Librarian of Alexandria


We are clearly on a slide-trough to destruction.

Watergate, the energy crisis, apartheid, holy ward, venality, vigilantism, apathy, corruption, fanaticism, racism, the deification of stupidity… none of these would be so terrifyingly prophetic of our rush to the grave were it not for the capabilities we possess to do ourselves in so efficiently and swiftly. The great lizards owned the planet for something like 130,000,000 years, but they didn't have slant-well drilling, pesticides, pollution, fast breeders, defoliants, demagogues, thermonuclear warheads, non-biodegradable plastics, The Pentagon, The Kremlin, The General Staff of the Peoples' Army, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and the FBI.

Poor lizards. What joys they missed. Had they not been so culturally deprived, they might have sunk into the swamps in a mere three thousand years.

If it sounds as though I still care, disabuse yourself of the idea. I've done too many college lectures. I've seen too many classrooms filled with no-neck children of parents whose motivation in life was, "My kid's gonna have the education I dint have." I've seen too many of those kids nodding off between Chaucer and Suckling, and I have grown disenchanted. You've let it ride too long, troops. You've frittered and fiddled and enshrined the hypocrites and slaughtered the dreamers, and now you can only get five gallons in your gas tank.

And if I've learned a lesson from that terrible time of fire and blood, it is that most reformers in the pure sense are clowns, shouting into the wind, balming their own guilts and making no ripple whatever. For every Gandhi or Nader or Bertrand Russell or Thoreau, there are a hundred thousand Nixons to stifle freedom of expression, joy of living, and preservation of the past. (My self-disillusionment in this area shows itself in the story "Silent in Gehenna," included in this collection.)

As for the future, well, I'm brought in mind of a quote by Albert Camus:

"Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present."

And the present is being ripped-off and screwed-over by the omnipresent philosophy of I'm all right, Jack, which is a working-class Englishman's term for screw you, baby, I've got mine. It's your future, and you don't seem to give a royal damn what happens to it.

So the Ellison who writes this is a little more calloused and tougher than the one who went to Selma with King in March of 1965, less hopeful and prone to sweeping gardyloos. The Ellison sitting here now is an older version of the kid from Painesville who stopped triyng to buck the tide of bigotry and stupidity and merely cut out to find the rest of the world.

Had I done this book in 1970, as originally planned, you'd find in this space a clarion call to revolution, a resounding challenge to the future. But it's four years later, Nixon time, and I've seen you sitting on your asses mumbling about impeachment. I've gone through ten years waiting for you to recognize how evil the war in the Nam was. I've watched you loaf and lumber through college and business and middle-class complacency, pursuing the twin goals of "happiness" and "security."

What fools you are. Happy, secure corpses you'll be.

You're approaching oblivion, and you know it, and you won't do a thing to save yourselves.

As for me and you in this literary liason, well, I've paid my dues. Now I'm going to merely sit here on the side and laugh my ass off at how you sink into the quagmire like the triceratops. I'm going to laugh and jeer and wiggle my ears at your death throes. And how will I do that? By writing my stories. That's how I get my fix. You can OD on religion or dope or war or toadburgers, for all I care. I'm over here, watching you, and giggling, and saying, "This is what tomorrow looks like, dummy."

And if you hear me sobbing once in a while, it's only because you've killed me, too, you fuckers.

—Harlan Ellison