Ellison’s dissatisfaction with American cultural progress (3/5)
Prior to reading the Paingod collection, I had read twenty-one pieces of Ellison’s short work—mostly in his machismo so-called suspense collection No Doors, No Windows (1975)—only six to which I gave 4 or 5 stars. From that figure, you could deduce that I’m not a big fan of Ellison’s work. Paingod is the last piece of his work on my shelves, but I’m sure it’s not the last forever.
Ellison graces the reader with an unbelievably brief introduction of only three pages. The sheer chore of reading other rambling introductions often urged me to chuck the book, but three pages I could tolerate, but even then the paragraphs were bloated with whims, conjured disassociative memories, lists, and mini-rants. Each, too, has a brief introduction, but here he tends to digress, as well; case in point: After twenty-five line of an introduction for “Deeper Than the Darkness” laments on our personal responsibility for our own action, name-drops Marilyn Monroe, mentions the Afterlife, says life is for dignity alone and sluggish without then, “And, oh, yeah, about this story” (136).
Unlike DangerousVisions (1967) where each introduction took a back-patting or disassociate tangent, the ones in Paingod are usually well-focused. Sometimes they give a glimmer of meaning behind the story or the impetus for its writing. Most introductions, though, carry a common theme: That of Ellison’s dissatisfaction with American cultural progress and/or his inability to adapt to American cultural progress.
The first three stories are strong. “Paingod” follows a rather simple plot line with the right twists at the right times, but delivers a message and reminder about the benefits of pain. While the previous story was rather dour, “Repent” is more humorous as the hero of the story first unintentionally erodes the standing system of punctuality then decides to do a few things intentionally. “Crackpots” follows this whimsical note with the notion that what may seem to be illogical actions of some are actually carefully performed acts with higher logic behind them.
The last four stories cross the lower spectrum of interest: “Bright Eyes” has ethereal descriptions of its environment, but never becomes grounded into a satisfactory story; “The Discards” is fun and dark yet too predictable for my tastes; “Wanted in Surgery” contains too many geeky futuristic SF elements so as to make it feel written for a juvenile audience; and “Deep Than the Darkness” takes on psi-powers with mixed success as it throws in aliens, fire starters, mind readers, some silly-sounding science, and military intervention.
For me, the first three stories were glimmers of hope for a solid collection of Ellison’s, but the last four stories didn’t delivery what I wanted… something of which even I can’t define. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like; in between is my fluctuating opinion that covers 90% of my reading.
“Paingod” (shortstory, 1964) – 4/5
Trente was appointed the Paingod by the overseeing power of the universe—the Ethos. Pain must be experienced by all the universe’s being, however sentient, and it is he who must deliver that pain. Upon spiders, slugs, and slime of innumerable systems, the Paingod is there; however, his curiosity gets the best of him when on planet Earth where he takes the bodily form of a sculptor. He awakens to the beauty of his pain-filled creation and the beauty of his universal task. 10 pages
“‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” (shortstory, 1965) – 4/5
Pestered by a lifetime by deadlines, tacit expectations of punctuality, and his own perpetual tardiness to all things related to time, Everett C. Marm finally catches the attention of the Master Timekeeper. When he unloads millions of jelly beans upon the commuting labors and the moving walkways—the vital bloodline of the city—he disrupts the sacred schedule of all things by seven minutes, which is an offense very worthy of the personal interest of the Timekeeper himself. 12 pages
“The Crackpots” (novelette, 1956) – 4/5
They Kyben rule the galaxy as diligent administrators and observers, but their ubiquitous rule doesn’t limit them to only the grand scale of things. On one planet, the native Kyben have absolutely gone to pot—it’s citizens are the craziest, most illogical beings of the whole galaxy and Themus is part of the team in charge of detailing the actions of the so-called Crackpots. Some things don’t only perplex Themus, but they also compel him, leading him to an underground tribe that harbors secrets. 37 pages
“Bright Eyes” (shortstory, 1965) – 2/5
Bright Eyes is a mere boy in the eyes of the stars and the planet on which he roams with his tame rat named Thomas. As he sits upon Thomas experiencing the varied travesties that have afflicted the unfortunate planet, both are perturbed by the river engorged with the horizon-spanning mass of discolored, bloated corpses. Thereon, Bright Eyes learns of the meaning of his life and the fate of his race. With the rat as his companion and new equal, he faces their collective fate. 12 pages
“The Discarded” (shortstory, 1959) – 3/5
Having been banished from the Earth due to their various forms of mutation, the ship full of Discards roams Sol’s system looking for a place to call home, yet all inhabited places coldly reject their request. Bedzyk, the figure of leader for the helpless hundreds of Discards, considers their hopelessness as more and more suicide. When a ship from Earth docks to their vessel, Bedzyk is quick to condemn all Earthmen, yet his followers kill him in the belief that when they can help, the can also be rewarded. 13 pages
“Wanted in Surgery” (novelette, 1957) – 3/5
In the late twenty-first century, doctors all over America have become disheartened when their professional trade is overrun by the more perfect robot surgeons and diagnosticians called phymechs. Dr. Stuart Bergman just can’t accept the progress of the state of the art of surgery—he begins to speak out against the mechanical heartlessness of later devises ways to discredit the machines. In the end, when feeling defeated, he returns to what he knows best—bedside manner. 29 pages
“Deeper Than the Darkness” (novelette, 1957) – 2/5
Alf Gunnderson sits glumly in a jail cell being miserable with his situation and life overall. His unique talent is also a burden to him as he’s a pyrotic—one capable of producing flames from the rubbing of molecules; however, he can’t control his talent as well as some Blasters and Mindees can control their sparks and telepathy, respectively. When Spacecom interrogates him, they realize his potential as a weapon and send him off to the home system of their alien enemy, where Alf can choose to use his talent for good or for evil. 21 pages