I didn't know quite what to expect from this volume, especially after reading the author's caveat at the beginning:It is suggested that the reader not attempt to read this book at one sitting. The emotional content of these stories, taken without break, may be extremely upsetting. This note is intended most sincerely, and not as hyperbole.
Not that this is an issue for me, I never read books in one sitting. But after finishing these stories I can see what the author means and agree that it is not (at least entirely) hyperbole. Most of these stories are pretty bleak, full of deeply unlikable characters showing humanity's worst side.
This is a themed collection, containing many stories previously printed in earlier collections (I skipped "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" and "Delusion for a Dragon Slayer" that I had already read in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream). The stories all seem to feature death, belief and gods. They also resist categorisation but include elements of SF, fantasy and horror.
While some stories seemed to lack subtlety and felt heavy-handed ("The Face of Helene Bournouw" and "Paingod") others were the other extreme and too opaque ("Neon" and "At the Mouse Circus"). However, there were some real gems. Powerful emotional stories that will stay with you ("The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" and "Basilisk") and engaging stories with striking imagery ("Ernest and the Machine God", "Rock God" and "Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans").
Ellison doesn't seem to do bland or just so
stories. He strives for the full emotional effect each time and some might find it too harsh or upsetting but at least you will react and remember them.