Harlan Ellison - Sleepless Nights from the Procrustean Bed (1984) Book Review
It’s almost like there’s nothing Harlan Ellison can write about and not be entertaining. I’m sure he could write an essay on house painting or crocheting that was both immensely readable and compelling. In Sleepless Nights from the Procrustean Bed, he belts out masterful essays on speculative fiction, his eulogy for his mother, Steve McQueen, and dating services, and more; all entertaining and captivating.
Sleepless Nights from the Procrustean Bed is a collection of Harlan’s essays written in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Procrustean, not a word you hear every day; it means designed to produce strict conformity by ruthless or arbitrary means. A fitting word because the mighty Harlan is anything but a conformist and nothing if not ruthless. He might make you conform to his line of thought though. The guy is convincing. He pulls no punches. He will bludgeon you but you may learn a thing or two.
So many topics for Harlan to froth about. It’s fun to listen to him rail away against television and video games. At first you think it’s going to be some curmudgeonly diatribe out of touch with the youth and not with the times. Well it is a curmudgeonly diatribe, but oh so full of verve and fire. I may not agree with all of Harlan’s points, but I am never bored by him.
Harlan can attack like an angry pit bull, which is always fun to read; but he can shift gears and deliver heartfelt poignancy exemplified by his essay about his mother’s funeral and his family relationship struggles. And his piece on video dating shows a great respect for women.
He astutely cuts to the heart of Steve McQueen’s character in his essay Centerpunching; and makes you a bigger McQueen fan. His essay Fear Not Your Enemies, a call for stronger gun control laws, written right after John Lennon’s murder, is especially germane today given our current headlines. His writing on sci fi fandom is legendary and always welcome. And his passion and activism for the arts are evident here as well. Harlan is a writer; yes he’s got a sack full of Hugo and Nebula awards, but the guy can write about any topic and it will be something worth reading.
This book reminds me that I want to read all of Harlan’s books.