(Original review, 1980-10-29)
At WorldCon, Harlan discussed this story a bit, and read an hour's worth of it to us. The story is pseudo-autobiographical; i.e., bits and pieces of Harlan's and Bob Silverberg's personalities and lives are entwined into both of the "main" characters (Bedloe and Crowstairs). For example, we all know Silverberg's books to be rather "restrained and conventional" compared to Ellison's stuff, but in the story Crowstairs says to Bedloe:
"You know I'm a better writer than you, don't you? Not just sales... BETTER. There's heat in my stuff; it works, it pulls the plow. BETTER. For Christ's sake, Larry, there's nothing but cold dead air blowing through your books. They ought to hand out wooly mittens with every copy of your stuff."
Now, Bedloe is the narrator and thus should supposedly correspond to Ellison if the story were purely autobiographical ... yet the roles seem to be reversed here, with Bedloe's writing more like Silverberg's. Thus, the ghost writer theory might apply to either Silverberg or Ellison or both; more likely, neither ... I think it's just something Ellison threw in to spice things up. Just because there are bits of real people in the story doesn't mean that EVERYTHING in the story is based on reality. Ellison is a "fantasist", remember? As a fantasy/character study, the story is spellbinding even if the reader doesn't follow Ellison the Real Person and his escapades.
Does it appear, as it does to some of us, that the "intensely personal" aspect of the story means that Harlan himself is masquerading as one of the main characters? And if so, does anyone feel, like several of us do, that Harlan is actually Kercher Crowstairs, (the deceased...) Among the evidence, aside from the descriptions of Crowstairs which seem to fit Ellison quite well, is the fact that Ellison
did have a maid who wore a transistor
radio which looked just like a hearing aid, just as it is in the book.
Well, if you assume that the Crowstairs character *is* more-or-less Harlan Ellison, that leaves one disturbing question ... Is he trying to tell us that someone else actually ghosted several of his books? O.K. Who? And which ones? Or then again, is Harlan just foolin'?
[2018 EDIT: This review was written at the time as I was running my own personal BBS server. Much of the language of this and other reviews written in 1980 reflect a very particular kind of language: what I call now in retrospect a “BBS language”.]