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The Meaning of the Purple Smoke
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World by Harlan Ellison
© 2013 James LaFond
1968, 9 pages
How to rate a short story using a template that is really geared toward large works of nonfiction? I find the writing of short stories to be a demanding discipline. However, I am not an Olympic judge grading for difficulty, but a ‘heads up’ reviewer making suggestions for reading. When reading a short story I’m after a feeling, a notion, a possibility, or an idea, presented in narrative form.
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World hits all points on disturbing notes both high and low. It begins, oddly enough, with the story of mass serial killer William Sterog, poisoning his neighbors in the Ruxton area of Baltimore, Maryland. There are some interesting notes about life in Baltimore in 1968 that would interest any curious Baltimorian. I remember the days—described by Ellison—when our parents had an aluminum milk box on the front porch, where the milk man would pick up empty milk bottles and leave full milk bottles in the cool of early morning. It seems so very far away, and so strange to think that that world was living under a nuclear threat of death. When reading vintage sci-fi we need to recall what an archaic world the authors lived in.
The story then veers through a concept called Crosswhen, to a distant time and star, where the same destructive spirit that animated Sterog—despite his cry that he loved everyone, even those he killed—inhabits a seven-headed being who is being psychically incarcerated in some alien version of a psychiatric facility.
Harlan ends this tale with a finality that is as disturbing as Sterog and the seven-headed beast, magnified manifold. It does not leave you easily.
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JB     Dec 6, 2013

Had the unique pleasure of meeting Harlan Ellison at a dinner banquet. I was dining with a number of my associates when Harlan and his entourage stepped up to our table, given he knew some of people seated there. He was everything I had always heard when one spoke about him. He completely took over the table and the talking. The conversation quickly turned into a replay of the scar scene from 'Jaws' as people were pulling aside all sorts of clothing to revel their respective scars and share their stories of how they obtained them. It was obvious that Harlan knew he'd win before he started as he pulled open his shirt to reveal a long chest scar from bypass surgery. His mind works in many crafty ways, he knows his final objective and takes you on a helluva ride to get there.
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