Harlan Ellison: Deathbird Stories

This collection groups nineteen of Ellison's stories dealing with subjects such as gods spirits and suchlike. In former times, people created numerous gods and spirits for just about every aspect of their lives. Gods for thunder the moon and the sea. Spirits and Ghosts living in caves, rivers etc. What if we still felt the need to invent and invoke such gods and spirits today? What would they be like? A god for machines? A spirit in a slot machine? A demon ruling over violent crime? These are the subjects that Ellison deals with in this collection of stories.

The book straddles the boundaries between science fiction, fantasy and horror and as such it will not satisfy SF purists but it does contain a number of very powerful stories. The opening tale, "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" is a shocking and worrying take on the cruelty of city violence. It is followed by "Along the Scenic Route" in which modern day knights in armour fight their jousts to the death on the public highway. Those two, along with "Ernest and the MachineGod", "Basilisk" and "Deathbird" are my favourites but they are not the only stories to leap off the page and grab hold of your imagination. There are some weaker tales here too but they are outnumbered by the good ones.

I'd not recommend this as an introduction to Ellison. The anthology "The Essential Ellison" fills that role perfectly but, if you read and enjoyed that, you will like this book. If you like this book, I'd recommend Ellen Datlow's themed anthology "Alien Sex" though not her rather weak follow up.

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My rating

Eight out of ten. Many Powerful stories here.

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Detailed Contents

The Whimper of Whipped Dogs
A woman witnesses a brutal attack from her apartment window. Then she discovers that in the city, there are dark forces about and you are either with them, of you are a victim. Powerful, memorable. 9/10

Along the Scenic Route
Road rage becomes an officially allowed sport as long as both parties agree to the duel. A man takes on a young punk and realises that he has bitten off more than he can chew. Can he survive? Another great tale. 8/10

On the Downhill Side
Two ghosts and a unicorn in the New Orleans night. Oh well, everyone has an off day. 4/10

Oh Ye of Little Faith
A man who believes in nothing suddenly finds out what happens if nothing believes in him. 5/10

A man, injured dreadfully is repaired with assorted bits of gadgetry and then e finds that some unknown being is using this to communicate with him. 6/10

A returning war veteran is cursed with terrible powers but also he is cursed by his nations rejection of him as a traitor. 9/10

Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes
There is a ghost in the machine. The machine is a one armed bandit and the ghost is a gambler trapped by greed and obsession. This ghost wants to get free and must trap another in turn. 7/10

Cars, becoming sentient with some sort of mass mind, invent their own god. 6/10

Shattered Like a Glass Goblin
A group of young people living in a drug filled commune are taken over by forces perhaps of evil darkness or perhaps from within their own minds. 7/10

Delusion for a Dragonslayer
A man is killed and goes to heaven but, while heaven is everything of his dreams it also offers him the greatest of challenges. 5/10

The Face of Helene Bournouw
Helene Bournouw is the worlds most beautiful woman and her passion the most intense. She uses these to manipulate, guide and control. But who is pulling her strings? 7/10

Bleeding Stones
A fantasy in which years of exposure to pollutants causes gargoyles to come to life. 6/10

At the Mouse Circus
Some drivel about the King of Tibet and a Caddilac. Another off day. 2/10

The Place With no Name
Asmall time crook gets in big trouble and escapes to a mysterious place where he meets Prometheus. 5/10

A being is given the job of Paingod, his task, to dispense pain to the whole universe. One day, he finds out why this is necessary. 7/10

Ernest and the Machine God
A woman, with a special power, flees through the night and, after an accident takes her car for repair and she meets a man who can fix her car because he has his own special power. A great tale spoiled only by the authors inept reference to using a corkscrew to open a bottle of Champagne. 9/10

The Rockgod inspires his worshippers to build Stonehenge but the even greater stone constructions in modern cities become his new temples. 7/10

Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38 54'N Longitude 77 00'13"W
A modern version of the old horror movie in which Lawrence Talbot, seeking release from his werewolf curse, tracks down Dr Frankenstein. This story, set in the twentieth century, sees a descendent of the doctor working at a high energy physics lab in Eastern Europe. 7/10

The Deathbird
A story concerning the end of the world and featuring a man, a mad creature, and a strange alien being. Respectively, Adam, God and the serpent. This is not an easy read but it is a remarkable story and it is the highlight of the book. 10/10