Neil Gaiman told me to read Harlan Ellison, and if Mr. Gaiman says something, I obey. (This is also why I read Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell)
I come relatively late to Harlan Ellison but am not sorry for it; I’m glad there’s something this good out there still left for me to read for the first time.
I recently bought an Ellison short story collection called Harlan 101, Encountering Ellison. It has 22 short stories and seven essays on the art of writing, written in a way that makes you feel like Ellison is sitting on your couch, talking to you. The book is good, and totally worth the hefty price tag ($39.99 softcover). And I had to add international shipping to that.
This week’s finest writing is a description of a character from one of the stories, Pretty Maggie Moneyeys, where Ellison describes what many, lesser, writers would simply say was a “beautiful woman”. Behold a master at work:
Long legs, trim and coltish; hips a trifle large, the kind that promote that specific thought in men, about getting their hands around them; belly flat, isometrics; waist cut to the bone, a waist that works in any style from dirndl to disco slacks; no breasts – all nipple, but no breast, like an expensive whore (the way O’Hara pinned it) – and no padding…forget the cans, baby, there’s other, more important action; smooth, Michelangelo-sculpted neck, a pillar, proud; and all that face.
Outthrust chin, perhaps a tot too much belligerence, but if you’d walloped as many gropers, you too, sweetheart; narrow mouth, petulant lower lip, nice to chew on, a lower lip as though filled with honey, bursting, ready for things to happen; a nose that threw the right sort of shadow, flaring nostrils, the acceptable words – aquiline, patrician, classic, allathat; cheekbones as stark and promontory as a spit of land after ten years of open ocean; cheekbones holding darkness like narrow shadows, sooty beneath the taut-fleshed bone-structure; amazing cheekbones, the whole face, really; an ancient kingdom’s uptilted eyes, the touch of the Cherokee, eyes that looked out at you, as you looked in at them, like someone peering out of the keyhole as you peered in; actually, dirty eyes, they said you can get it.Harlan Ellison
I really very much recommend Harlan Ellison. Start with Deathbird Stories.