Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Deathbird Stories Paperback – May 25, 2009
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
The collection combines some of the finest fantasy of the 20th century mixed with a loose thread to tie the work together. The collection begins with the Caveat Lector: a warning to the readers to not attempt to read the book in one sitting. For most of the stories, this advice is unnecessary. The utility will vary from reader to reader based upon how each story impacts him/her. For me, it was certainly good advice after the story "Paingod." The collection begins with "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," a story for the uninitiated that will provide a baptism by fire. It is not for the sensitive persons of the world who cry foul upon reading a four letter word. It is at times extremely graphic (depicting the savage slaughter of a person and depicting a forceful sexual encounter). However, it is the final story to which the Caveat Lector is most applicable. "The Deathbird" is a peculiar story in so much as it is written in a format that is intended to resemble a school exam. There are two portions of the story that can bring the most stoic of readers to their knees. One portion is a section that reads as a short story penned the day after the author put his pal Abu–a pet dog–to sleep. The line "don't leave me with strangers" first arises in the portion dedicated to Abu and then is echoed with tremendous effect later on.
In short, I gave this book five stars and quite enjoy the writing of Harlan Ellison. I recommend that you give this book a chance. If you are not sure whether you will like Ellison, pickup the book and jump to "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" and "Along the Scenic Route." If neither of these stories works for you, then set the book back down and walk away: Harlan Ellison is not for you. If either of these stories works for you, read on.
This volume is often cited as an exemplary example of a theme-based anthology. The individual stories vary in tone and subject matter, but they all serve the primary theme in some way. Several of the stories are repeats from earlier Ellison collections.
Personally, I found this collection to be hit or miss--with more misses than hits. The experimental and stylistic excesses of the New Wave movement in the 1970's have not aged well. Plus, there are too many stories written for shock value, examples of outrage only for the sake of being outrageous.
Here are the individual story reviews, in order from most- to least-liked:
“The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”—Thirty-seven people in an apartment building watch a women get stabbed to death and do nothing to stop it. Based on a real-life incident, this haunting and poetic story won an Edgar Award and is one of the best of Ellison’s career.
"The Deathbird"--Ellison rewrites the third chapter of Genesis--and in fact all of human history--from the point of view the Snake was a member of an alien race trying to protect Earth, and God is a insane alien who views the human race as His playthings. The main narrative combines elements of fantasy, Jewish mythology, and religion. There are also compelling digressions, a flashback to the death of the main character's mother and also the death of the narrator's beloved dog. This is an experiment in surrealism, but unlike some other stories in this volume, it remains lucid and compelling all the way through. Won a 1974 Hugo Award.
“Along the Scenic Route”—Drivers are legally allowed to duel to the death on America’s highways. Think Death Race 2000.
"Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" -- Oddly enough, when I first read it several years ago, I did not like this story about gambling and lost love. Upon rereading it here, I thought it was masterful, especially the last sentence: Some of these old games go way back.
"Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans: Latitude 38O 54' N, Longitude 77O 00' 13" W" -- Here is more magical realism, a genre mashup novelette with time travelers and a Fantastic Voyage odyssey through the body of a werewolf. It was engaging, if unexpected. I learned after I finished, some of the characters were actually borrowed from the writings of Theodore Sturgeon as well as the original film versions of The Wolf Man and Frankenstein. Won a Hugo Award in 1975.
"Shattered Like a Glass Goblin"--This dated story of hippies living in a commune might be labeled magical realism, or maybe it's just Ellison writing from a point of view character inside a drug trip. This is another story I enjoyed re-reading even though I did not like it originally.
"Neon" -- A man is given mechanical implants after an accident leaves him near death. Otherworldly beings call to him via electronic messages and neon billboards. A comedic take on the idea of angels.
"Ernest and the Machine God"--A woman with a near-supernatural power to manipulate men requests help from a young, awkward car mechanic who just happens to be a prophet of the Machine God. An entertaining, unpretentious story.
"Paingod"--The story of a minor deity whose job is to bring pain to life forms across the universe. It’s a fun concept, but it feels under-developed.
"The Basilisk"--A Vietnam vet becomes an emissary for Mars, the god of war, after a visit from a mythological death-breathing basilisk lizard.
"Rock God"--A horror story wherein the god of Stonehenge, who derives his essence from the crust of the earth, has been sleeping for thousands of years. When he awakens in New York City, he finds that city of steel and skyscrapers expands his power immensely.
"Corpses"--America's obsession with cars has created a new, young, jealous god that does not tolerate unbelief
"The Face of Helene Bournouw"--The world's most desirable woman spends an afternoon spreading misery in the name of the Old Testament god Ba'al. She dumps a lover, causing him to commit suicide; she destroys a young artists' confidence in his work; she indulges a priest in a repressed pedophilia fantasy. This is a promising concept for a story, but it is marred by purple prose.
“On the Downward Side”—An overwrought New Orleans ghost story about spirits trapped in Limbo. I think Ellison is trying to say something about the fragility of relationships and the difficulties of communication. I cannot get past the silly unicorn character. Enough said.
"Bleeding Stones"--The gargoyles atop St. Paul's Cathedral are brought to life thanks to the mix of heady chemicals in the polluted atmosphere, and they proceed to wreak carnage on a group of Christians in the courtyard below. Includes a needlessly offensive scene of a nun being sexually assaulted by a gargoyle. Ellison says in his introductory comments this is meant to be funny, but it comes across as simply vehement.
“Ye of Little Faith” – A man who does not give his girlfriend a reason to believe in their relationship finds himself exiled to a magical world where gods flounder once their believers fall away. An utterly forgettable attempt (I read the whole story with no hint of recognition, even though I realized afterwards I must have read it before, because it is included in another book I finished a few years ago.)
"At the Mouse Circus"-- The King of Tibet has sex with a large white women; he drives to Ohio where he learns at a dinner party how the dinosaurs really died; he goes home with a witch only to find he is impotent. This story is 100% surrealism, complete with references to Wonderland and Mickey Mouse . It does not make any sense, and I am not sure it is supposed to.
"Delusions of a Dragon Slayer"--A man dies in a freak accident but awakes in a surrealistic fantasy world; he can gain entrance to the Heaven of his dreams if he can live up to his own beliefs and ethics. An experimental piece of writing that fails both as adventure and philosophy.
"The Place with No Name"--This story begins with a junkie committing a murder, then he is magically transported to a jungle world where he seeks the god Prometheus bound still to his boulder. The story makes no sense and seems to have been written solely to present Jesus at the conclusion as an alien with a homosexual lover.
I'm not sure whether I became inured to the writing style or the stories just got better but by about half way through this collection of short stories I was becoming an Ellison fan. By the end I definitely was. Amazing and bizarre perspectives that contort, dissect and then disembowel conventional reality.
Highly recommended for adventurous readers who want a truly surreal reading experience. Seriously.