Sixteen stories--a few science-fictional, a few completely ""straight,"" most in a lightly fantastical vein somewhere in between--from a gifted but erratic writer who's hardly at his best here. As in Strange Wine (1977), Ellison too often settles for a neatly-established gimmick that's belabored rather than expanded or illuminated: in the syrupy, crudely spelled-out ""Jeffty is Five,"" the narrator's childhood playmate never grows beyond age five, stays in touch with the unspoiled 1940s-radio era, but is destroyed by the sight of TV (""The past, being eaten by the present, the sound of something in pain""); ""Shatterday"" is a slangy but uninspired variation on the doppelganger crisis (""which of us is me, and how does me get rid of him?""); in ""All the Birds Come Home to Roost,"" a man finds all the women he's known re-entering his life in exact reverse order--a dandy notion that's oddly ill-paced and limply concluded; and ""The Man Who Was Heavily Into Revenge"" weighs down a workable premise--repressed hostility's infinite psychic power (a theme more cleanly expounded elsewhere in the collection)--with cuteness, sentimentality, and pretentiousness: ""The emotions sang, the electrons danced, the focus shifted, and the symphony of frustration went on."" More involving are Ellison's evocative, if slightly murky, stretches into lyrical, symbolic limbos: loners who've been wasting their lifetimes wind up in a timeless wasteland where all of history floats by; a French musician-soldier crawls through a WW II dreamscape dragging his guitar and a canister of radioactive isotopes (a message-y but alluring salute to jazz legend Django Reinhardt). And the two most ambitious pieces are atypical Ellison: a challenging dip into ergs and entropy (""with a grateful nod to the writings of Michael Moorcock""); and the longish ""All the Lies That Are My Life""--jauntily written, though ultimately disappointing, memories of an ambivalent literary-world friendship. A very mixed bag, in fact, which also includes some Playboy-tailored ephemera, a futuristic turn on the duped-CIA-agent genre, and assorted prefaces of the most self-defeating kind (confessional, defensive, over-explanatory); Ellison's storytelling and image-making talents are evident throughout, but not once here does he seem fully in command.