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.]

71 thoughts on “Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

  1. He’s a giant whose shoulders a multitude stand upon.

    A lot of his own work never really clicked for me (might just be a generation thing), but his influence has been unmistakable in a lot of work that has had a profound effect on me.

  2. “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.”
    Harlan Ellison
    27 May 1934 – 28 June 2018.

  3. He was also very important to me. My dad introduced his writing to me and in some ways my dad’s character was very similar to Harlan’s. “Those who have done me good are gold, those who do me wrong are scum.” I am lifelong fan with shelves of his books. even though many of us knew it was coming the loss of his writing voice is a loss to us all.

  4. Another SF legend gone. Rest in peace, Harlan Ellison, and my sympathies to his friends and family.

  5. One thing to remember about Harlan Ellison is that he was a good critic. I recently re-read my copy of his collection of essays on television “The Glass Teat” and enjoyed it again. Caustic as hell, but still very insightful. Sometimes it’s necessary to apply brute force when up against a stupid object like commercial TV, and certainly Ellison had plenty of experience with that stupidity, and did some wonderfully creative work in the field despite that.

  6. The first autograph I ever got; the first reading I ever attended; the first author to ever tell me I’d asked a stupid question. I’m sorry he’s gone; I miss him already.

  7. A source of great influence in the field and beyond, a brilliant and fierce mind, a vastly imperfect human. Not a man likely to be forgotten. He will be talked about for a long time, and the best of his works will be read and argued about.

  8. That’s a beautiful epitaph. Pithy till the end.

    I was hoping he’d last till Worldcon, to either be happy about the Hugo or bitch about it wittily.

    Many condolences to Susan, who was nothing short of genius herself.

  9. Sorry to hear this. Dangerous Visions had a big impact on my teenage self, and I was thrilled to see him at Discon II. Really sorry.

  10. I met him once, more than 45 years ago. Lenny Isaacs and R. Glenn Wright then ran the Clarion workshop and were professors of mine. One day I stopped by Glenn’s office; he had a visitor and the three of us went out for ice cream. Harlan ordered Rocky Road, but my previous order had cleaned them out. Being a young barbarian with few social graces, I teased him about beating him to the Rocky Road rather than offering my portion to the guest. Unfortunately he was more irritated than amused.

    I really liked his short fiction but loved the Dangerous Vision anthologies and his TV criticism.

  11. Pingback: Harlan Ellison Tribute Roundup | File 770

  12. It’s a tribute to the outstanding job that Nat Segaloff did that this news makes me cry. The book showed that there is a difference between being an angry prophet because you don’t expect better of humanity and being an angry prophet because you do.

  13. I read “A Boy and His Dog” when I was way too young for it.

    I met Harlan at a very small one-day SF convention held at my college sometime in the late 1970s. Seriously, it probably had 40 people, and I don’t know how they got him to be the guest of honor, but he showed up, read a story, took questions, autographed books, and judged the masquerade. I think he flirted with a female friend of mine. But he was great.

    Watch “Dreams With Sharp Teeth” to see what he was really like. Obnoxious, brilliant, angry, loyal to his friends and always ready to fight.

    I like what he said once, to someone who said, “I’m entitled to my opinions.” His response. “You’re not entitled to your opinion. You’re entitled to your INFORMED opinion.”

    Words to live by.

  14. “Demon in a Glass Hand” is one of my favorite episodes.
    I’m more of a fan of his non-fiction. i really can’t tell you which of his fiction I’ve read unless someone mentions one and then a light bulb goes on–like “Jeffty is Five”.
    But his movie reviews “Harlan Elllison’s Watching” and column collection “An Edge in My Voice” are sitting here now, waiting for me to renew the pleasure I got from his writing.

  15. Someone earlier in this strand wished Harlan Ellison to “Rest in peace”. Many I’ve heard have doubted whether he would want that.

    My own reaction was to paraphrase the ending of a famous Fredric Brown short-short story:

    “Is there a God?”

    And Harlan said “There is NOW!”

  16. I guess this means we can all stop waiting for The Last Dangerous Visions now…

  17. Cassy B: I guess this means we can all stop waiting for The Last Dangerous Visions now…

    According to Wikipedia, only about a third of the stories have been published elsewhere. Apparently his rights to them had lapsed, so I’m guessing that the problem is that the authors of the others don’t have their own copy, and he held on to them, stubbornly insisting that he was still going to get the collection put out at some point. I remember seeing an author gripe on Facebook about not being able to get their story back, but I don’t remember who it was. Half of the stories’ authors are dead now.

    I wonder if Susan will be willing to return the story manuscripts to their authors now.

  18. Obit-wise, a big tsssk-tsssk! to io9, for their headline”

    “RIP Harlan Ellison, the Legendary Scifi Author Behind One of Star Trek’s Greatest Episodes”

    Yeah (concedes Dern) that’s likely what the majority of people will now/remember
    him for. (particularly if that’s what the various obits and other write-ups stress.)

    But for io9 to tag him with “Scifi” … while arguably true, Harlan fought tooth,
    nail and claw against that identification. Heck, he walked out of a live on-air
    radio interview with Chris Lydon on Boston’s WBUR-FM Halloween show — Harlan having warned Chris in advance not to represent him that way — Lydon ID’d Harlan as “a science fiction writer”… and Harlan can be heard saying (something like) “That’s it,” and upped and left the building.

    (See this Atlantic article, for example.)

  19. Daniel P Dern, my memory of that story is that the interviewer said about Harlan “He’s a real sci-fi guy” after Harlan warned him not to use the term “sci-fi”. It wasn’t being identified as a science fiction writer that he objected to, it was that particular abbreviation.

  20. I remember being told by several people I consider reliable witnesses (I was not there) that at at least one science fiction convention Harlan Ellison lead a chant of a panel room that went something like “I will never (I will never) say ‘Sci-Fi’ (say sci-fi) Again! (again)” (Parens are because it was call-and-response; he’d say part and the audience repeated it.)

    He *really* hated that term.

  21. Harlan had a rep for being an asshole. Not true. He was a mirror, responding in kind: if you were an asshole yourself, you got back better than you gave. I met him a number of times (he was the friend of a friend), and he was always polite and kind to me. I’m a polite person myself. I was never a friend but was close enough to banter with him: I knew he’d take it in the spirit meant.

    He was also a great reader, of his own and others’ works. Not that he *read* — he *performed*. If you can find copies of him reading Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” or Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls,” by all means listen to them. You won’t regret it.

  22. Rob Chilson: Not true.

    After spending the day reading first-person accounts on Facebook and Twitter, I’d like to recommend that you limit your statements to your own perception rather than claiming absolutes. Others had different experiences than yours, and for many people, it was definitely not something they had brought on themselves.

  23. I have had a nearly lifelong love of Harlan Ellison. I’ve bought books and magazines I couldn’t afford because he had a column or story in them. I’ve read pretty much everything he’s written. His essays are things I return to over and over, because they’re brilliant and pointed and an ongoing master class in how to write.

    I’ve also been glad that I never met him, because I’m not sure my hero worship could have survived one of his worst days. And, yes, I know that the people in his life who loved him did so passionately and sincerely. But he was also sincerely and passionately hated.

    I’ve loved him, from a safe distance, and mourn his passing.

  24. JJ: People should be able to leave comments here about their own personal experience with Ellison without getting JJsplained that somebody else might have had another experience.

  25. Mike Glyer: People should be able to leave comments here about their own personal experience

    Sure, but claiming that anyone else who had a negative experience deserved it and had it coming is not “their own personal experience”.

  26. JJ: Sure, but claiming that anyone else who had a negative experience deserved it and had it coming is not “their own personal experience”.

    But that’s not what he said. He said people who behaved like assholes to Harlan got that back. And “personal experience” would include witnessing what he did in public at conventions.

    People tried to heckle Harlan all the time, show their asses, and get verbally shot down. The audience regarded that as part of the act. (Harlan, I’m pretty sure, found it tiresome, just like Gregory Peck in that movie where he was the fastest gun in the West.)

    Chilson didn’t, but others could, talk about how Harlan used the same facility to wound people that not everyone (or in some instances, nobody) thought deserved it.

  27. Mike Glyer: others could, talk about how Harlan used the same facility to wound people that not everyone (or in some instances, nobody) thought deserved it.

    I think that there are several people, like me, who have refrained from commenting on the “missing stair” aspect in this thread because it is clearly intended to be one of positive remembrances. And that’s fine, as long as no one in this thread is denying that it existed, either.

  28. Mike: FWIW, I had the same reaction as JJ to someone flat denying that Harlan Ellison was ever an arsehole except when you were one to him. That is an absolute that simply doesn’t stand.

    Harlan was brilliant, worldly, erudite, informed and educated, passionate in his politics — and abrasive and sometimes outright unpleasant. Most of us would like to keep the obituary threads clear of his absolute worst, but the Connie Willis incident is not the only report I have of harassment with a possible sexual overtone, or of jerkitude with insufficient provocation, and I am very much one of those glad I did not meet him.

    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.

  29. This is a very nicely written piece from a writer I’m following lately: Harlan Ellison was a God damned pain in the ass. I’ll miss him. Here’s what he says about Ellison and his own book:

    He would have liked the idea of a book called “Writing Without Bullshit,” but probably would have savaged the content as corporate pandering. I can hear him saying, “Forget it, asking people to tell the truth in corporations is pointless. Pointless!”

  30. I was the Fan Guest of Honor at BayCon the year he was Author GoH and consequently we interacted a bit at some items, most memorably a very nice GoH brunch. Since I never tried to prod him, I never got prodded back, in my recollection. (This should not be read as trying to excuse his well-documented issues.)

  31. Rob Chilson on June 29, 2018 at 7:47 am said:
    Harlan had a rep for being an asshole. Not true. He was a mirror, responding in kind: if you were an asshole yourself, you got back better than you gave. I met him a number of times (he was the friend of a friend), and he was always polite and kind to me. I’m a polite person myself. I was never a friend but was close enough to banter with him: I knew he’d take it in the spirit meant.

    Two fucking words: Connie Willis.

  32. When I was at Clarion one of my fellow alumni had a serious mancrush on Harlan Ellison, and whenever we had a new tutor or a guest he would ask them if they had an Ellison story.

    What I learned from that is that Ellison scared the fuck out of people. Most of the guest demurred. One told a neutral anecdote during workshop hours and, later, at a party, privately told some of us a much more unpleasant example of Ellison being a bully. I am sure somebody told affectionate stories, but the atmosphere of fear that circulated was really not pleasant.

    Also, somebody, I forgot who, who sounded like he spoke from experience, told us that we hadn’t been critiqued unless Harlan Ellison had spit on our manuscripts, torn them into pieces, thrown them on the ground and jumped up and down on it screaming insults. Clarion staff would only tell us that he had been an instructor in the past, but he was not going to be invited back.

  33. Based on my observation and my personal experience, at ConFrancisco, Mr. Ellison treated those he interacted with the way they behaved towards him.

    HE was signing a special bookplate for the Ziesing edition of Mephisto In Onyx. It was up on a platform which I couldn’t get up on, as I had crutches at the time. A runner took my bookplate up to be signed. I stood in front of the platform watching him sign. If someone was quiet and shy, HE was soft-spoken and polite, if they were gregarious, he was likewise. One person was snaky and got snark back. When the runner with my bookplate reached him, she told him who to make the plate out to and he signed it. She came down and brought my bookplate back to me, I thanked her and left, figuring I’d missed my chance to meet him. But I watched him interact with quite a few people over the time I waited.

    The next morning, I was in the dealer’s room and saw HE at the Ziesing table. I wandered in that direction, standing off to the side while Mark and HE talked. HE saw me standing there and asked if I was waiting to talk to Mark. Mark introduced me and Mephisto and the signing came up. I mentioned no being able to get up to the signing table and HE asked if I needed a bookplate signed. I explained what happened and we chatted briefly. HE was the soul of courtesy.

    Have others had different experiences? Undoubtably. Do opinions differ? Yes.

    When someone dies, that isn’t the time to describe someone’s warts in public (if for no other reason than for those who loved them don’t need that on top of the loss they feel). Remembrances at a time like this should be polite at the very least.

    One’s behavior in the face of death or tragedy is a reflection of them, not the subject of their comments.

    I had one classmate who put me through hell for four years. I have connections with him on social media. We have mutual friends and have interacted (more him trying to engage me than the other way around). Should he die before I do, I will express my sympathies to those who grieve, but otherwise keep my peace. Not for him or me, but for the sake of those for whom he was not a prolonged toothache.

    Life is hard enough even at the best of times.

  34. A possibly relevant commentary

    But I particularly want to highlight this from the comments:

    On the other hand, consider the impact of a wave of one-sided praise has on those who were hurt by him. It basically tells them their hurt/pain is invisible, doesn’t matter, etc. For those voicing criticism, it’s not necessarily about “spitting on the dead,” as one person put it. It’s about telling the victims and targets that the person hurt, “I see you.”

  35. My general opinion on the matter – as I believe I expressed during previous discussons about controversial figures – is that there are many, many places on the internet to discuss the shortcomings of the deceased that aren’t also the comment sections/facebook pages/twitter mentions of those people who are obviously mourning or those posts which are providing a place for that. It doesn’t seem to me to be a terrible hardship to avoid places where you’d be intruding on grief, given the array of alternative options.

  36. When someone dies, that isn’t the time to describe someone’s warts in public (if for no other reason than for those who loved them don’t need that on top of the loss they feel). Remembrances at a time like this should be polite at the very least.

    Says who?
    Does it occurr to you that mouthing pious inanities when an asshole shuffles his or her mortal coil is just as offensive and wounding to the people who have been their target or victim in life?

  37. “When someone dies, that isn’t the time to describe someone’s warts in public (if for no other reason than for those who loved them don’t need that on top of the loss they feel). “

    While I do not agree with this, I do think it is a good idea to separate discussions between those who want to discuss a friends passing and those who want to have an honest view on a persons life, warts and all.

    This is the thread for mourning. The full discussion can be held in another post.

  38. From the Columbus OH Dispatch, Mar. 9, 1954.

    Friday Night Dance
    The Ohio Union announces the sixth in its series of Candlelight Inn Dances held in both ballrooms of the Union on Friday, March 12 from 9-12 p.m. The floor show for this dance will consist of the Dick Karr and Harlan Ellison Comedy Act. Johnny Leonard and his band will supply the dance music. This dance, held in night club style, is free to all university students.

    I would have loved to have seen that.

  39. Lenora Rose: It should occur to you that you have completely bypassed all the points in Hines’ main post. He does not seem to have succeeded in getting his message across to you.

  40. I was drafting another comment in my mind when I realized I was on the verge of ignoring a life lesson, which is, don’t wait for permission because nobody’s going to give it.

    Nobody’s going to leave space here either for mourning, or for exploring out loud an ambivalent relationship (on both sides) that I lived through for 50 years. That’s just how it is.

    And I’m going to write my piece, and when it’s finished I will put it on my blog, and as many cows as people want to have, they can have.

  41. @Mike Glyer

    Well… It may not be a power you wish to exercise but you could establish comment rules for memorial threads and enforce them. I know you generally prefer to be much more hands-off, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.