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Literature / Dangerous Visions

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"What you hold in your hands is more than a book. If we are lucky, it is a revolution."
— From "Introduction: Thirty-Two Soothsayers" (1967), Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison doesn't think small. The fact that the above page-quote—the first paragraph of his original introduction to the book—is, if anything, an understatement, says a helluva lot.

In the 1960s, Harlan Ellison had the idea of putting together a science-fiction anthology. But not just any ordinary anthology—his mad scheme was to collect stories from the best writers in the field. And not just ANY stories—he wanted stories that were, well, too dangerous to get printed anywhere else.

To cite just one example, from Damon Knight's afterword to "Shall the Dust Praise Thee?":

"This story was written some years ago, and all I remember about it is that my then agent returned it with loathing, and told me I might possibly sell it to the Atheist Journal in Moscow, but nowhere else."

It also features introductions to each story by Harlan, who talks about the writer, and an afterword by the writer about the story. This gives the reader an immense feeling of the community surrounding science-fiction, and was part of why the anthology was so well-received.

Dangerous Visions (1967) won a truckload of awards, and Harlan got a special citation at the 26th World SF Convention for editing "the most significant and controversial SF book published in 1967". And it's gone on to be perhaps the most influential science-fiction anthology of all time.

It had a sequel anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions (1971), and there were and sometimes apparently are plans for The Last Dangerous Visions, but... well, Harlan didn't like to talk about it (though Christopher Priest (novelist) is happy to).

Tropes Associated with the Anthology Itself:

  • Divided for Publication:
    • The Berkley Medallion reprints of Dangerous Visions from 1969 are three paperback volumes. The same division was used by Sphere for British publication.
    • David Bruce And Watson reprinted Dangerous Visions for the British market, and divided it into two volumes.
    • The German translation of Dangerous Visions by Heyne are two paperback volumes (with the titles 15 Science Fiction-Stories and 15 Science Fiction-Stories II).
    • The Signet/New American Library paperback reprints divided Again, Dangerous Visions into two volumes. This division was reused by Pan Books for release in England.
  • Door Stopper:
    • Dangerous Visions: This book was originally released with 520 pages. It is frequently Divided for Publication in reprints, split into two-three volumes.
    • Again, Dangerous Visions: This book was originally released with 760 pages. It is usually reprinted in two volumes
    • The Last Dangerous Visions: If it had ever been released, it would've included over 100 stories of varying length. (Based on the June 1979 issue of Locus.)
  • New Wave Science Fiction: The collection helped crystalize the New Wave movement as an international thing, rather than a primarily British movement as it had been up till then.
  • Unconventional Formatting: In one of the introductions, Harlan Ellison complains about the author creating an unconventional layout for the story they submitted. That original manuscript was rejected, but Ellison did accept a different one. Entire pages of the first submission went something like:
    They tramped on through the day.
    They tramped on through the night.

Tropes found in the Stories in Dangerous Visions:

The tropes found in each story (as well as in the introductions and afterwords) are listed under the story in question.

  • "Flies" by Robert Silverberg.
    • Aliens Are Bastards: The "golden ones" are an inversion to Always Chaotic Evil aliens. They are benevolent enough (the narrator even refers to them as "humanitarian") to take the time and effort to heal Cassidy when basically all that was left of him was his brain. In return, all they ask is that Cassidy help them study humans and give him the ability to transmit the feelings of others. Once Cassidy completely abuses these powers by causing pain and suffering to others, they forcibly call him back and remove his powers.
    • A God Am I: Cassiday.
    • Fantastic Anthropologist: A human space traveler crash-lands on the planet of a race who are able to save him with their advanced medicine. In return, they enable him to transmit the feelings of others so that they can study humans, but tragedy ensues when this enables him to inflict grievous suffering without experiencing any effects of remorse.
    • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • Kick the Dog: Cassidy does this to each of his ex-wives in increasingly cruel ways. The first ex-wife is in rehab to kick an addiction to a very dangerous drug, so Cassidy goes out and buys her some (with the implication being that she'll soon overdose). The second ex-wife dearly loves her alien pet, so Cassidy wrings its neck and kills it. When he goes to his third ex-wife and discovers that she's finally pregnant after years of fertility treatments, he beats her until she miscarries (or, at least, the baby will be born severely handicapped).
  • Shout-Out: The title is a reference to a line from King Lear:
    As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods—
    they kill us for their sport.

  • "The Malley System" by Miriam Allen deFord

  • "A Toy for Juliette" by Robert Bloch
    • Anachronism Stew: Harlan, on the idea for the story, described how "the image of a creature of Whitechapel fog and filth, the dark figure of Leather Apron, skulking through a sterile and automated city of the future, was an anachronism that fascinated me."
  • Shout-Out: Grandfather named his "granddaughter" after the titular character of the Marquis de Sade's Juliette, due to their similar personalities and interests of rape, torture, and murder.

  • "The Man Who Went to the Moon — Twice" by Howard Rodman

  • "Faith Of Our Fathers" by Philip K. Dick
    • Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: The Eldritch Abomination in question turns out to be God, and the minor wound the hero received in the encounter ends up being fatal. However, it's seen as a vaguely optimistic outcome, as it's hinted that rebellion is impossible, so his minor act of defiance (in punching Cthulu in the face) is a victory for the human spirit. After he is "branded" as a result with a deadly sore, which slowly spreads over his body, he chooses to ignore it and spend his last night alive making love with his girlfriend as an act of humanity, denying Cthulhu a moral victory.
    • China Takes Over the World: The story is is a particularly bizarre and unsettling riff on
    • Dirty Communists: Dick speculated the Cold War might turn out with
    • Downer Ending:
    • A Form You Are Comfortable With: Subverted
    • Gainax Ending: "Faith of Our Fathers" might be Philip K. Dick's most confounding story. Is it a satire of Communist society? An exploration of the true meaning of religion? Or a role reversal on LSD culture? Who can tell? The great communist leader is actually God in human form, and you can only see his true form(s) (a series of grotesque monstrosities) when you take thorizen, the "antidote" to LSD.
    • God Is Evil:
    • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: The main character, a loyal member of a People's Republic of Tyranny, takes a drug that makes him perceive his country's dictator as an evil, inhuman being. Except it turns out this isn't a metaphor; the dictator really is an inhuman monster, and everyone in the world is drugged so that they hallucinate he's a human being. The main character was actually given an anti-hallucinogen, and so, for a brief time, was the only non-drug addled person on the planet and able to see the dictator for what he really is.
  • See-Thru Specs: An anti-hallucinogenic drug that neutralizes the hallucinogen in the water that makes everybody perceive the Party Leader as a human being. In actuality, it's not clear exactly what he is, but it's implied that he's some kind of godlike entity that feeds on humanity.

  • Paranormal Gambling Advantage: Slattermill has some kind of extraordinary ability to throw things in a perfect way, notably to get whatever dice roll he wants.

  • "Lord Randy, My Son" by Joe L Hensley
    Harlan's introduction to Joe L. Hensley is one giant rollicking ride of undistilled hilarity.
    • [[Spoiler:Antichrist]]: implied.
    • Came Back Wrong: one boy killed a goldfish. Amount of goldfishes in the pond didn't change, but one of them has different color and shape.
    • Creepy Child: his own father finds Randall unnerving.
    • Friend to All Living Things: Randall.
    • Enfant Terrible: Randall. Boys who threw rocks at him had fallen into the well. Through he doesn't seem to control it consciously.
    • Healing Hands: Randall attempts it on his father, who sufferes from cancer, but it doesn't help - or doesn't help fully, since Sam still needs painkillers.
    • Kids Are Cruel: they bully Randall, including hurting his animals - squirrel and goldfishes.

  • "Eutopia" by Poul Anderson
  • Hero's Muse: The protagonist is on the run and only keeps going due to his dreams of his lover Niki, who turns out to be a boy.

  • "Incident In Moderan" by David R Bunch

  • "The Escaping" by David R Bunch

  • "The Doll-House" by James Cross
    • Prophecies Are Always Right: The Oracle's predictions are never wrong. However, she's very sneaky with the wording; not only are the prophesies usually written in Latin or Ancient Greek (or some other dead language), they often contain cryptic references instead of actual answers. If she's not happy with you, she'll also mislead you while the prediction is still technically true.
    • Seers: "The Doll-House" involves a shrunken oracle (or sibyl) from ancient Greece.

  • "Sex and/or Mr. Morrison" by Carol Emshwiller

  • Noodle Incident: From Harlan's introduction:
    "[Jonathan Brand] was lying there propped on his elbows, a blade of grass in his mouth, watching half a dozen of the older, more sophisticated giants of the science fiction field dousing each other with beer from quart bottles on the lawn of Damon Knight's home.
    "Kindness forbids my explaining why Jim Blish, Ted Thomas, Damon and Gordy Dickson were cavorting in such an unseemly manner..."

  • Planet Looters: A group of aliens stole the native land of the Romani for the purposes of experimentation. They do the same to Los Angeles.

  • "Judas" by John Brunner
    • Crystal Dragon Jesus: "Judas" has Android Jesus.
    • Deus Est Machina: In "Judas", there's a Sympathy for the Devil moment when the man branded with the title-name gives the following monologue to A-46:
      "We've been slaves to our tools since the first caveman made the first knife to help him get his supper. After that there was no going back, and we built till our machines were ten million times more powerful than ourselves. We gave ourselves cars when we might have learned to run; we made airplanes when we might have grown wings; and then the inevitable. We made a machine our God."

  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: "Carcinoma Angels" features someone trying to do this in an attempt to use the higher understanding of his own body functions and mental state to cure cancer. It works, but now he can't find his way out into the physical world again.
  • Journey to the Center of the Mind: The protagonist goes on a journey into his own mind to attempt to cure his cancer. It works, but in a twist ending he can't find his way back out and spends the rest of his life in a coma.