Rumble/Web of the City – Harlan Ellison (Pryamid Books, 1958)

Rumble is Harlan Ellison‘s first novel. It wasn’t SF or sleaze, but a related genre: juvenile criminals and gangs.

Ellison has a great story about this book. First, he had actually joined a Brooklyn street gang to, like a reporter or ethnographer, write realistically about such lives.  His long essay, Memos from Purgatory, about it, was also an Alfred Hitchcock Hour episode, with a young Paul Newman playing Ellison, “Larry Bledsoe,” a writer from the Midwest who joins a gang to write a book.  Stories in Ellison’s collections The Juvies (later Children of the Streets) and Gentleman Junkie were derived from his experiences — and Rumble, too.

And there is also the collection Sex Gang, the third title from Nightstand, written as Paul Merchant; it is one o the most collectible and pricey vintage paperbacks around.

The manuscript title for Rumble was Web of the City. He sold it to Lion Books for $1000 before he was drafted into the army.  While in service, Ellison manages to convince the base camp newspaper to let him have a book review column.  One day he opens a box of review copies from Pyramid Books and finds a book called Rumble with his name on it!  He was floored.  Seems Lion Books went out of business and sold their inventory of bought manuscripts to Pyramid and he never knew, never saw galleys, never agreed to a title change.

There it was, his great American first novel., “that was to change the course o Western Civilization,” as Ellison has said, done as a cheap sleazy paperback  (would Lion have done any different?)

Rumble went through two editions and was later reprinted, by both Pyramid and Ace, as Web of the City.

Some have mistaken “Hal Ellson” to be one of Ellison’s 50s pen names, as Ellson wrote quite a bit about juvies, such as Tomboy, Duke, and I Take What I Want, among others, but Ellson was publishing, in 1951, when Ellison was still an unpublished teen.

Rumble is most certainly not Ellison’s best work, it’s a first novel by a young guy still honing his craft.  It is recommended, however, for a number of reasons, and as a literary artifact of an era.

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