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WEB OF THE CITY ist Harlan Ellisons erster Roman und rückblickend auf seine späteren Bücher eher als Jugendsünde zu verbuchen. Ellison selbst war, bevor er das Buch schrieb, einige Monate in einer Jugendgang in Brooklyn und hat seine dort gemachten Beobachtungen während der darauffolgenden Militärzeit (nachts auf der Latrine, wie er selbst behauptet) aufgeschrieben. Das Buch ist im Stile der Pulps geschrieben und lässt kein allzu großes literarisches Engagement erkennen. Die Figuren sind klischeehaft und holzschnittartig beschrieben, der Inhalt trieft vor juvenilem Pathos. Rusty, der Held des Romans, der in den 50er Jahren in der Bronx angesiedelt ist, möchte aus einer kriminellen Jugendgang, den Cougars, aussteigen. Wie schwierig sich dieses gestaltet, ist aus zeitgenössischen Filmen bekannt und das Motiv ist bis heute beliebt, wenn sich auch Lokalkolorit und Moden geändert haben. Ellisson beschreibt das Gangleben sicherlich recht authentisch, allerdings ohne nennenswerten literarischen Gestaltungswillen. Auch wenn es sich um einen recht harten Krimi handelt, habe ich als heutiger Leser immer wieder Bilder aus der „West Side Story“ vor Augen gehabt. Das Buch ist einfach in die Jahre gekommen und hat im Gegensatz zu manch anderem darunter arg gelitten. Die Ausgabe in der Hard Case Crime-Reihe ist gleichwohl zu loben. Das Cover von Glen Orbik ist stilecht und für Pulp-Fans schon kaufentscheidend. Außerdem hat Titan Books dem Roman ein kurzes aber lesenswertes Vorwort des Autors vorangestellt und im Anhang noch drei Geschichten draufgegeben, die Harlan Ellison aus dem Material zu WEB OF THE CITY extrahiert und in verschiedenen Zeitschriften veröffentlicht hat.
I am a big fan of the Hard Case Crime imprint (having read 47 of their books) and Harlan Ellison (having read 11 of his books), so I was very excited last year when HCC announced they were going to reprint his long out-of-print first novel Web of the City.
Harlan rather famously infiltrated a real-life Brooklyn street gang at the age of 21 to do research for several short stories and this novel. The result was perhaps some of the most authentic examples of juvenile delinquent pulp fiction ever written. (This was a short-lived sub-genre of the pulps, intended to excite younger readers and shock adults with lurid depictions of teenage violence.)
In addition to this novel, Ellison's street gang short stories were collected in The Deadly Streets (1958), Children of the Streets (1961), Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation (1961). He also published a nonfiction autobiographical account of this time in his life, Memos from Purgatory (1961).
This book deserves recognition for jumpstarting the career of a writer who would later go on to revolutionize the field of science fiction, but the truth is it's not very good on its own merit. Ellison has always had a verbose, bombastic, and sometimes almost lyrical quality to his voice. It works great in high concept stories like "Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman" and "I Have Mouth & I Must Scream", but it fits neither the tone nor pacing of a suspense novel. The detective/mystery elements of the plot were handled amateurishly. While Ellison may have nailed the social aspects of 1950's street gangs, he clearly did not understand drug culture--the effects of narcotics, the economics of the trade, etc.
I would recommend this book only to hardcore Ellison fans who want to see how his career started.
Harlan Ellison has been described (and he's personally agreed with the assessment that came from a dust jacket on one of his books) that he's possibly the most contentious person on Earth. But, wow! Can that boy write? Ellison is now only one candle shy of 80 and this book was first published in the early 1950's when he was dipping his toe into the street gang scene in NYC.
Web of The City is the real West Side Story without the singing and the dancing. Puerto Rican Rusty Santoro tries to leave his gang, the Cougars, and finds it's harder than getting off the AARP mailing list.
Fans of Ellison know that he can write with one hand tied behind his back but in this book it becomes apparent that the man had no learning curve. Back in the early `50s with this, his first published book, he hit the ground running with his bad-boy, hard hitting, in-your-face style of lit.
The realism he's crafted in Web of The City makes it a difficult read; the world of gangs is ugly and brutal. It' difficult to comprehend that this setting and chronology where Ellison has placed Rusty Santoro is in the hidden underbelly of America's Golden Age of Ozzie and Harriet. Read it and weep readers: I did.
Like other reviewers, I am a big Harlan Ellison fan, but this book is derivative, unpleasant and cliched. Think of an arc from the gritty realism of The Amboy Dukes in the 1940s to the romanticized youth gangs of Broadway's West Side Story and Hollywood's Rebel Without A Cause in the mid-1950s--Web of the City lies in an unfortunate middle ground.
Although Ellison reportedly joined a gang to research this novel, the characters and situations are impossible to believe. It seems to be drawn from early 1950s magazine articles on the horror of youth culture, but with more unpleasant violence than would be allowed by mainstream publishers. The book's attempts to shock are transparent. Even worse are the attempt to make the characters cool, which are pathetic.
Three short stories are included. No Way Out is taken verbatim from novel, with a different ending pasted on. It works better in that format, but it's still not very good. No Game for Children is also a so-so short story. It's no better than No Way Out, but more interesting as it's possible to see some early Ellison style. Stand Still and Die is the best of the three, although the protagonist is such an idiot and the ending confrontation so silly that doesn't rise to the level of good.
I don't understand why Hard Case decided to reprint this where there is so much great out-of-print crime fiction from the same era. Actually, I do understand, they figured correctly that the author's name would sell some books. But I think they'll lose more by tarnishing their brand than they'll gain by sales.
I have been a big fan of Harlan Ellison and the Hard Case Crime books but never expected to find the two together. But it fits and it is a revelation because we see the roots of Ellison's style. Included in this collection is Harlan's very first novel written in 1957 and three early pulp stories with very similar themes.
When I first started reading the images from West Side Story kept playing through my head. But soon we come to a scene of a gang fight in which a shard of glass is strapped to a pole and launched through someones eyeball. Nope, this is not West Side Story. This is the real thing. A world of Drugs and Sex and Violence. Harlan lived in this world to research this book.
The first short story is the most interesting it features some of the same characters in a alternate version in which things happen differently.
This over-sized trade paperback features a great painting by Glen Orbik.
Harlan Ellison is one of America's greatest living writers and you will thoroughly enjoy this timeless tale which showcases some very early Ellison. The Man could always write.
As an avid reader/collector of all things Ellison, This was an easy sell! Nice to have a Trade sized Hard Case too. As speculative fiction goes I've pretty much run the gamut, but the earlier '50s-era stories are still to be discovered. "Can't have it all?" Suuuure you can!
First off: I LOVE, LOVE ELLISON. I've taught his "'Repent, Harlequin,' said the Tick-Tock Man" in all my college classes. I've heard the man speak about his background and writings. I've watched his "City on the Edge of Forever," the Trek fan favorite, a million times. So I started Web of the City and didn't make it very far. OK..it's his first novel. It's Brooklyn. It's the 50's. It's all too familiar to me since that's my life, too. Brooklyn, the 50's, the gangs. I'm trying. I really am. One more time....