In 1967 Harlan Ellison published ‘Dangerous Visions’, a long anthology of short stories and novellas by contemporary science fiction writers. The book is a child of its time: the editorial concept was to encourage and allow writers to deal with certain themes then considered “taboo” by the mainstream of publishing, especially science fiction publishing.
The book owed its source primarily to the great social changes then taking place in the United States–caused by the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam war, drugs, rock music, student unrest, and so on–and to a lesser extent to the “New Wave” science fiction then being written (predominantly in Great Britain) and the apparent breakthroughs being achieved by ‘New Worlds’ and a few other outlets. The fact that Mr Ellison’s perception of the “New Wave” seems to have been based on effects rather than causes is neither here nor there: the book was a major success, and had an undeniable influence on the way science fiction was latterly written and published, at least in the United States.
A follow-up anthology, ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’, appeared in 1972. By this time the need to flout “taboos” was less urgent. ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’ is longer than the first volume and contains more stories, but in spite of commercial success has not been as influential. The second book introduced a novelty that was to have a bearing on the third: no writer who had appeared in ‘Dangerous Visions’ was invited to contribute to the follow-up. The three volumes are therefore intended to be of a piece, presumably representing a cross-section of work from this period of science fiction’s development.
What follows is a brief account of the early years in the life of the third book, from the time it was announced (1971) until the end of the 1970s. This is the most “public” period in the book’s existence: it was widely seen as a live and exciting project, and many people eagerly anticipated its publication.
During this period, though, certain events took place that by repetition quickly established themselves as constants. An annotated description of this period will show how the pattern took shape.
[Throughout I use a shortened form of the book’s title: “LAST”. The abbreviation commonly used by Mr Ellison and many science fiction commentators is “TLDV” (some of the letter writers use it) but in my view this harmless abbreviation has become part of the iconography of the unfinished book. The familiarity of the term has come to imply acceptance of, and therefore a kind of tacit approval of, what has been going on.
[I prefer my own disjunctive abbreviation. Apart from anything else it implies non-acceptance of, and tacit disapproval of, whatever it is that has been going on.]