Again, Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word by Harlan Ellison
Trade Paperback – Edgeworks Abbey – 2014 – 242 pages
You will not find “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman” in this book. Nor will you find “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” “A Boy and His Dog,” or “The Deathbird,” or any of Harlan Ellison’s myriad masterpieces. What will you find herein? The front cover might give you a nasty clue: stories of crime and amorality, of sex and violence. What the cover might not have conveyed was that the award-winning tales enumerated above were forged in an imagination stoked for the preceding decade by the need to trade tales to the pulps and slick men’s magazine to make the rent ($7 a week). You hold in your hands the work of a writer painfully crawling forward, tale by tale, honing his craft in an industry where every word counted…of course, you knew all that; you got it from the title.
Again, Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word kicks off with “Typewriters & Pipe Lighters,” a collection of anecdotes from Ellison recalling the writing of these stories, which span his first full year as a professional writer (1956) to 1968, when he still dashed off the occasional thriller while making his name with the iconic fantasies listed above.
A further essay—“Naked Deranged Psycho Thrill-Demon Or, Bitch-Slut Gun-Crazy Homicidal Rat” (1996)—discusses pulp editor W.W. Scott’s propensity for re-titling Ellison’s works for publication in such publications as Guilty and Trapped.
Most of the stories are straight-forward thrillers never-before collected in an Ellison anthology: “Her Name Was Death” (1957), “Thirty Miles to Death Junction” (1957), “The Teaser with a Knife” (1967), “Don’t Mind the Maid” (1957), “The Girl in the Red Room” (1964), “Hunchback” (1957), “Goodbye, Eadie” (1956), “The Clean Break” (1956), “Boss of the Big House”(1957), “Drive a Girl to Kill” (1957), “Hell’s Holocaust” (1957), “Willie Just Won’t Kick Off” (1968), “Mad Dog!” (written with Henry Slesar, 1957), “The Women in the House” (1957), “Taxi Dancer”(1967).
“The Music of Our Affair”(1963) features the author experimenting with style, to cacophonous effect.
“Find One Cuckaboo” (1960) is a never-before reprinted novelette originally included in the paperback anthology THE SAINT MYSTERY LIBRARY, No. 11.
“Clobber Me, Moogoo!” (1956) and “McManus’s Mental Mistress” (1968) exhibit a fantasy-tinged approach to stories of sex.
“Only Death Can Stop It” (1960) compelled Harlan to add a disclaimer to the table of the contents.
“The Final Push” (1957) is one of the author’s three Westerns. While “Saddle Tramp” (collected in Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word) was more tramp than saddle, this story has more in common with “The End of the Time of Leinard” in its evocation of a genre Ellison adores.
“Night on the Mug Beat” is a never-before published cop story, appearing herein for the first time.
The main body of the collection closes with “The Steep Road to the Gutter” (1965), an overlooked masterpiece of early Ellisonia that the editor is overjoyed to expose to a wider audience.
But wait, there’s more!
In preparing Again, Honorable Whoredom at a Penny a Word for publication, the editor stumbled across a file headed A WOMAN NAMED MIDNIGHT. After confirming that “A Girl Named Poison” (found in the author’s 2013 collection PULLING A TRAIN) hadn’t changed her name upon reaching maturity, the editor brought the forty-page typescript for an unfinished novel—credited to “Ellis Daye” on the first page, and written while Ellison lived in the treehouse on Bushrod Lane—to its author. Harlan read the story but had no recollection of writing it, nor why it had never been completed and published, but nevertheless gave his blessing for it to make its debut herein.