Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mefisto In Onyx By Harlan Ellison Goes On

Mefisto In OnyxBefore some people ever read the first sentence of the first paragraph of Mefisto In Onyx by Harlan Ellison, they were taken in by something else. The compelling third paragraph in the Acknowledgements that provides an unadulterated glimpse at the reputation that made Ellison one of the most brilliant and equally abrasive speculative fiction writers in history.

And finally, perversely, I owe heartfelt thanks for their rudeness, ineptitude, short-sightedness, cowardice, ignorant arrogance, and boneheaded behavior to Melissa Singer and Tom Doherty of Tor Books, and to James Frenkel. Had it not been for these three, this story would have appeared in one of their forgettable anthologies, and vanished forever. And I'd be out $300,000. Thanks, y'all. — Harlan Ellison.

It makes for a great lesson. The way you think it has to be isn't the way it has to be. Sometimes taking the road less taken by authors like Ellison is the right road. He managed to preserve his psychological thriller intact even if not many people will ever read it this way. It won the Bram Stoker Award in 1993 and the Locus Pool Award in 1994 for best Novella.

The original award-winning hardbound novella with cover art by Frank Miller is rare. There were 1,000 hard copies with slip covers and 40 leather-bound editions, signed by both Ellison and Miller.

While the story also appeared in Omni, 1993, the published version is 500 words longer and with, according to Ellison, more editing. Recently, it did appear in The Best American Noir of the Century, but there is no movie.

A Few Thoughts On The Masterwork Mefisto in Onyx.

Frank Miller ArtThe story is about Rudy Pairis, an educated and telepathic African-American who is drawn in by his longtime friend deputy district attorney Allison Roche. He had a one-night stand with her once, something that had since left an impression on his heart.

Roche, who knows about his ability but has never tried to abuse him for it, has an unusual request for Pairis. She wants him to take a jaunt inside the mind of a serial killer. The request is especially unusual because Roche, who helped prosecute him, has suddenly and inexplicably fallen in love with the killer.

The novella doesn't smack much of science fiction, parapsychology, or the supernatural. Ellison seems much more concerned about the psychology of relationships, especially the consequence of being able to see inside people's minds, with all their muddy infidelities, doubts, fears, and hates.

Pairis even recounts how he was turned away from the motel desk not because they were full as the clerk said, but because of the color of his skin. Enough episodes like those, he concludes, and anyone would resist seeing inside another human being unless their feet were held to the fire.

For someone else, however, there might be different urges. For if you can take a jaunt in someone's mind, there might also be a very good chance you can creep inside and rearrange things. You might even be able to do something else, perhaps prolong your most hideous desires by refusing to leave once safely tucked away inside along with all the ambition of Gilles de Rais. What then?

A Scratch Across The Surface Of Harlan Ellison.

Harlan EllisonEllison has written more than 1,000 short stories, novellas, and screenplays along with essays, columns, and criticisms. The full weight of his work has lead to more awards for imaginative literature than any other living author. He also has distinction as being among the most controversial. Among my favorite descriptors of him is that he is a burr in the side of complacency.

Burr indeed. His personality is distinctive enough that it has been permanently embedded in several books. And while sometimes criticized for it, he has drawn a line in the sand against copyright infringement and unauthorized distributions of his work. Any short-term pains experienced by some do not withstand the long=term gains for authors.

Mefisto In Onyx Locks A 9.3 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Mefisto In Onyx is very likely the author's finest novella. It is frequently classified as noir in that it is a blend of true crime and dark prose approaching horror. However, in the case of Mefisto In Onyx, Ellison blends and bends several genres until it ultimately fits in all of them and none of them at the same time.

While sometimes challenging, you can look for Mefisto In Onyx in Slippage: Previously Uncollected, Precariously Poised Stories or the aforementioned The Best American Noir of the Century on Amazon. The signed and numbered slipcase editions and leather=bound editions are exceedingly rare, recently valued at $300 (without dustcover) and $1,800 respectively.
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