Something clicked in my head when I turned thirty; I started devouring older science fiction stories. I was an avid reader during my teens, but I read very little during my twenties for whatever reason. I think I suddenly realized how many valuable novels and stories and how much interesting history and perspective I missed out on throughout my twenties. Catching up for lost time became a real priority in my thirties.
The Golden Age science fiction stories of the thirties, forties and fifties were a little less focused on stylistic prose or quality writing, and a little too culturally and scientifically removed from my era to interest me. Instead of beginning there, I jumped forward to the New Wave era that hit in the mid sixties. Story-wise, New Wave was much more inwardly focused, and valued style and prose as much as the Golden Age valued grand ideas and outward exploration. This was the beginning of what a lot of folks today call “Literary Science Fiction” or “Speculative Fiction”. It was a concerted effort spearheaded by Harlan Ellison® (yes, his name actually has a ® in it) to bring Sci-Fi out of the pulps and show the world the literary value of speculation in fiction.
Dangerous Visions is the defining Speculative Fiction anthology of the New Wave era. Released in 1967, this anthology announced New Wave SF to the world. It contains 35 stories, each never before published. When assembling the anthology, Ellison had each author write a story that they thought explored a dangerous vision or concept. There are some excellent stories here, a few decent ones, and some real stinkers that are terribly trite and not at all dangerous or visionary. Then again, it’s hard to read these within the context of the time in which they were written. Free love, the civil rights movement, women’s lib, etc. Considering all of this, I was surprised by how misogynistic and backward some of these stories were. There has been a lot of progress since the sixties.
Harlan Ellison® writes an introduction to every story, and the author has a brief afterword. The introductions quickly became my least favorite part of the book, as Ellison gushes and extols endlessly about each author. It became a little tedious, like an advertisement by a stakeholder for their project right before experiencing the project itself. I eventually began skipping the introductions, only coming back to read them if I wanted more background about an author or story. I would much rather let each work speak for itself than hear the editor of the anthology tell me why it is valuable.
Some of these stories may have been dangerous visions in the late sixties. Now? Mostly not so much. I still immensely enjoyed the anthology, and there is a huge wealth of knowledge and historical perspective to be gained from reading it. I rated each story individually, with the average rating for the whole collection being 3 out of 5, rounded up.
Evensong, Lester del Rey: 4/5
A desperate God on the run from Man’s vengeance. The idea of man slowly becoming more and more powerful, until God must fear Man. Very nice prose.
Flies, Robert Silverberg: 1/5
Robert Silverberg completely botches the definition of empathy in the most pseudo-intellectual manner imaginable. I get what he was trying to say, but he failed miserably.
The Day After the Day After the Martians Came, Fredrick Pohl: 3/5
Probably really great in ’67, but it relied very heavily on cultural jokes that everyone at the time would’ve been familiar with; I’ve never heard any of them. Still a cool little story.
Riders of the Purple Wage, Philip Jose Farmer: 1/5
Nearly incoherent misogynistic rambling about a future where everyone is mentally deficient. He almost had an idea, but gets distracted by how women are fat liars and just want to have abortions all of the time. This is Ellison’s favorite story in the collection, which is uh… okay dude.
The Malley System, Miriam Allen deFord: 2/5
A future in which violent crimes are punished in unique ways. It didn’t really resonate with me.
A Toy for Juliette, Robert Bloch: 5/5
Terrific. Sadistic and disturbing, but written very well and with a nice cyclical tone.
The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World, Harlan Ellison: 2/5
A sequel to the previous story. Started out strong, but devolved rather rapidly. I find myself disliking Ellison more and more as I go on.
The Night That All Time Broke Out, Brian W. Aldiss: 3/5
Cool premise, uneven execution.
The Man who Went to the Moon Twice, Howard Rodman: 4/5
Not speculative fiction at all, but I really liked it.
Faith of our Fathers, Philip K. Dick: 3/5
This one had a lot going for it; a little let down by the ending.
The Jigsaw Man, Larry Niven: 3/5
Tackles the problem of organ shortages in a world were immortality is in reach…for some.
Gonna Roll The Bones, Fritz Leiber: 4/5
I nearly didn’t read this one after suffering through its terribly heavy handed first sentence. I’m glad I did. Like most old science fiction, it was too misogynistic for my liking, but the storytelling and prose eventually won me over.
Lord Randy, My Son, Joe L. Hensley: 5/5
My favorite so far. Great characters, and a captivating, sad story.
Eutopia, Poul Anderson: 4/5
Inter dimensional anthropology. I liked this one, although the language was a bit too ‘fantasy’ for my personal tastes.
Incident in Moderan, David R. Bunch: 5/5
Happy warmonger robots. Awesome.
The Escaping, David R. Bunch: 0/5
Terrible. Total gibberish.
The Doll-House, James Cross: 3/5
Like a twilight zone episode. One of those cautionary tales.
Sex and/or Mr Morrison, Carol Emshwiller: 3/5
I like her writing style. I didn’t quite get the story but the prose was beautiful.
Shall The Dust Praise Thee?, Damon Knight: 3/5
God’s vengeance may have been a little bit more than he bargained for. It seems that man could only take so much torment. This could’ve been executed a lot better, but I liked the concept.
If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?, Theodore Sturgeon: 5/5
So far, the only story that I would actually consider a ‘Dangerous Vision’. It’s disturbing, and pokes at deeply held moral and cultural constructs. It also really weirded me out. Disturbing.
What Happens To Auguste Clarot?, Larry Eisenberg: 1/5
Ersatz, Henry Slesar: 2/5
Slightly less meh.
Go, Go, Go, Said The Bird, Sonya Dorman: 2/5
Post apocalyptic cannibals.
The Happy Breed, John T. Sladek: 4/5
People slowly turning their happiness over to machines. A really solid little cautionary tale, born of a fear of technology. It’s even more interesting thinking about how much more we depend on technology these days.
Encounter With a Hick, Jonathan Brand: 3/5
A fun little biblical/evolution bar conversation recounted to an authority.
From the Government Printing Office, Kris Neville: 1/5
Told from the POV of a 3.5 year old in the future. Boring.
Land of the Great Horses, R. A. Lafferty: 4/5
Cool little story about the origin of Gypsies.
The Recognition, J.G. Ballard: 3/5
Terrific writing, not speculative fiction at all. Not particularly dangerous either—maybe in the 60s—in the 2010s it’s a bit trite.
Judas, John Brunner: 5/5
Okay, I have to read more John Brunner. This story was incredible and exactly the type of thing I was looking for in this book. Solid solid solid.
Test to Destruction, Keith Laumer: 4/5
Political usurping, tyrany, sentient hive mind aliens, testing people’s limits and morality.
Carcinoma Angels, Norman Spinrad: 3/5
An overachiever sets his sights on cancer; takes it one step too far. This one is kind of quirky/fun.
AUTO-DA-FÉ, Roger Zelazny: 3/5
Man vs machine, told in a matador vs bull analogy. I liked it. It felt like a fairytale or half remembered dream of a mechanic.
Aye, and Gomorrah…, Samuel R. Delany: 1/5
A story about attraction between earth bound people, and neutered space dwelling people. Interesting concept, bad execution. It didn’t flow well, and was hard to follow.