · ss Dude Jan ’57

  9. Sergio (Tipping My Fedora)

    Thanks George, great to hear it’s oput. I love Ellison and his works and I’ll snap this one up though I do have a copy of the original. HE is probably one of my few true living heroes in the literary firmament – there is something incredibly compelling about his honesty, or anyway his need to fess up, as much for his successes as his apologies for his failures and miedeeds. The ESSENTIAL ELLISON anthology (either edition) is massive but does include most of his finest work – and his essays can be really wonderful. A truly unique writer who has really made a diffrence.

    1. george Post author

      You’re welcome, Sergio. I need to go back and reread more Ellison. I agree with you, THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON, leaves a lot of great writing out.


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