JMS Has More To Say About The Last Dangerous Visions

J. Michael Straczynski has added a long comment to his Facebook announcement in defense of the decisions he’s made in shaping The Last Dangerous Visions, for example, holding it to 112,000 words to make it attractive to a major publisher.  

One thing needs to be pointed out since folks who have never actually seen any of the TLDV stories seem to have very strong opinions about what that book should be, and without seeing what this one is, what it shouldn’t be.

There was no one thing that stands as Harlan’s version of TLDV. It never existed because it was always in a state of flux. It was going to be whatever it was on the day when he finally finished with it. THAT was to be TLDV, not something frozen in amber that only reflected the70s. Which is why he continued buying stories all through the 80s and into the 90s (including from folks like Stephen Dedman) because he saw the book as a living document that would have to grow and change to stay relevant with changing times. It wasn’t supposed to be static until it actually came out…and he was the first to say that some stories would have to be trimmed to make room for ones that were more current.

Further to the point: no publisher in their right mind is going to put out a 700,000 word anthology that follows on books that came out in the 70s. The risk is too great. A reasonable sized book, yes. A behemoth, no. And the whole point of the exercise is to put the work of the best of the original DV writers, and those new voices Harlan wanted to continue to see, out where the mainstream world could see it…not as a limited edition sold to the already-faithful, not as an Ebook or a print-on-demand…but something to be published from a major company that would receive the kind of critical attention in the press that these stories and Harlan’s work deserve.

The only way for that to happen is to follow Harlan’s lead, pare away any stories that are no longer as relevant as they were, or have been supplanted by real-world events, and focus on the very best of the very best…so the book is lean and mean and strong and utterly bulletproof. (And do bear in mind that over half the original inventory was originally pulled and published elsewhere in any event.)

To those out there complaining that every single story should be included…if that were done, the book would never be published and nobody would ever see any of it in any credible form. You can have one or the other but you can’t have both. The modern publishing business doesn’t work that way.

The now-completed Last Dangerous Visions contains the sharpest, most incisive stories by the leading lights of the last 40 years…the stories Harlan believed were the strongest and the best-of-the-best.

So…crazy idea for the internet…how about people wait to see what the book actually *is* and what’s actually *inside* it before deciding what it actually is and what’s actually inside it? And understand that what *you* think the book should be isn’t the point…it’s what Harlan thought the book should be, which was never one particular thing, because it kept changing over the years. This reflects where all of that thinking finally wound up. This is the book that he would have wanted to see out there so that the writers included (all others have had their stories reverted so they can appear anywhere at the discretion of their estates or themselves) can receive the critical attention that those stories deserve.

27 thoughts on “JMS Has More To Say About The Last Dangerous Visions

  1. As Straczynski notes, a lot of authors eventually withdrew their stories and published them elsewhere. Regarding those who didn’t, I wonder if Ellison ever contacted them and said, “Too much time has passed, this story is no longer usable for TLDV, I’m releasing all the rights back to you and you can keep the money you were paid”? If he was the first to say that some stories would have to be trimmed to make room for ones that were more relevant, that would seem preferable to leaving the authors of those stories hanging. I have a feeling, though, that a lot of them let their works remain in limbo because they knew they weren’t salable elsewhere and hey, maybe TLDV would get published someday, nothing to lose by letting Ellison hang onto it.

  2. “So…crazy idea for the internet…how about people wait to see what the book actually is and what’s actually inside it before deciding what it actually is and what’s actually inside it?”

    So crazy it just might work!

  3. James Davis Nicoll: If the rights to the unused material revert, someone could assemble their own Risky Perceptions anthology by buying those up.

    “Finally, Mildly Unsafe Imagery”

  4. “Gonna Scroll them Pixels”
    “The Pixel in the Scroll at the Edge of the World”
    “Scrollers of the Purple Pixel”

  5. … something to be published from a major company that would receive the kind of critical attention in the press that these stories and Harlan’s work deserve …

    And understand that what *you* think the book should be isn’t the point…it’s what Harlan thought the book should be, which was never one particular thing, because it kept changing over the years.

    It’s fun to see JMS struggle with the complete impossibility of meeting an ever-changing standard that Harlan Ellison couldn’t himself meet, which is likely the single greatest reason he never completed it.

    To me, what we think Last Dangerous Visions should be is entirely the point. The debate it fosters on what was excluded and included is the biggest reason to want to read it.

  6. Well, JMS could do it POD/ePOD, with a max length, and some algorithm or questions as part of requesting/ordering so that, if not “No Two Last Dangerous Visions are alike…” (Yeah, that could make some award noms more complicated.)
    mmm, The Adventures Of Nicking Dangerous Visions.

  7. There’s always the Kickstarter > self-publishing route for the Full, Unexpurgated (Except for the Withdrawn Works) Last Dangerous Visions.

    Norman Spinrad’s He Walked Among Us saw print from a major publisher so finding a similarly deal for LDV might not be hopeless.

  8. My understanding is that not only did Ellison not offer the rights back to the authors, he threatened them with lawsuits and physical violence if they (legally) took them back.

  9. WandangerousVisions!
    In Search Of Dangerous Visions!
    Ultimate Dangerous Vision Frisbee

  10. Does anyone know if Tim Kirk’s illustrations will be inclided in the final book?

  11. Patricia Anne Bryan: Since he’s just put it out for sale a publisher hasn’t contracted for it, so there’s no publication date yet.

  12. Well, he could have published it in multiple volumes (LDV1, LDV2< etc.).

    What I have a hard time understanding is if he knew he wasn’t going to publish every story, why did he open it up for more submissions?

  13. Kim Gibbs: I would guess that opening it up for more submissions had something to do with “the book as a living document that would have to grow and change to stay relevant with changing times.”

    James Davis Nicoll: Why “except for the withdrawn works”? I would guess that many of them would be available for reprint rights.

  14. Like I’ve always believed, the author, or in this case the post-mortem editor/author, calls the shots, not the readers. The readers can make suggestions, but in the end it’s up to the editor/author.

  15. Dan Steffan: JMS’ Patreon post last November said Tim Kirk’s illustrations would be included. I assume that means the ones for the stories that made the final cut.

    On a related note: On the Facebook thread, someone asks if Ellison’s story introductions will be included. JMS replies “Anything/everything Harlan wrote for TLDV will be included.” I won’t hold my breath waiting to see introductions written for stories that were eventually withdrawn by the authors or rejected by JMS, though.

  16. Given the age in which we live, I wonder if many of the stories will be less controversial than were those in the original Dangerous Visions. At the time Harlan made that book he could definitely fly in the face of society and ask dangerous questions. People could be unhappy to see those stories that offended them, but it was possible to publish them. The pall of political correctness (on both sides of the aisle) would make a number of his original selections even more controversial today than they were back then. We are no longer allowed to rattle the bars as noisily as we once were: it seems to go missing that writers can question things in stories without being committed to that viewpoint in their real lives.

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