Web of the City, by Harlan Ellison (Review)

Web of the City, the first novel by legendary author Harlan Ellison, may not be his best work, but it's certainly never boring.

Jesus H. Christ; Harlan Ellison is terrifying.Full disclosure: when Den of Geek asked me to read and review Web of the City, I had never heard of Ellison before. I make this admission with a great deal of shame. Anyone with my ridiculously overpriced education in literature should know the man. He has, quite literally, won ALL the awards. He has been writing for ALL the things (print, TV, etc, etc) since the 1950s. Web of the City is actually a rerelease; an abridged version was originally published as “Gutter Gang” in the 1957 issue of Guilty Detective Story Magazine. The full length version was published a year later by Pyramid Books under the title “Rumble”.Why does this make Ellison terrifying? No, just being prolific does not inspire fear. Being a badass does; let us count the ways:1. Web of the City is the story of Rusty Santoro, former Prez of the Cougar gang, and his efforts to escape thug life. In order to depict a New York City street gang with accuracy, Ellison went out and joined one.2. By his own admission, Ellison wrote Web of the City while he was in Ranger Basic Training for the U.S. Army. He would train all day, and then go to the latrine at night with his typewriter and pick out Rusty’s story.3. Other trainees did not care for Ellison’s late night typing. Ellison settled those arguments with his fists.4. Once, Ellison mailed a dead rodent to a publisher.Look, I was in the Army. I went to Basic Training. I was lucky if I had the energy to pick my nose after a full day of learning how to bayonet plastic dummies. Do you have any idea how much harder RANGER Basic Training is? Multiply normal Basic by 100 and you start to get an idea. Now try to remember that Ellison was drafted. In the 1950’s. Who do you think he was scrapping with in the middle of the night so that he could keep writing? Hard cases. Other draftees? Sure; but you better believe there were also kids like the ones he had met in that street gang. Kids who had been court ordered into the military instead of prison.Dude. I met a Sergeant First Class who had been court ordered into the Army under the condition that he remain posted outside the U.S. for TEN YEARS. And that was in 1996, not a time when boot camp was known for its badassery. I am pretty sure that Drill Sergeants could still beat you reasonably close to death in the 1950’s.