Assassins, Mad Robots, and an Alien Hunt: Rich Horton on The Man With Nine Lives and A Touch of Infinity by Harlan Ellison

Assassins, Mad Robots, and an Alien Hunt: Rich Horton on The Man With Nine Lives and A Touch of Infinity by Harlan Ellison

The-Man-With-Nine-Lives-small A Touch of Infinity-small

Back in the early days of the print version of Black Gate, our first Managing Editor, Dave Truesdale, wanted to bring in some big names to the magazine. So I paid a fortune to get a big novella from Michael Moorcock in our first issue, and I got a phone call from Harlan Ellison, whom Dave had contacted to commission a story.

We were paying six cents a word for fiction at the time, but Dave had coached me that Harlan expected to get paid more than that. “His rate is 13 cents a word,” Dave told me.

I was trying to launch a nationally-distributed magazine with my own money (and money I’d begged from friends and family), and paying that kind of money was not in my meager budget. But I grit my teeth and told Dave to go ahead and make the offer. I’d make up the difference with cuts elsewhere, I figured. Harlan agreed, and we were in business.

It’s a long way between an agreement and a completed story, however. Shortly after we made Harlan the offer, he sold a story to Hemispheres, the inflight magazine of United Airlines. They paid Harlan more than 13 cents a word — a lot more. When Harlan called it was to tell me, in considerable detail, just how much he’d been paid for that story.

Black Gate 2, which does not contain a story by Harlan Ellison
Black Gate 2, which does not contain a story by Harlan Ellison

I listened politely, wondering where the conversation was going. It was the middle of the day and I was at work at Motorola. Maybe Harlan called all his editors to talk about his recent sales? What did I know, I’d only been an editor for a few months.

“It’s a great story, a knockout story,” Harlan told me matter-of-factly.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“And the rate you’re offering, 13 cents a word — it’s a fine rate, a good rate,” Harlan said.  And then he told me again what Hemispheres had paid for his most recent story.

And then it hit me. Harlan expected me to be competitive with United Airlines. As delicately as I could, I explained that I was not a big corporation, just a small press publisher, and there was no way I could afford to pay $3,000 for a single story. That was more than my fiction budget for an entire issue.

Harlan assured me that he understood. “We can make 13 cents work,” he said. “How about a reprint?”

And so, I never published a Harlan Ellison story in Black Gate. Dave, who’d already bragged about it to our readers, found a tactful way to inform them it wasn’t going to happen (“The publisher screwed it up,” he told them.)

“Incognita, Inc,” the story that appeared in Hemispheres in 2001, turned out to be one of Harlan’s last original works of fiction. In the sixteen years since he’s published less than ten new stories, and his health is currently quite poor.

But in the 50s and 60s he was tremendously prolific. His first science fiction novel was The Man With Nine Lives. It was published as an Ace Double in 1960, paired with an early collection, A Touch of Infinity. It’s one of the more collectible Ace Doubles, and that’s saying something.

Here’s Rich Horton’s take, taken from his review at his website, Strange at Ecbatan:

This book pairs his first story collection with one of the very few novels Ellison has written… The Man With Nine Lives is his first SF novel, and arguably his only one… [it] is about 44,000 words long, and it is expanded from a shorter story, “The Sound of a Scythe,” with another story, “Assassin!” also included…

Cal Emory is a desperate man. As the novel opens, he is trying to kill Paul Lederman, but Lederman has the jump on him. Through flashbacks we learn why.

It seems that Emory and Lederman were college roommates. But Lederman, son of a rich man, stole Emory’s girlfriend, married her and then drove her to suicide, then engineered a cheating scandal that was blamed on Emory, getting him expelled. Lederman then hired Emory at his company (his father having died), supposedly out of charity. Emory finally figures out the truth and decides to kill Lederman.

However, he decides, unconvincingly, that he first must find a man named Patooch, apparently the ONLY person in the universe who can surgically alter him so that Lederman will not be able to find him. It turns out that the uber-villain Lederman has arranged for Patooch to be sent to “deepsleep”, this future’s replacement for prison. So Emory agrees to serve half of Patooch’s sentence…

The flip side of The Man With Nine Lives is A Touch of Infinity, a collection containing six stories,including one of my favorite early Ellison pieces, “Life Hutch.” All of them were published in SF digests between 1956-58, Here’s a few of the magazines these stories originally appeared in.

Science Fiction Adventures June 1957-small If April 1956-small Fantastic Universe June 1956-small

The cover to Science Fiction Adventures and Fantastic Universe were both by Ed Emsh; IF was by Kelly Freas [click the images to embiggen].

Here’s Rich’s thoughts on the collection.

The story collection, A Touch of Infinity, gathers six early stories, a novelette and 5 shorts, totally about 40,000 words.

On the whole, this is a pretty negligible set of stories… these stories are certainly fairly flamboyant, and generally deal with desperate characters. It’s worth noting that Ellison was extremely prolific in the lower end SF magazines through about 1959, then fell silent for three years (though I believe he was working in other genres and in TV), resuming at a slower rate of production with much better stories, including award winners like “Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman.” In one way his career could be compared to those of Brunner and Silverberg — writers who produced competent work at a frenetic pace through the mid to late 50s (or into the mid-60s in Brunner’s case), then slowed down and began doing far better work in the mid-60s. However, it seems to me that Ellison’s early work was less accomplished than that of either Silverberg or Brunner. It’s really seems to me that the Ellison of the mid-60s, say from “Repent Harlequin” on, is an almost completely different, and enormously better, writer than the early Ellison.

Read Rich’s full review here.

Here’s the complete Table of Contents for A Touch of Infinity.

“Run for the Stars” (Science Fiction Adventures, June 1958, 14,000 words)
“Back to the Drawing Boards” (Fantastic Universe, August 1958, 5,900 words)
“Life Hutch” (If, April 1956, 4,500 words)
“The Sky is Burning” (If, August 1958, 3,400 words)
“Final Trophy” (Super Science Fiction, June 1957, 5,400 words)
“Blind Lightning” (Fantastic Universe, June 1956, 6,500 words)

The Man With Nine Lives / A Touch of Infinity is Ace Double #D-413; it was published in 1960. It is 133 + 123 pages, priced at 35 cents. The covers are by Ed Emshwiller and Ed Valigursky.

Our recent coverage of Ace Doubles includes:

An Interlude with Messrs Brunner & Van Vogt: The World Swappers by John Brunner and Siege of the Unseen by A.E. van Vogt, by Tony Den
Generation Ships and Martian Rebels: Rich Horton on 200 Years to Christmas by J. T. McIntosh and Rebels of the Red Planet by Charles L. Fontenay
Star Pirates and Cyborg Games: Rich Horton on The Star Virus by Barrington J. Bayley and Mask of Chaos by John Jakes
Invaders of Pluto, and Brain Stealers of Mars: Rich Horton on The Ultimate Weapon and The Planeteers by John W. Campbell
Space Barbarians and Uranium Mining on Mars: Rich Horton on Empire of the Atom by A. E. Van Vogt and Space Station #1 by Frank Belknap Long
Dorsai and Secret Psi Powers: Rich Horton on The Genetic General/Time to Teleport by Gordon R. Dickson
Space Stations With Secret Passages, and Snow White in Space: Rich Horton on Sanctuary in the Sky by John Brunner/The Secret Martians by John Sharkey
Parallel Universes and Space Marines: Rich Horton on The Games of Neith by Margaret St. Clair/The Earth Gods are Coming by Kenneth Bulmer
The Problem With Marion Zimmer Bradley: Rich Horton on Falcons of Narabedla/The Dark Intruder
King of the Fourth Planet/Cosmic Checkmate by Robert Moore Williams and Charles V. De Vet & Katherine MacLean

See all of our recent Vintage Treasures here.

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Thomas Parker

To receive the back of Harlan Ellison’s hand is not necessarily a dishonor.

Bob Byrne

Love that story!

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