This Won’t Be the Last Post About The Last Dangerous Visions Anthology

J. Michel Straczynski has recently made a significant announcement on his Patreon page regardng the status of his work on The Last Dangerous Visions anthology.

However, you’ll have to sign up on his Patreon page to be able to view it, and I’ll not step on his fundraising toes, especially considering that Patreon dollars have assisted in funding that project.

I can, however, say this:

So much time has gone by since the publication of Again, Dangerous Visions, the sequel to Harlan Ellision’s ground-breaking, genre-shattering 1960s anthology Dangerous Visions that I fear that a large portion of the existing audience for such things either no longer remembers much about it or, perhaps worse, has absolutely no clue regarding this Dangerous Visions thing at all.

Fortunately, that lack can be easily rectified by taking a deep breath, finding a comfortable seat, putting mouse in hand and reading this post.

First, a little background.

Harlan Ellison is one of the genre’s most awarded and storied (controversial) authors, especially if you put a mid-90s cut-off on what the genre is.

That does not mean his works are dated.  It does mean that most of what he is known for –

took place well before it was “your time” for most of you
was in a format that is no longer the central focus of the genre (primarily short stories)
has suffered owing to his not hardly writing any novel length works and, increasingly supplanting that, did not write any series (well, one, but it was stretched out over decades and in different media)
is generally considered to have been a contentious, cantankerous, brash, confrontational and angry person – or – the best friend anyone could ever have, YMMV, especially if you have had personal interactions with him

All of these things have mitigated against a wide popularity within the fan community from approximastely the late 80s, early 90s on, though Harlan once enjoyed very wide popularity;  he was the Guest of Honor at Iguanacon the 78th Worldcon, where he famously stayed in a Winnebago parked next to the hotel in order not to spend a dime in Arizona, because that state failed to ratify the equal rights amendment.  (I was tasked with bringing the morning coffee to the hotel room reserved by the convention for him, where he took a few showers.)

He tried to work with Hollywood, scripting numerous television shows and films, though his experiences while trying to champion writers and the craft of writing, often ran afoul of “suits”, and/or idiocy, and or idiotic suits….You should have gotten the picture at this point.

He wrote an episode of the original Star Trek series that is considered to be a top, if not the top episode of that show – The City on the Edge of Forever.  (He was not happy with the final presentation and years later engaged in contretemps with NBC, as well as publishing the original script for general distribution.)

He wrote several episodes for The Outer Limits, two of which were combined and became The Terminator film.  It took threats of a lawsuit to get the director and studio to ackcnowledge his contribution to that franchise (with a fair amount of the battle taking place in fannish publications).

He wrote a short story that became a film that he was generally pleased with – A Boy and HIs Dog.

He’s written at least two stories that are considered to be particularly fine examples of the written short form, titles that are invoked so frequently that they have become memes:  Repent Harlequin, said the Ticktock Man and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (the latter also made into a PC game.)

And he conceived of Dangerous Visions, an anthology that would be devoted to instantiating and exemplifyinig the American version of the New Wave literary movement.

New Wave.  Like many things in this genre, the minority viewpoint has come to prevail over time.

The New Wave actually had two different origins;  one with Harlan and a coterie of like-minded US authors, and one by Michael Moorcock, the English author (Jerry Cornelius, Behold the Man) and editor of New Worlds magazine, the premiere British SF publication of its day.

While Moorecock’s revolution was primarily focused on bringing various literary sensibilities and techniques into the genre, Ellison’s New Wave was focused on allowing previously taboo subjects to become the focus and or themes of Science Fiction.

Both currently infuse the genre now, and have been since at least 2010 (when the complaints about “message fiction”, inclusion (and Campbell’s dethroning) largely began to filter through the readership.

Of course, Ellison was a champion of the written word, so a requirement for stories that were at least decently written, was a built-in requirement of his version of the New Wave, just as addressing taboo subjects (though in a slightly more restricted environment) was built in to what Moorcock was looking for.

Both, however, were largely rejected by the science fiction mainstream of the time (mid to late 60s), which largely focused on establishment themes and  accepted pulp-level writing;  the focus on much of the era’s mainstream science fiction (I can’t believe I’ve actually written the  phrase “mainstream science fiction”) was the Big Dumb Object or scientific-gadget story.  Novels like Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama (a gigangic, imperturbable alien spaceship enters the solar system and a mission is contrived to examine it) or even Gibson’s Neuromancer (arguably the first cyberpunk novel where people go INSIDE the big dumb object), were the norm;  novels like Disch’s Camp Concentration, where political prisoner characters are sentenced to increased intelligence through the introduction of a lethal virus, or Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, which took traditional SF and turned it on its head while using all of its tropes, affectations and methods the outliers.

Lester Del Rey, a leading editor at the time characterized the reception of this movement by referring to one of its greatest contributions, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey as having “…the usual empty symbolism…”, while Asimov, another golden age author and influencer said about it that he “…want(ed) science fiction. I think science fiction isn’t really science fiction if it lacks science. And I think the better and truer the science, the better and truer the science fiction”.

There was a lot of side discussion and argumentation about what constituted a “science” as well at the time, with most of the old guard confining the appropriate subjects for Science  Fiction to the so-called “hard” sciences – physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, geology, etc., and attempting to suggest that the New Wave primarily dealt with the “soft” (or, as they were hinting, the non) sciences – psychology, sociology, political science, etc), with the criticism largely centering on the fact that the hard sciences had demonstrabale limits on their speculations, while the soft sciences did not and were, essentially, fantasy.

And so we arrive at 1967 and the release of Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthology, an anthology that broke molds and boundaries and that sought to publish stories that could not be published elsewhere, or which would or had been censored.

Because it was so shockingly new, gathering together numerous well-known and respected names in the field, as well as excellent stories by new names, the anthology quickly became the focus of much literary discussion within the field.

Success was heady and Ellison was given the go-ahead to produce a second volume that contained a third more stories and sought to gather contributions from authors who should have been included in the  first volume but were not for one reason or another.

The biggest ambition was the sequel to that volume – The Last Dangerous Visions – which, as you ought to know by now was never published during Ellison’s lifetime.

All manner of explanations have been offered, both by Ellison and by others, as to the reason(s) for that volume’s non-appearance.  That, however, is shortly to change as J Michael Straczynski, producer/writer of Babylon 5, much else and a long-time friend of Ellison’s who was selected to oversee the estate, recently announced on his Patreon page that The Last Dangerous Visions (JMS’s version anyway) has been finished and is now looking for a publisher.

So if you’ve been wondering what the big deal about this LDV thing is and has been, there’s at least some backgrounding for you.  We’re looking forward to its release, we’re looking forward to reading what the contributors (both included and not) have to say and waiting to see what the readership thinks of this effort.  Regardess, it’s publication will close out one of the oddest and longest-running anthology series in the field.

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