The Voice from the Edge: Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral
By Harlan Ellison; Read by Harlan Ellison
5 CDs – 5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Fantastic Audio
Themes: / Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror / The Mob / Dreams /
Harlan Ellison will talk your ear off. After listening to the man perform 11 of his stories over the better part of five hours, I’ve come to the conclusion that he is not the type of guy that you’re going to be able to get away from easily; not once he’s started talking. But would you want to? Ellison is like the guy you sit down next in a bar only because it’s the only seat open, praying that he’ll leave you alone, but, sure enough, he turns to you and immediately begins to regale you with that “Car Talk” voice of his about his latest exploit. “Terminator? My idea. That sumbitch James Cameron tried to pass it off as his own, but I wasn’t having it.” Or, “I tell you I never met anybody more uptight than those guys over at Disney. I make one little joke… it was stupid, yeah, but just a joke! Of course nobody would really ever draw Tinkerbell doing that, but try telling those guys that you were only joking. Nope; there’s ol’ Harlan, out on his ass the same day he was hired.” Ellison seems to be one of those guys that are vastly entertaining to listen to, and to watch in action, but only as long as his perpetual low-level rage is never directed at you.
Which is what makes this collection perfect. You get to sit in your car, office, wherever, and hear Ellison tell you some of his best stories without ever worrying that you’re going to get more involved than you want to be. But, maybe you should be worried, just a little. While there are a few stories in this collection that are pretty light-hearted from beginning to end, most of them begin innocently enough, but then slowly become more and more disturbing until it’s almost impossible not to feel some sense of unease and trepidation, and then, when they end, almost palpable relief. “S.R.O.,” for example; what starts out as a cheery little tale of off-center entrepreneurship, read in Ellison’s best 1920’s gangster voice, begins to drift into a much more solemn treatment of beauty and the lengths to which people will go to experience it.
Then there are the stories which begin creepy and stay that way. “The Function of Dream Sleep” begins with the image a mouth opening in a man’s side, which is disturbing enough, but Ellison keeps on turning the “dread” knob up until even driving along an interstate in broad daylight seems somehow sinister and unreal. I’d be interested in reading these stories in text form to see how much of this sensation comes from the actual writing and how much comes from the sheer desperation Ellison puts into his performances. I wasn’t surprised to see that Ellison has a few acting credits to his name, (most awesomely, “man at orgy” in Godson); the range of character and emotion that are present in these readings rivals that of any “professional” reader. At times it’s apparent that Ellison’s familiarity with the stories allows him to enhance his performances by adding laughter, stutters, and other little bits of paralanguage that only he would be able to get away with. The postscript to “The Function of Dream Sleep,” in which Ellison explains some of the elements of his most autobiographical story, is also told in this extemporaneous manner. It’s like the old guy at the bar has finally started to wind down and is going casually toss off one last bit of terror that will keep you up for weeks before he empties his drink, slaps you too hard on the back, and starts shuffling for home.