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Book Review: Dangerous Visions edited by Harlan Ellison

Title: Dangerous Visions
Author: Harlan Ellison (ed.)
Publish Date: 2002
Personal Rating: 3.5/5

Dangerous Visions, edited by premier sci-fi author Harlan Ellison, is the 1967 anthology of some of the most interesting and strange science fiction ever published. Several of the short stories went on to win Hugo and/or Nebula awards, among other lesser prizes.

Collected at the cusp of the Vietnam War, the end of legally sanctioned segregation, and the growing attacks on the traditional values of Americans (by their children), Dangerous Visions sought to revolutionize the science fiction genre in much the same way. The 33 stories collected by Ellison reflect the radically changing social landscape of the 1960s. From celebrations of drug culture, to praises of the new psychological methods, Dangerous Visions attempted to challenge the pulp magazine sanitized writing that had come before.

I picked up at a library book sale the 35th anniversary edition of this much lauded book. Several of the stories were fascinating, some were trash or so esoteric as to be impossible to understand, and the forwards and afterwards of each story (a rare thing in these days of letting stories stand on their own) provided insight into the socially tumultuous generation that was my father�s.

All of the stories attempt to challenge social conventions. This, of course, meant challenging the ideals of sex in marriage only, abortion as sin, education in the classical sense, religion as presented by Christianity, and the origin of evil. Humanism and Atheism as the new religions seems to be prevalent among the authors, but then that is to be expected of science fiction authors.

The stories are valuable in and of themselves as an insight into the times, and also as enjoyable reads. While �Riders of the Purple Wage� by Philip Jose Farmer (Hugo award winner) made little sense to me, that later story of �Shall the Dust Praise Thee?� by Damon Knight was able to challenge my thinking.

The delving in to sexuality of �If all Men Were Brothers, Would you Let One Marry Your Sister?� by Theodore Sturgeon asked a valid question for the sexually promiscuous age. �Gonna Roll Them Bones� by Fritz Leiber (Hugo and Nebula award winner) was frightening and stretching in its writing style and content, very different from the traditional science fiction stories.

Essentially most of the stories were good. Some tried to be too creative in writing style, and the form made its intent difficult to understand (except for those readers under the influence of drugs) and uninteresting to this reader.

Others did write about their Dangerous Visions in understandable ways, making their points clearly, and these I think have the most enduring value. Nonetheless, Ellison collected a truly unparalleled anthology of science fiction. No matter what your science fiction taste, this book will stretch you, (and, in my case, occasionally cause headaches). Some of the stories were scary or full of dark premonition, a few hopeful, but most just made this reader sit up and ask himself �what if?�

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