The genius piece of fiction titled “A Boy And His Dog” and I go WAY back. In fact, I was probably 12 or 13, on a rainy day in Chattanooga at the library and trolling the science fiction section for something to pass the time. I’d asked my mom to just drop me off, so I was feeling particularly independent.
Buried in a hardback anthology was this story by a guy I’d never heard of, Harlan Ellison. It was post-apocalypse, a kid and a telepathic dog. I loved the idea because my older brother and I were very much into the ‘Logan’s Run’ movie. Had a bit of a crush on Jessica and embarrassingly, wanted to be a Sandman. Forgive me, seems a bit cruel now to aspire to executing dandies who were just looking to escape certain death by thinking outside the ‘box’. (There’s a pun there; but you’d have to be as much of a nerd as I am to catch it, so I’ll just let it lay there.)
So this story though: ‘A Boy And His Dog’. It was naughty. The hero wasn’t heroic, and was doing things you weren’t supposed to do. I was caught off-guard because I usually read Arthur Clarke and Larry Niven, where everything was sanitized and shiny and clean. And mostly about machines and whatnot. This Ellison guy was a potty mouth and had a dirty mind. But when you’re 12, that’s all very…very cool. I read it. Then I read it again, right then.
In fact, I’ve read that story more times than I could tell you. Also embarrassingly, that summer (and likely other summers), when I was riding my bike down to the gas station to play ‘Car Wars’ and buy a Mountain Dew or coasting down my parent’s sloping front yard, I’d pretend post-WWIII mutants were chasing me and my telepathic dog. Yeah, I did that. Point being, that story was incredibly influential to me.
I’ve followed Ellison ever since, of course. Like a lot of people, I never wanted to meet the guy in person because he was scary and uptight and temperamental. Yet the dude was among the finest speculative fiction writers who’ve ever put their minds to the task. I’ve got a substantial portion of his work on my shelves because you have to mine that kind of genius when it’s out in the world. He’s one of the voices I hear in my head when I’m writing (metaphorically, don’t judge me). He says to write about people, because that’s the only thing worth writing about. He says to stop being boring, stop explaining. He says to do something shocking, something different from the garbage on the bestseller lists.
So a very long time ago, some say as far back as 1970, Harlan said he planned to expand ‘A Boy And His Dog’ into a novel. He was coy for years about that. At one point, he got fed up with people asking and wrote a follow-on story where he killed the hero to put an end to it. In fact, a few years ago when I checked some interviews to gauge what was up with that, I read where he claimed to have written the bulk of the story and was waiting on the right price. It was maddening how long I waited for the rest of this particular story.
And now the best we’re going to get is on Amazon now. Mr. Ellison has sadly passed away; and his health was failing in recent years. Ironically, he had a stroke only a few pages in to what was going to be his first return to new and related material (a story to be called ‘Lying Doggo’. I really don’t want to hear from anybody reading this about how he groped Connie Willis at WorldCon because I won’t apologize for the guy. He was an ass. He was just a genius ass. And he’s a part of me.
Do yourself a favor and buy this and read it clean through. It isn’t perfect. Part of it’s in screenplay form, which annoys. But it’s the story…an incredibly powerful and resonant story that has shaped the way many people think in a lot of ways. After all this guy did for science fiction, as hard as he worked to put new things into the world to shatter crappy and retreaded ideas, he deserves that.
And somebody get a kickstarter rolling to have this thing filmed, for goodness’ sake!