Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

SFWA Grandmaster and member of the SF Hall of Fame Harlan Ellison died June 28.

A full reminiscence post will follow.

Harlan Ellison at the ABA convention; Larry and Marilyn Niven behind him: Photo by and (c) Andrew Porter.

[Thanks to ULTRAGOTHA, Andrew Porter, and John King Tarpinian for the story.]

70 thoughts on “Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

  1. @Anna Feruglio Del Dan:

    You’re, of course, perfectly free to say what you choose. You’re human, after all, and thus can behave as you wish.

    It’s a reflection on you more than it is on a target who can no longer be impacted at all by whatever anyone says. At this point, your remarks can only impact those who can read them. So the “a*****e” cannot care about them and thus suffers no harm.

    I refuse to harm people who never did me damage in order to vent publicly at a corpse. I never said you or anyone else couldn’t. I said that upon someone’s death, with the body barely cold, that consideration of those they leave behind should be given.

    There’s a time and a place. Less than two days after a death on a post used to mourn is neither. But that’s my view, YMMV.

  2. (Just to be clear, I wasn’t trying to say “please make things work the way I want them to“ – just that if a memorial thread comes up upsetting more than once then setting boundaries for the comment threads of memorial posts is an option, whatever those boundaries end up being. Not necessarily the right option, but an option.)

  3. After seeing a bunch of people posting photos of the inscribed title pages of books in their collections, I’m intrigued by the realization that I have no Ellison autographed books. I may still have a letter he sent me, however, I can’t tell you the last time I laid eyes on it.

    I imagine a lot of fans pursue autographs for the excuse/opportunity to have a brief moment face-to-face with the writer. Maybe doing convention programming fulfilled whatever need I had for that kind of contact.

  4. I guess I have a Harlan Ellison signature, since he’s the only writer who did an ASTRO CITY introduction who insisted on having a contract spelling out what rights he was selling and what rights he was retaining (for everyone else, we just sent the fee to their charity of choice, listed it as © them, and left it at that), and I have a copy of it in the files.

    But even better: I have an introduction.

  5. Mike: what part of

    However, I’d rather talk about the City on the Edge of Forever, the impact of his even more mindblowing-to-many prose, the impact of Dangerous Visions, the issues of the Last Dangeorus Visions, or his utter hatred of the term “sci-fi”. Or tell the legends of his behavior that made him a big part of Science Fiction and Fandom

    makes you think I missed the point? I agree with Meredith. I also think there’s a difference between not talking about it at length here and not saying “um, excuse me?” when a person outright denies that the other side exists.

    I personally would like the thread to be about short fiction awards and dead gophers, and just not discuss the rest, without the need to add gaslighting.

  6. I speak only for myself, but the sole reason I personally have anything signed is to have a reason to briefly meet the signer.

    I have signed books that the bookseller got signed and signed limiteds, but signatures in and of themselves hold no intrinsic value-the book does.

    My books get sold when I have no further use for them.

  7. I get things signed for a few different reasons:

    One is pure collector avarice. I like having things, especially things related to stuff I love (I don’t get to indulge in that much anymore but by god did I do so when I could). I display them because an environment that reminds me of things that make me happy improves my wellbeing.

    The second is to have a few moments to tell someone whose work meant a lot to me that it was so – that’s not as common, since it requires a step up from ‘I love the thing’ to ‘the thing was personally transformative or formative in a way that is significantly meaningful to me’.

    The third, and there’s only one case of this, is that I had/have a massive, undying crush on the person who was solely responsible for small-me’s queer awakening and I wasn’t going to pass up the chance to be silently worshipful in their presence. I floated on air for days after that one.

  8. I like getting books signed on a page that’s meaningful to me. My Harlan Ellison autograph was on the page of The Other Glass Teat that had a particular essay on it. It’s gone missing now. I know who might have it. He says he doesn’t. I believe he’s telling the truth, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t in there somewhere.

    I had Dorothy Allison sign on the page of a particular essay, Maxine Kumin a particular poem, Allen Ginsberg by where his poem mentioned his friend my Great Teacher, in that Teacher’s workbook for his Beat Generation seminar, Donald Harington on the fake title page in the middle of Some Other Place. The Right Place.

    I suppose I should start putting placemarks in them for the kid to find after I’m dead and becoming gone.

    (Doug Engelbart signed the back of my conference badge. That was sweet.)

  9. “when a person outright denies that the other side exists”

    This. That denial was even MORE out of place on a memorial thread. You can’t both say that people who’ve been hurt should shaddup already on a memorial thread AND go taunting them.

  10. I can’t currently think of a case where I didn’t get a thing signed out of hope to talk to the person a moment, or memorialize a specific experience. My most disappointing experiences have been getting things signed by people, mainly musicians basically doing a big factory piece-work line.

    John A. Arkansawyer: I’ve done that; gotten not just a work but a particular page signed. The person so asked was certainly moved.

  11. David Gerrold writes: “Great men have great virtues. They also have great flaws.”

    I think that’s an extremely dangerous myth.

  12. @HelenS,
    I have a response to that, but this is not the appropriate thread for it.
    (Though I will add that there are Great People who did not have Great Flaws.)

  13. Robert Reynolds on June 29, 2018 at 3:46 pm said:
    @Anna Feruglio Del Dan:

    You’re, of course, perfectly free to say what you choose. You’re human, after all, and thus can behave as you wish.

    It’s a reflection on you more than it is on a target who can no longer be impacted at all by whatever anyone says. At this point, your remarks can only impact those who can read them. So the “a*****e” cannot care about them and thus suffers no harm.

    I refuse to harm people who never did me damage in order to vent publicly at a corpse. I never said you or anyone else couldn’t. I said that upon someone’s death, with the body barely cold, that consideration of those they leave behind should be given.

    There’s a time and a place. Less than two days after a death on a post used to mourn is neither. But that’s my view, YMMV.

    Please do consider that “those left behind” include also the people who were hurt, insulted, harrassed, assaulted (including with the dead gopher that I don’t find a funny story, myself), and the vastly more numerous people which include myself who have repeatedly seen such assault and disrepect and cruelty brushed off in the name of white male genius.

    All of us have been waiting for you guys to get the point of #metoo and for once remember the victims as well as the genius. Not “only” the victims. “Also”.

    And boy, have we been disappointed.

  14. @Robert Reynolds:

    The remarks can affect only those who are left behind, true. But that doesn’t usually lead to people saying “there’s no need to praise $Famous Dead Person, since they can no longer enjoy the praise.” If someone has done both good and bad things, “those left behind” includes people they’ve hurt, as well as those who they helped, anyone who despised them as well as anyone who loved them.

    I think there’s a major difference between going up to someone who is weeping for their dead partner or close relative to say “this person you loved was horrible, because…” and writing a blog post about an obituary in the New York Times, or pointing out lies in a politician’s public praise of a just-deceased political ally.

    A thread like this is somewhere between those extremes–most of the people here who are praising Ellison didn’t know him well, and “he wrote stories that meant a lot to me” and “I wouldn’t want to be in the same room with him, because of these things he’s known to have done” can both be true. “He always treated me well” doesn’t mean “he treated everyone well,” and in particular, “he never did that when I was around” doesn’t refute other people’s reporting of what happened to them when the speaker wasn’t present.

    With someone as deliberately controversial as Ellison, his widow knows what kind of reputation he has. If she would be hurt by seeing criticisms, now, she can ask someone to look at the press and send her only the positive comments; I very much doubt she expects everyone to withhold all criticism. I can think of few things that would be less appropriate to Ellison’s memory than a hypothetical post that consisted only of “Harlan Ellison has died. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum.”

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  16. @Anna Feruglio : “the dead gopher that I don’t find a funny story, myself”

    In the early seventies, two late friends of mine from Ohio were involved in mailing their governor–I believe it was still James Rhodes, the Butcher of Kent State–a pig’s penis.* I forget exactly what he’d done to spark this incident, but he was indeed a pigdick of a man, and I find it both funny and downright inspirational that they did that.

    Do you think there’s a fair comparison to made between the two? It occurred to me they are similar enough to mention, but I see differences between them as well.

    *I gathered it cost a pretty penny, due to size and weight, but I wasn’t there to see it myself, I’m sorry (mostly) to say.

  17. Harlan was very nice to me, wrote lots of stuff which I published in Algol and later in Starship, and indeed I published The Ellish, a special issue of Algol which became the basis for The Book of Ellison, a hardcover/trade paperback which I published for the 1978 Worldcon in Phoenix.

    Later Harlan claimed that the book was unauthorized and he refused to autograph it for people. But I have kept all the royalty checks I paid to him, endorsed by him before depositing them, and he earned several thousand dollars from his share of the book. And that was in the late 1970s, early 1980s, when money went much further than today.

    Later, Charles Platt wrote a really obnoxious postcard to him for his “Ask Uncle Harlan” column in Orson Scott Card/Mark Van Name’s Short Form. Harlan never checked with me to see if I’d actually written the letter (a year later, he faxed me a copy of it; it used a typewriter I didn’t own, used a return address I never used, was signed with someone else’s signature). The editor never checked to see if I was the author; nor did the publisher.

    Ellison wrote a hateful, vitriolic response to the postcard, and I first saw it in print after publication—I was not sent a copy at the time—when I showed up at the World Fantasy Convention, saw everyone staring at me, and didn’t know why.

    From that time on, Harlan apparently decided I was evil incarnate, and he went out of his way to attack me at every turn. When I was editing/publishing Science Fiction Chronicle, he was silent when I published material that cast him in a good light. But he absolutely hated when I published material that cast him in a bad light.

    He even claimed, completely without truth, that I was the one who personally got the trade magazine Publishers Weekly not to review his books.

    He would attack me, often by name at conventions I was not at, or on line, with others posting his comments on my topic on GEnie. They too are hateful, vitriolic, libelous.

    I saved all this material as Word files, still have them.

    Lastly, when Nat Segaloff did his book, A Lit Fuse, I was never approached for it, nor am not mentioned in it. But I have nearly a dozen photos in the book (for which NESFA Press paid me) which I took over the many decades I knew Harlan, starting in the 1960s.

    Nat now has all that all material, which he was unaware of when he was doing the book. (And in fact I was the one who told him by phone that Harlan had died.)

    Incidentally, I first met Harlan at the 1966 Westercon. Later, he endorsed the Fanoclast bid for the 1967 Worldcon, and I was in his room at the Sheraton-Cleveland before the vote. He had just finished typing a new story, entitled, “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” which he read to me and the other Fanoclasts there: Ted White, Dave Van Arnam, Mike McInerney, others.

  18. Rob Chilson on June 29, 2018 at 7:47 am said:

    Harlan had a rep for being an assh0le. Not true. He was a mirror, responding in kind: if you were an assh0le yourself, you got back better than you gave.

    I’ve been gone all weekend so just read this.

    So you are telling me that when I was a teen girl at one of my first SF cons where Ellison was a Guest of Honor, that the way he treated me sitting in the audience was because I was an assh0le myself?

    Hell, no.

    Ellison hurt a lot of people including sexually assaulting the Toastmaster on stage at the Hugos, an event that he knew was being livestreamed to thousands of people in addition to the thousands there in the audience.

    That, too, is his legacy.

  19. I still have to sit down and make a list (including supporting references) for all of the things which DO NOT appear in Nat Segaloff’s A Lit Fuse.

    1) In 1968 Harlan started writing a novelization of Demon With A Glass Hand. A completed chapter appears in the small press magazine HARLAN ELLISON THE MAN AND HIS WORK.
    2) White Wolf began publishing a series of books collecting all of Harlan’s work. The series ended abruptly and no reference to White Wolf appears in A Lit Fuse. The rumor is that White Wolf screwed over another writer and so Harlan ended his relationship with the company as a result.
    3) In 1992 at the San Diego Comicon Harlan announced that he would write an episode of Babylon 5 which would feature Robert Culp and be a sequel to Demon With A Glass Hand. Babylon 5 ended in 1998 and this unwritten episode is never mentioned either in any history of the series or in A Lit Fuse.
    4) On the radio Show Hour 25 in 1984 Harlan read an unfinished story “Bring On The Dancing Frogs” which remained unfinished. Although this title is briefly referenced on page 324 in A Lit Fuse, it does not appear in the index.
    5) Although Harlan was friends with Philip K. Dick for 20 years, they had a falling out in 1977 but nothing about this is referenced in A Lit Fuse. In Foundation #26 (Oct. 1982), Peter Nicholls describes how he tricked Harlan and Phil Dick into the same room at a convention in Metz, France in 1978 and for an entire hour the two writers screamed at each other. In Foundation #27 a letter from Harlan reveals that he hadn’t known he’d been set up, and Harlan reveals why he and Phil had a falling out in 1977.

    None of that appears in A Lit Fuse in spite of supporting documentation for all of it. I have to think there are letters in Harlan’s files about Phil Dick, and Nat Segaloff said he had access to all of those files, but how carefully did he really study them? — James Van Hise, Yucca Valley, CA

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