Perhaps the strangest book event I’ve yet attended began on Saturday at Sweeney Todd’s Barber Shop in Hollywood. Shortly after 2 p.m., a 1950s-era hot rod pulled to the curb on Hollywood Boulevard, disgorging the legendary writer and iconoclast Harlan Ellison, accompanied by a pair of greasers in full leathers.
At 79, Ellison has been a fixture in Los Angeles for more than half a century, cranking out such diverse works as fiction, teleplays and comic books. His 1967 anthology “Dangerous Visions” — featuring original stories by Robert Silverberg, Theodore Sturgeon, J.G. Ballard, Norman Spinrad, Roger Zelazny and Samuel R. Delany — is among the most important science fiction books ever published; his groundbreaking TV criticism for the old Los Angeles Free Press was collected in “The Glass Teat” and “The Other Glass Teat.”
Ellison wrote the “Star Trek” episode “The City on the Edge of Forever,” and created characters by which James Cameron’s “Terminator” franchise was inspired. Before all that, though, he wrote about urban street gangs in the early novel “Web of the City” and a series of stories (most notoriously one titled “Sex Gang”) that were published under a variety of pseudonyms.
The event on Saturday was for a reissue of these stories, in two volumes — “Pulling a Train” (158 pages, $14.95 paper) and “Getting in the Wind” (174 pages, $14.95 paper) — from the Brooklyn-based Kicks Books. For the last year or so, Kicks has staked out its own odd corner of what we might call American trash culture, publishing Kim Fowley, Nick Tosches and Sun Ra in paperbacks with lurid covers, an homage to 1950s pulps.