BOOK REVIEW: “Mind Fields” by Harlan Ellison

by on

“What does it matter if something is old? Charles Dickens said any book you haven’t read is a new book. What does it matter whether it’s old?… I don’t understand what this lemming-like dementia is about constantly having new stuff. When was the last time you read the totality of Steinbeck or Faulkner or Katherine Anne Porter or Shirley Jackson? Everybody always wants something new, new, new – and that’s what’s killing life for writers. This dementia for ‘new’ is ridiculous. It turns everybody into a back number… We’re dealing with a more and more illiterate and amnesiac constituency. It’s impossible to get a readership that will follow you, because all they know is what they knew yesterday… And so when I hear this what-are-you-doing-lately thing, or that the Edgeworks books are bringing back all of my older books, I say, ‘Yeah, they’re real old books – like five years old!’ See, I do go off on these things. And if you ask the wrong question, I get real cranky.”
- Harlan Ellison
 
Mind Fields is a book of short stories by Harlan Ellison, inspired by the mythic glory of paintings by Polish artist, Jacek Yerka.

Mind Fields, I’m ashamed to admit, is the first Harlan Ellison book I ever bought. Ashamed because I was over the age of 20 when it was published and Harlan Ellison almost instantly became one of my favorite authors of all time, and I regret I wasn’t buying his books from the moment I could read.

Jacek Yerka paintings are so vibrant and imaginative, even the most uncreative cynic would become charmed with the sense of life and depth within them. His paintings move. They breathe. They sting with snakebite fire.

In the hands of Harlan Ellison, he bleeds the visions dry, squeezing every pulpy drop of venom from every nook and cranny. No detail is missed. No pore is unexamined. No brushstroke is ignored.

Although Harlan Ellison is one of the most prolific and award-winning authors of our time, during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there are still going to be those of you who are unfamiliar with his work. Allow me to share with you one of my favorite passages from Mind Fields, a story entitled “The Silence”…
 

This is the cathedral in which your cowardice has been enshrined. The silence of the pulpit is the silence we heard when you did not answer cries for help. In the eaves of this place are the festooned remnants of the friends you did not come to assist. In the darkened rooms of rotted staircases are the tattered faces of lovers you betrayed – here your mother, there your father, both gone now and neither with any degree of calm or joy. Here is the sanctuary of your lost chances. There is no pastor, no choir, no stewards, no supplicants. It is a congregation of one. You will worship here all the remaining days of your life and at night your spirit will kneel on broken glass in the pews.
 
That one chills me everytime I read it. How I love authors who write prose as poetry.

Mind Fields is not only a fantastic introduction to one of the living legends of imaginative literature, but also serves as a beautiful collection of some of the finest examples of surreal art being created during our lifetimes. Ellison inspired by Yerka is a beauty to behold. This is Shakespeare inspire by DaVinci. This is Bradbury inspired by Dali. Yeats inspired by Michaelangelo.

The thing I love the most about Mind Fields is the flow of said inspiration veritably spills off the page. Between the brilliant combination of Jacek’s imagery and Harlan’s stories, it’s impossible for your own imagination to cease churning. One look at the paintings and stories start forming in your own head. Then you read Harlan’s prose and the paintings nearly come to life. You fear waters may drip upon your floor, so you hold the book less upright. You fear monsters may nip at your fingertips, so you draw your hand to the edge of the pages. No longer paintings, the images become windows to real worlds. That’s what makes Mind Fields a unique work of art. A prime example of two artforms converging to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Mind Fields is more than a book of beautiful artwork; more than a book of glorious short stories. Instead it’s a genuine gateway to imagination, opening doorways to otherworldly possibilities no story or image could do alone. Therein lies the power of Mind Fields. Melding two incredible artists to conjure something entirely new.

Not long ago in my career as a writer, I had the great honor of being a very small part of a project similar to Mind Fields called Tales From the Dark Tower. Dark fantasy artist Joe Vargo had created a number of paintings for the Tales From the Dark Tower anthology and I had the privilege of being one of the writers who contributed to it. With all due respect to the talents of Joe Vargo, I’m sure he would agree, we are no Yerka and Ellison. Nevertheless, Tales From the Dark Tower showed me a small hint of how excited Ellison must have felt when he wrote Mind Fields.

My only negative comment? The book is too short. Too thin. I would have loved for it to be two, three, four times as long! Every page is a wonder to behold and I would that they numbered into the hundreds.

This is a creation I can’t recommend enough and encourage you to go buy it. This is truly a life enriching book that must be on your shelf and it will do what all great works of art should – take you to places more spellbinding than you have ever dreamed.

I love that story I read so much, allow me to close with Harlan reading the same story.