The 1960s were a time of rather dramatic social change, and not surprisingly this touched literature as well as people. Forty-five years ago, Harlan Ellison came up with the idea to anthologize science fiction stories that could not be published elsewhere due to their controversial nature. Surprising though it may be to people not familiar with the genre: yes, it was then and still is a fact that some science fiction ideas are unwelcome. You would think that science fiction is the mode of writing about things not thought before…sort of. The problem with a genre that talks about the future (in the main) is that it will inevitably produce ideas for which our current society is not yet ready, and unfortunately it’s the editors of today that are buying the stuff, not the editors from when the story is set. Well, Harlan Ellison managed two of three volumes. The resulting collections were Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions.
The problem with reviewing a collection of short stories by different authors is that, well, they’re different authors with different styles; I can’t possibly do all justice in the length of a reasonable online review. Given the landmark status of these books, in any case they’ve reviewed multiple times and far better than I ever could. All I’ll say is that I’m impressed with the range of authors that Ellison did gather together. Some authors were well established at the time (e.g. Frederik Pohl, Lester del Rey, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Lieber) while others, such as Samuel Delaney and Larry Niven, were only beginning their careers. All in all, Big Name Authors or those I’ve not heard of now, both existing collections are worth reading. Still.
(My tastes have changed since I first read the anthologies; while I still like Leiber’s “Gonna Roll the Bones” and Niven’s “Jigsaw Man”, I’ve come to appreciate Joanna Russ’ “When It Changed” and Gahan Wilson’s [inkblot]. To this day, however, I’ve not figured out how to cite that last one properly, especially not from an HTML based online blog post.)
Forty years on, the stories in Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions, may not be quite so ‘dangerous’ as they were when the books were first published. I hesitate to say “dated” about such a collection, but fact has overtaken fiction in several instances–the Russians did beat us into space, though not to the moon, for one thing, and children have sued their parents for poor upbringing. Certainly, science fiction has in many instances caught up with and even surpassed many of the stories in the two “Visions” collections. As with all anthologies, readers will prefer some stories over others, but the stories themselves are still worth reading. I only wish I knew what the stories in the as yet unpublished (and never will be!) third volume were, so that I could try to track them down elsewhere. Sigh.
As for what to read next? Not hard. Just run the authors’ names through any library catalog or along any bookstore’s shelves. You’ll find plenty to read.