The History of The Last Dangerous Visions: 2. A Decade of Broken Promises

The first published reference to LAST that I have been able to trace is in the Introduction to the second paperback volume of ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’. Mr Ellison said then:

“[LAST] will be published, God willing, approximately six months after this book.”

This Introduction was dated 6 May 1971, and ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’ appeared in 1972. Was God willing, six months later? He was not.

In this same article Mr Ellison revealed that he already had stories on hand from a total of 19 named writers (plus a “gaggle” of others), and added that stories had been promised from 12 other writers (“and a few more”). There are therefore at least 31 writers who have been waiting more than 20 years to see their stories in print, although to my knowledge some of those stories were written and sold to Mr Ellison in the 1960s.

(See *Note 1*.)

1971 was the year in which ‘The Lathe of Heaven’, ‘Tau Zero’, ‘A Time of Changes’ and ‘A Soldier Erect’ were published. Richard Nixon was in his first term as President of the USA. Charles Manson went to prison. A first-class postage stamp in Britain cost 3p. Harlan Ellison was 37.

Of the writers named in this article, many have subsequently died.

(See *Note 6*.)


23 June 1972

Announcement in ‘Locus’ 115:

“New American Library has purchased paperback rights for $60,000 to all three Dangerous Visions books. They will publish ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’ late in 1973 in a boxed two-volume set and will publish ‘Dangerous Visions’ in a one-volume edition after Berkley’s license to publish it has expired in 1974. The paperback of ‘The Last Dangerous Visions’ will be published by NAL sometime after the hardcover has been released.”

Announcements in ‘Locus’ do not come out of the air, and this one will probably have come from Mr Ellison himself. Although it does not actually say so, the clear implication from this is that LAST has been completed.

One could reasonably infer that LAST will be published soon after the other arrangements described, perhaps in 1974 or 1975.


18 August 1973

Announcement in ‘Locus’ 147:

“According to Harlan Ellison, LAST will be completed by September 15 and will be turned into the publisher.”

This one is at least unambiguously attributed. (Presumably Mr Ellison himself didn’t write this; his grammar is better.)


13 September 1973

Letter from Harlan Ellison in ‘The Alien Critic’, No. 7, November 1973:

“…here is a current (as of 13th September 1973) table of contents for [LAST], with word-lengths appended. The manuscript of the anthology is now in a file box, ready to go to New York, with the manuscripts standing on end. The box is three feet long, and it is jammed. Please bear in mind, as you read this Table of Contents, that this is not the order the stories will appear in the book, that the book is closed AND I DAMMIT TO HELL DON’T WANT TO SEE SUBMISSIONS FROM ANYONE EVER AGAIN IN THIS LIFE! and that I’m waiting on rewrites from [3 named writers], but that beyond those three, the book is complete. Save for the 60,000 words of introductions that I have yet to write, or the 50,000 words of Afterwords that are written but haven’t been included in the total wordage indicated on the list.

“I think you’ll all like this book. And thank _God_ this bloody ten-year-millstone has been removed from my aching neck!”

Mr Ellison goes on to list 68 authors and stories (plus the three promised rewrites), and estimates a total word-length of 445,250. That, plus the 110,000 words of introductions and afterwords he refers to in his letter, makes a book well in excess of half a million words. (See *Note 3*.)

Mr Ellison also reveals that the book will contain 75 full-page illustrations by Tim Kirk.

This letter is a significant document in the tortuous history of LAST, because for many people it was the first revelation of the sheer length of the projected book. I’ll have more to say about the length of the project later, but it’s instructive to try to imagine exactly what we are talking about.

‘War and Peace’, in its English translation, is about 600,000 words in length. Vikram Seth’s novel ‘A Suitable Boy’ (1993), which at 1,350 well-packed pages is the longest novel written in English since Samuel Richardson’s ‘Clarissa’, is probably bigger than that. Stephen Donaldson’s ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever’ (initial trilogy only) totals about 510,000 words. John Brunner’s ‘Stand on Zanzibar’, one of the longest science fiction novels ever published, was about 215,000 words long.

But LAST is already so big (at least in prospect) that questions of scale have to be seriously considered. At 550,000 words it’s the length of approximately seven normal-length novels, or two and a half copies of ‘Stand on Zanzibar’ bound together.

The rest of the letter is interesting, too. Taken together with the announcement in ‘Locus’ (“…completed and turned in by September 15”), and itself dated 13 September, it sounds plausible, even to sceptics.

We’re told the manuscript is “ready to go”, that no more submissions will be read, and so on.

But a shadow of doubt does remain, partly because of those three unreliable authors who are having to rewrite their stories (one of whom, interestingly, was one of those announced two years earlier in ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’ as being definite–see *Note 2*), and partly because of the small matter of the 60,000 words Mr Ellison himself is yet to write.

Things don’t seem so certain after all. Working flat out, a fast writer could conceivably produce 60,000 words of publishable text in a week or so, but this letter was written only two days before the deadline!

It’s also worth pointing out that this letter was clearly intended as a public announcement, not as a private letter. Richard Geis’s ‘The Alien Critic’ (later ‘SF Review’) was a fanzine with a large circulation, and Mr Ellison must have known and intended that it would be read by many people, including the writers whose work he was sitting on. (At one point he says “you’ll all like this book”, and there is a general impression of an announcement being made.)

So why was Mr Ellison announcing in public that the book was complete, when not only was it self-evidently incomplete, it could not have been completed in the time remaining?

In 1973 President Nixon began his second term of office, and the Watergate scandal broke. The Arab oil embargo was imposed. The movies ‘Last Tango in Paris’, ‘Godspell’ and ‘Soylent Green’ were released.

Harlan Ellison was 39.


February 1974

Letter from Harlan Ellison in ‘The Alien Critic’, No. 8, February 1974:

“Since I haven’t given out the complete table of contents to anyone else, I wanted to keep you up to the moment with additions. Though the book is closed, I could not pass up the following. Please add to the list you have.”

Mr Ellison then lists seven more stories, and summarizes the whole book in the following way:

“Total stories: 78. Total authors: 75. Total words: 491,375, with Preface, Forewords, Afterwords, Introduction, etc., yet to be added.”

Assuming that the non-fiction matter still amounted to 110,000 words, the book has now reached over 600,000 words in prospect: equivalent to seven
and a half normal-length novels. (See *Note 4*.)

Again, this is a psychologically interesting letter. For instance, there is no attempt to rationalize this letter with the previous one, in which finality and imminent delivery were so strongly featured, and no mention of what happened about that deadline, five months earlier. There is again a clear intention that anyone reading the letter should believe that the book is emphatically finished (“complete” table of contents, “the book is closed”, etc.), yet at the same time Mr Ellison has neatly provided himself with a delaying tactic against expectations: his foot is generously still in the door, and it will stay there long enough for a few more stories to squeeze their way in.

Was LAST delivered to the publisher in February 1974? It was not.


14 June 1974

Letter from Harlan Ellison to Christopher Priest:

“Dear Mr Priest:

“The hour grows late, time grows short, and I’m chagrined that I was never able to buy the free moments to write you before this. [LAST] is closed, and I’m in the process of readying the massive final volume of the trilogy for Harper & Row. In taking stock of the important writers who haven’t been represented in the previous volumes, your name looms very large. The past few years and your work during those years have placed you among the handful of serious writers of imaginative fiction who can simply be called sui generis. I cannot express in so brief a letter my admiration for ‘Indoctrinaire’, ‘Darkening Island’ and–most memorable of all, probably because I just finished reading it and marveling at it–‘The Inverted World’.

“Though money is gone on the book, I’m prepared to pay as best I can out-of-pocket to have a new, unpublished anywhere Priest story, an important story for a milestone book. It was always my intention to write and ask you to do one for me. But time … and circumstance….

“It would be a terrible omission were there not to be a story by you in this landmark trilogy, now being taught in over 200 colleges and universities. Please! If you can do something, or have something available … any length, but extra-special, challenging, something you wouldn’t be ashamed to have logged in the book of posterity … please send it along posthaste.

“I’ll hold open the book for you until I hear one way or the other. But please keep this invitation to yourself; as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the book is closed.

“With high expectation”

(signed) Harlan Ellison

With this letter began my brief personal involvement with Mr Ellison and his unpublished book.

Although I would normally keep professional correspondence confidential I have included this letter for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it reveals that four months after the letter to Richard Geis the anthology was still far from finished. If the door then had been jammed open with a foot, now it was locked and bolted, but one manuscript–mine–could still be slipped through the gap at the bottom.

Or so it would seem. In fact, the letter feels phony (as it did on the day it was received); it has the weird unreality of a computerized form letter from a mail order company. This unworthy suspicion was unexpectedly confirmed a couple of weeks later when another British writer confided to me that he had received an almost identically worded letter at the same time. (What he actually said was: “If you were to put my letter against yours and hold them up to the light, the only difference would be the titles of our books.”) I suspect this was one of many letters sent out in the same period, trawling through the lists of writers Mr Ellison had not previously approached. (See *Note 5* for a list of some of the others!)

But assume for a moment that the letter is sincerely intended. An editor approaches a writer and offers to buy a story. What could be wrong with that?

Well, the use of flattery is excessive, and manipulative in intent. Sui generis, indeed! He says that I loom large as one writer who wasn’t in earlier volumes. To speak of me looming at that time is nonsensical. When the first Dangerous Visions was published I had written and sold only a handful of fairly inept stories, published in Britain. He couldn’t possibly have known of me or my work. In 1971, when he completed the second book, the only work of mine that had appeared in the USA was my first novel ‘Indoctrinaire’ (which vanished almost without trace), and my first short story ‘The Run’, published in the Judith Merril anthology ‘England Swings SF’ (again, a volume of commendable obscurity).

And while seeming to flatter me he is actually using his letter as a chance to promote himself. Note the use of the words “milestone” and “landmark” to describe his own book. Of course, he is trying to sell someone on the idea of writing for him, but the way he brings in this self-congratulation is actually fairly repugnant. He says that someone writing for him should produce something “extra-special”, something that can be “logged in the book of posterity”. Most writers try to write something “extra-special” every time, and don’t need flattery as a goad.

As for posterity: assuming that a writer cares a fig for posterity, why does Mr Ellison presume that only by writing for him will posterity’s book be logged?

The reference to payment “out-of-pocket” is a disingenuous ploy, because it implies a favour. Even in 1974, struggling endlessly with a feeling of failure and a perpetual shortage of cash, I wanted no favours done me. A sale should be entered into professionally. Furthermore, most anthologies are paid for out of the editor’s “pocket”, because the usual arrangement is for the publisher to pay the editor an advance, out of which the contributors will then be paid. What Mr Ellison meant, but didn’t say, was that he had over-spent his advance but was willing to over-spend a little more. He couldn’t resist dropping this into the letter, thinking it would be an extra inducement, a heightening of my presumed importance to him.

And where does Mr Ellison think the recipient of this letter has been living? Already by 1974 the non-completion of LAST had become an open joke in fannish and professional circles. (It is perhaps difficult to realize, a quarter of a century later, that even from Mr Ellison’s first announcement many people suspected he would never deliver the book.)

A letter like this is an intimate appeal. It cynically exploits vanity, goodwill and a desire for success. The writer of the letter asserts his sincerity, good taste and admiration, and pleads for confidentiality so that other writers might not grow jealous.

But because the appeal is actually written for self-serving purposes, the recipient would have to be pretty insensitive not to notice the insincerity dripping from it. He gets a queasy feeling in his stomach, but cannot easily phrase a refusal: it’s nice to be asked to write something, no matter by whom. Flattery gets under your defences, however hypocritical it is. You want to avoid hassles, but you’re cornered. Prevarication or excuses will only bring a more concentrated appeal, and so, feeling cornered, you agree reluctantly to send something along. The letter has manipulated you in exactly the way it was intended.

[I prevaricated and made excuses, and duly received a more concentrated appeal. In August 1974 I reluctantly broke off from the novel I was writing, wrote a short story called ‘An Infinite Summer’, and sent it to Mr Ellison.

[A long silence followed. After four months without any reaction at all from Mr Ellison, I instructed my agent to get the story back from him.

[I have never regretted this, even though I was subjected to a stream of abuse and threats from Mr Ellison. This was peculiarly unpleasant, but I had one consolation he could do nothing about. I had promptly resold the story for real money, and by the time Mr Ellison was calling me names it was already in print. It was subsequently republished in a “best of the year” anthology, and since then has been regularly reprinted in books and magazines all over the world. Two decades after I wrote it, ‘An Infinite Summer’ is still being resold, and brings me a small but regular income.

[If I had left the story with Mr Ellison it would today be sitting in a cardboard box somewhere in his house. No one would be reading it. Because it escaped this fate, ‘An Infinite Summer’s’ sojourn in Mr Ellison’s hands is irrelevant to this essay. What is relevant, though, is the fact that if I hadn’t whipped it away from him when I did my story would be in that joyless box with well over a hundred other stories, most of them written several years before mine.

[No one is reading them, most people don’t even know they exist … but this essay is about them.]


19 February 1976

Announcement in Locus 185:

“For those who keep asking, Ellison’s anthology [LAST] still hasn’t been turned in to Harper & Row and is still unscheduled.”


7 July 1976

Interview with Christopher Fowler, in ‘Vector’ 75, July 1976:

(Ellison): “[LAST] is done, is closed … I’m finished up writing the introductions now. It goes into Harper & Row–it will not be published by Doubleday. I pulled it away from them two years ago, three years ago. It’s being published by Harper & Row. It will be in a two volume, boxed set, and it will sell for approximately $26. It has over 100 stories … it is over a million and a quarter words. That is the equivalent of 13 or 14 full-length novels. It’s longer than ‘War and Peace’, and it’s about three times as long as ‘Gone With the Wind’. … It goes in September 1st [1976]. … It’ll be on sale in America in the Spring of 1977. I think after ten, eleven, twelve years of this project, this book will be the final road-marker of a project that is now clearly indicative of where the field has been and is over ten years.”

One of the features of being in Mr Ellison’s company is that he frequently makes verbal claims about having finished and delivered LAST. These claims are invariably made in such an emphatic way, supported by plausible-seeming detail, that it’s impossible to challenge them except by having to call Mr Ellison a liar.

These repeated claims have become part of the ritual, in which others seem content to connive. Few people are prepared to stand up to Mr Ellison in person, and no one believes the claims (or even knows anyone else who believes them) so they vanish into the air. But every so often there’s a tape recorder running, the words get transcribed and are eventually enshrined in print. This is one such case.

As Mr Ellison never publicly retracted or corrected this, we can take it that he was not misquoted.

So here is the latest untrue claim that the book is finished and about to be delivered. A million and a quarter words: 1,250,000 words. Using my own yardstick of “average” length, that’s actually equivalent to nearly 16 novels. In pages? If the “average” novel runs to 250 pages in hardback, LAST would work out at more than 3,000 pages. (The London Telephone Directory, printed on A4 paper in three columns of tiny type, contains over 3,000 pages.)

This “road-marker” that indicates where the “field” has been for the last ten years is clear to read. The “field” has been in a box in Mr Ellison’s house.

Incautiously, Mr Ellison adds a publication date. We all remember that Spring of 1977, just over a decade and a half ago, when ‘The Last Dangerous Visions’ was at last published, don’t we?

1977 was the year President Jimmy Carter took office. New York experienced its first “brown-out”. The space shuttle flew for the first time. Harlan Ellison was 43.


14 December 1977

Letter from Harlan Ellison, circulated to all LAST contributors:

This is far too long (and too tediously self-serving) to be reproduced in full, but here are salient extracts:

“We are now forthcoming from Harper & Row.” [A new contract is enclosed, with alterations.] “The most significant [alteration] is a guarantee that the book will be published before Christmas 1978. Over the outraged howls of Harper & Row I have made it a 13-month guarantee. I did that to restore faith with those of you … who have waited literally years to see the work in print, and despite delay after delay–justified or not–have stuck with me. As this will be a 3-volume boxed set, over 600,000 words, it will take Harper & Row a good nine months to send the book(s) through production. I know I’m cutting it close with you, but I felt I had to do it if I was to summon up the gall to ask you to re-sign with TLDV. It is incumbent on me to advise you once again that the stories have, in fact, reverted to you. Long since. You can refuse to sign, keep the advance payment you received, and sell the story elsewhere. Or you can trust me just one more time and stay with the project.”

[Mr Ellison explains he and the publishers have retained Victoria Schochet as an outside consultant editor to complete the book. Ms Schochet is a well-known and highly respected New York editor.]

“[Victoria Schochet] came out here to Los Angeles from New York for ten days, to work on this deal exclusively. Her assistance has permitted me to plunge through to the final edge of the project, and because of her help the manuscript is now ready to go. I have some writing to do, but I’ll have that done in January and the book will be sent to Harper & Row by February 1st for immediate pre-production layouts.”

[Mr Ellison encloses a note from Victoria Schochet; see below.]

“Over the next few months I’ll stay in touch to let you know what stage the production of the book has reached. Harper & Row will be renegotiating the NAL paperback contract, which will mean more money almost immediately, and there will be, of course, continuing royalties, unto the 10th generation. With DV and A,DV having sold millions and millions of copies in hard and soft, translations and UK reprints, all you need do to reassure yourself that you’re investing in an annuity, is to query anyone who appeared in the first two books.”

(signed) Harlan Ellison

Here is the handwritten personal testimony from Victoria Schochet, enclosed with Mr Ellison’s letter:

Please do be assured that this enormous project is in the final stages of completion. I say Please because it would truly be a tragedy to lose any of the pieces in the volume. Having spent the last week reading through all 600,000 words of it, I promise you that no claim for its significance, scope, and excellence could possibly be extravagant. I have never had the honor of working on as fine a project. I know it’s been a long time coming for us all, but the waiting will have been worth it.

“The manuscript is now all together, in order, finished. All that remains is to integrate your (immediate) responses and it’s off to the publisher. The book will be a 3-volume, large-sized (D), about 650 pages each. The illustrations are equal to the stories — the set will be a beautiful, mind-boggling product. Harper & Row recognizes the importance of TLDV and is preparing to support its publication in force.

“The editors and publisher thank you for your patience and understanding and have faith that you’ll be well pleased with the rewards.”

(signed) Victoria Schochet

Thrust out of your mind the distracting hindsight knowledge that LAST did not actually appear in December 1978, and try to put yourself in the place of the writers who received this in 1977. It’s a fine and convincing performance: open, frank, plausible, attested to by an independent witness.

You would be a distrustful churl indeed to question this full-frontal assault on your mind and heart, with its confession of fault, willingness to let old stories be released, optimism about the future … and its promises of untold wealth.

The integrity of Victoria Schochet is not in question. An intriguing element in all this, though, is that Mr Ellison makes heavy weather of her fine reputation, and underlines the fact that she did not write her letter under duress. (At one point in his letter he says: “Vicky’s credentials speak for themselves; and not even thumbscrews could get her to write those words if she didn’t mean them.” Why should he make such a meal of this? Why on earth should he think that anyone would suspect otherwise?)

What went wrong after these letters were sent? After all, here we have unambiguous statements concerning the book’s completion. Mr Ellison says, “the manuscript is now ready to go.” Victoria Schochet says, “The manuscript is now all together, in order, finished.” If these statements are true, why was the book not published 15 years ago?

It wouldn’t be anything to do with the single betraying flaw, would it? Mr Ellison says, “I have some writing to do.”

Meanwhile, what’s all this about “continuing royalties”?

“Continuing” implies there is a process that started in the past and will continue uninterrupted into the future. Is Mr Ellison suggesting that the writers have been receiving “royalties” even before the book is published? (A royalty is a payment made to a writer based on retail sales of a book.) Using the word “royalties” is an interesting semantic stratagem, because it implies that the book has somehow come into existence before it is published!

The reality of LAST payments to contributors is that anything paid is in the nature of a payment on account until publication. The source of this will be the original advance, contributions from Mr Ellison’s “pocket”, and, most important of all, surpluses created by the payment of larger advances whenever the projected book is moved to a new publisher. The passage of time and price inflation allow replacement publishers to pay an advance which is sufficiently larger than the one immediately before. This enables the old publisher to be paid back, and the surplus distributed as “royalties” (see below).

Insofar as I have been able to trace actual payments of these “royalties”, I understand one distribution was made (“out of pocket”) in August 1973, and another was made in early 1984. More might have been paid since then. (My argument is with Mr Ellison’s terminology–which creates misunderstandings–not with his honesty.)

By the way, did you notice how in 18 months the estimated word-count dropped mysteriously from 1,250,000 to 600,000 words?


29 January 1979

Letter from Ellison to contributors. (“SUBJECT: Impending Publication”):

“As the enclosed letter will inform you, there has been a major change in the status of [LAST] and, as a result, a major improvement in your position in the book.

“G.P. Putnam’s Sons will be doing the book in a three-volume boxed set. They are advancing us $50,000. After repayment of the monies owed to Harper & Row and New American Library, I will be dispersing most of the remaining thousands directly to you, as an additional advance payment for your work in the book.

“The entire month of February will be spent completing the prefatory material and the introductions; delivery is scheduled for 15 March and publication–if all goes as expected–will be Christmas of this year.

“It is a year later than my last communique with you indicated, and God knows most of you have waited far longer to see your work in print than I had any right to expect; but I think you’ll agree this is a most salutary development.

“This is the third publisher to contract for [LAST]. We started with Doubleday a long time ago, then moved the book to Harper & Row, and now Putnam. A number of you have been (properly) annoyed at what seemed to be unnecessary delays in getting the book out. I’ve always tried to be candid with you about these delays; and with only a few exceptions you’ve all understood that I take my custodial responsibilities for your work very seriously. It is precisely that sense of responsibility that brings us to this point. Please understand: I’ve seen too many rotten examples of anthologists who’ve conned you into doing original stories that went into books that instantly vanished from view. And you never saw another cent of royalties.

“Everyone who has ever published a story in one of the Dangerous Visions books can attest to the large and regular royalties that keep on coming, year after year. I feel it is the most basic element of my obligation to you, to keep on making money for you. A story in a DV book has life, it will be an annuity. So as caretaker, I have to go with my instincts about marketing. Thus far I’ve been correct.”

[Two rambling paragraphs follow, in which Mr Ellison explains why he keeps changing publishers.]

“Well, last year Vicky Schochet came out here from New York to help me finalize the book. She read it from front to back, and was more enthusiastic than I can say. Now she’s the editor at Berkley/Putnam who has arranged for the buy-out with H&R. She wants to do the book, she knows how good the book is, and she has fired up Putnam’s so _they_ want to do the book.

“The way it should be done.

“With major advertising. With special packaging. With heavy promotion. And with a $50,000 advance payment.

“That’s the story. I tell you all this, of course, to get you to hang in there for one more month. By March 15th the book will be in Vicky’s hands and she’ll circularize you confirming same. But before that time, we’ll have an advance check of fifty grand. I’ll pay back the advance we got from Harper, the money New American Library gave us, and the vast bulk of what’s left will be divided into pro rata shares and sent off to you. Within a month you’ll have a big schlug of money to cement your staying with the project so we can do it right.

“I’ve run out of ways to beg you to stay with me; you’ve long since run out of patience with me. TLDV has become one of the big myth-objects of our time. Like Atlantis or Reagan’s intellect. But that very word-of-mouth advertising, that bated breath attitude on the part of the audience, serves you all in the extreme. When Putnam’s releases TLDV for the Christmas season, it has a guaranteed trade sale waiting.

“And we’re talking a very expensive package here. Three books, approximately 700,000 words, over 115 stories. And huge profits for all of you. The attached letter from Berkley will buttress all the foregoing. Be patient for another month and enjoy a second advance payment as a mark of good faith, as well as my way of saying thankyou for your patience up till now.”

(signed) Harlan Ellison

This letter, like the one in 1977, was accompanied by one from a publisher. The writer this time was Rena Wolner, Vice President and Publisher at Berkley Publishing Corporation:

“To the contributors to The Last Dangerous Visions.

“Welcome to Berkley! Thanks to the involvement of Victoria Schochet, our new senior editor for science fiction, Berkley is now negotiating to take over the publishing of [LAST]. I would like to take this opportunity to tell you just how proud and excited we are to be the publisher of this final volume in the remarkable Dangerous Visions series.

“I would like to tell you something of our publishing plans for the project. We intend to bring out a hardcover edition, under our Berkley/Putnam imprint, on our winter 1979-1980 list. We recognize that publication of [LAST] will be an event of great importance in the science fiction field, one which has been awaited for some time. Although it is too early to be specific, I want to assure you that we are planning to promote the project with all due fanfare, and see that it receives the meticulous production attention and post-publication notice that it deserves. (This will involve publicity releases, posters, adequate review copies, and the like.) And of course we will be bringing out the paperback editions later in 1980, and have grand plans for selling and promoting the books again at that time.

“I hope that you are as pleased to have [LAST] published by Berkley as we here are to have it on our list, We know that the project will be a tremendous success for all of us.”

(signed) Rena Wolner

This was another convincing performance, one which must have seemed plausible on that wintry day in 1979.

There is hardly any reference to Mr Ellison’s broken promises in the past, except by implication. By concentrating on the change of publisher Mr Ellison also manages to imply that the further delay was caused by this, not by him. In a confident manner, Mr Ellison gives every impression of being back in control: publication is “impending”, etc.

You will have noted Mr Ellison’s ingenuous reference to anthologies that “instantly vanished from view”. This could not have been said accidentally (because if so it is insensitive to the point of crassness) so what on Earth could he have meant? No other book in modern publishing has “vanished” so publicly and over such a long period of time as LAST. Was he using verbal legerdemain, trying to persuade his writers that although they probably think the book has vanished, in fact it has not?

Mr Ellison of course contradicts himself on this. The amusing joke about Atlantis and Reagan’s intellect is trying to make a virtue of the book’s long period of non-appearance.

Later in 1979, Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister of the UK. In 1980, around the time the paperback was expected, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the USA. ‘Star Trek – the Motion Picture’ was released in Britain. Harlan Ellison was 46.


June 1979. Report in Locus 222:

‘Locus’ published a list of the contents of LAST, presumably obtained from Mr Ellison. The book was said “to be published next year by Putnam”. A total of 113 stories were listed, amounting to just under 645,000 words.

(See *Note 5*.)

“Next year” was of course 1980, and of course the book was not published then.


August 1980. An eye-witness account:

During a visit to New York I went to a party where Harlan Ellison was present. (This is one of the very few occasions when I have been in the same room with him, although we have never actually been introduced.) A large number of writers, including myself and Mr Ellison, were sitting around chatting about this and that. Suddenly one of the others said, “How are you getting on with TLDV, Harlan?”

“I just delivered it!” he cried. “I handed it in this afternoon! It’s over!”

Amid squeals of delighted scepticism, raspberry noises and general hilarity, Mr Ellison managed to look hurt and indignant.

“Listen, you guys,” he said. “This time I really did.”

He launched into some complicated story about how he had had to get a cab to take him and the oversize box to the airport.

“It’s OK, Harlan,” somebody said. “We understand. But you don’t have to bullshit us. We won’t tell the fans.”

Mr Ellison look chastened, but relaxed a little. He then explained that although he hadn’t, you know, actually delivered the manuscript, the delay was a mere technicality. As soon as he got back to Los Angeles he would be setting aside a whole month to write the introductions, and …

Everyone cheered up. The status quo had been restored.

A few days later, at the worldcon in Boston, I heard part of a long and colourful speech Mr Ellison gave about his life and works. During this, a question from the floor raised the same subject.

While the laughter rang out, Mr Ellison lowered his head in mock modesty. As the laughter died he raised a clenched fist and shook it in triumph.

“I was in New York last week,” he declared. “And I handed it in! IT’S DONE!”

The whole place erupted with cheers. Mr Ellison trotted happily to and fro across the stage. People stood up: it became a standing ovation.

Then I noticed that some of the people who had been at the same party as me, and who had heard the reluctant truth from Mr Ellison’s own lips, were also clapping and cheering …

I left the auditorium, bemused by all this. As I went through the doors I heard Mr Ellison begin his entertaining story about getting his oversized box into the cab.

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1 Response to The History of The Last Dangerous Visions: 2. A Decade of Broken Promises

  1. mizkit says:

    When, I asked, because you are clearly the most likely source of a correct answer, does the new series start? šŸ™‚

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