Harlan Ellison Tribute Roundup

Acclaimed speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison died today at the age of 84. Here is a selection of tributes and reactions posted in social media immediately following the announcement.

Stephen King

Samuel Delany on Facebook

Here’s the guy who started the notable part of my career. At the Tricon, he ran up to me and demand a story: I wrote it at the upcoming Milford–Aye and Gomorrah, which won the following year’s Nebula Award.

Patton Oswalt

Arthur Cover on Facebook

As most of the planet knows, Harlan Ellison passed away in his sleep last night. I am seriously bummed. Little did I know when I bought the first volume of the paperback edition on Dangerous Visions when I was a sophomore at Tech did those two words would have such a profound impact on my life. Harlan was responsible for my first sale, to the mythical Last Dangerous Visions, at a Clarion Workshop.

He became a big brother figure to me, and I stayed at Ellison Wonderland on and off during the many times when I was *ahem* between places in LA. I knew his dog Abu, who used to sneak out of the house to get some Hungarian Goulash from a couple down the street. I knew his maid Yosondua, a wonderful person. And I missed meeting his mother by a couple of weeks. There’s so much to remember about him that I can barely stand it.

I met a whole bunch of interesting people thanks to him. Forget the famous ones like Erica Jong; thanks to him, I met Pam Zoline, author of “The Heat Death of the Universe.” We saw Borges together. Thanks to him, I discovered Mahler and Bruckner. I turned him on to Kalinnikov. We both read comics and he liked to impersonate the Hulk with the voice of Ronald Coleman. (Try it.) He tried to set me up with young women; usually I ignored them, thus driving him stinking bonkers. And that was just the 70s.

Then there’s that Dangerous Visions thing – a whole bunch of autograph parties just for starters. (And let’s not forget the time he streaked A Change of Hobbit.) He was immensely supportive throughout the entire frustrating, rewarding enterprise. True, he had his faults; usually I ignored them too. But the exception of my family and friends from Tazewell, I wouldn’t know any of you today were it not for his generosity and friendship. He was a helluva guy, and I have been proud to be his friend forever.

Barbara Hambly on Facebook

Just got word that my friend Harlan Ellison passed away last night. An amazing man to know. I knew he was very ill – he’d never really recovered from a stroke a couple of years ago. So I feel no surprise. Just very, very sad.

Michael Cassutt on Facebook

A talented writer for sure, a self-made writer for absolutely sure…. I so remember “Repent, Harlequin” and “On the Downhill Side” and THE CITY ON THE EDGE OF FOREVER… and his columns that became THE GLASS TEAT, which sent me here to LA…. and more, the friendship that developed in the past decade or so, where I would pop up to Ellison Wonderland and have coffee with HE in his kitchen…. telling tales of George O. Smith and who else. I am actually bawling right now…..Harlan was my big brother and while his passing now, given his stroke three years back, is not a surprise…. it’ s still a shock.

Jaym Gates on Facebook

Harlan Ellison has died. My sympathies to those who will miss him. His voice was powerful, sometimes for good.

As a woman, I am not sad that there will be one less person who thinks it is funny to grope a woman on stage, and who was often used as a smoke screen for bad behavior by creative men.

Wil Wheaton on Twitter

Rest in Peace, Harlan. You always treated me like I was a person whose voice mattered, and I will cherish that memory for the rest of my life.

David Gerrold on Facebook

Harlan didn’t drink. I rarely drink.

Today I will drink.

Today I will toast a man who was a role model, a mentor, a critic, a friend — and ultimately my big brother.

He knew how much I loved him. I told him more than once.

The one thing he said about me that I cherish the most was shortly after I adopted Sean. He said, introducing me to someone else, “David Gerrold is the most courageous man I know.” Actually, it was Sean who needed the courage, but I understood what he was saying. He was acknowledging that I had finally grown up.

Harlan had a great public persona — but it was the private soul I loved the most. And goddammit, I’m going to miss that man.

Charles de Lint on Facebook

I’m very sad to have to write this but Harlan Ellison has passed away. He was a voice of reason, if somewhat contrary, and one of the best short story writers this field, or really any field, has known. He wore his “angry young man” persona lost after he was a young man but behind that bluster was a kind and generous man who would do anything for a friend. He will be greatly missed.

Cory Doctorow on Boing Boing

Ellison’s voice was infectious and has a tendency to creep into his fans’ writing. When I was 19, I attended a writing workshop at a local convention taught by Ann Crispin, who told me that I would be pretty good writer once I stopped trying to write like Harlan Ellison (I went on to sell that very Ellisonian story to Pulphouse).

Harlan was one of my Clarion instructors in 1992. He taught us remotely, by speakerphone, from his hospital bed in LA where he was recovering from angioplasty. I had attended that year because I couldn’t miss the opportunity to learn from Harlan Ellison, whom I held in highest regard (“hero worship” is not too strong a phrase to use here).

Ellison was not a good teacher (that year, at least). In fact, I think it’s safe to say that his instructional methods, which involved a combination of performative bullying and favorite-playing, were viewed as a disaster by all of my classmates, at least in hindsight.

Confronting the very real foibles of the object of my hero-worship was the beginning of a very important, long-running lesson whose curriculum I’m still working through: the ability to separate artists from art and the ability to understand the sins of people who’ve done wonderful things.

John Scalzi in the Los Angeles Times

…My second Harlan Ellison story was from 2011, the last time he was a finalist for the Nebula Award, given out by SFWA. Traditionally, SFWA contacts the Nebula finalists by phone to see if they’ll accept being on the ballot, and knowing of Harlan’s sometimes irascible phone manners, I was the one to call.

Harlan was not irascible. He wept into the phone. He had been ill, he said, and he wondered if what he was writing now still resonated and still mattered to people. To have his professional peers nominate him for one of the field’s most significant awards, he said, meant everything to him.

In that moment he wasn’t a giant of the field, a figure equally loved and loathed, a man about whom everyone had a story, or an opinion, about. He was simply a writer, happy to be in the company of, and remembered by, other writers.

Jeff VanderMeer on Facebook

He was a monumental personality who was influential in his day and to some extent today. He dove into the style and issues of his times with vigor, which sometimes makes his work feel dated but also resulted in classics that feel timeless. As an anthologist, he pushed boundaries in ways that, like his fiction, risked looking silly or actively terrible to modern audiences, but because of that also published a ton of innovative material and furthered the careers of writers who were quite experimental.

In erratic and sporadic fashion Ellison tended to be immensely helpful to some beginning writers and actively not helpful to others for no particular reason. Sometimes, I think, because he was too caught up in his mythology. Sometimes because he had a chip on his shoulder and was mercurial. I have mixed feelings about him for that reason, not to mention others, but there’s no denying he was a protean creative talent. I did learn to take risks in my writing from him, while also learning who I did not want to be as a teacher.

Richard Pini on Facebook

There are no words. He used them all anyway, and far better than most.

Robert Crais on Facebook

We lost Harlan Ellison today. The dedication to THE FIRST RULE reads as follows: “For my friend, Harlan Ellison, whose work, more than any other, brought me to this place.”. He cannot be replaced. He was a giant. He mattered.

David Brin on Facebook

Harlan was wickedly witty, profanely-provocative, yet generous to a fault. His penchant for skewering all authority would have got him strangled in any other human civilization, yet in this one he lived – honored – to 84… decades longer than he swore he would, much to our benefit with startling, rambunctious stories that will echo for ages.

John Hertz

I can’t remember who first remarked that “H.E.” stood equally for Harlan Ellison and High Explosive.

It also stands for His Excellency. Our H.E. being a whole-souled egalitarian would never have stood for that. But if one can break from the bonds of aristocratic associations – which in principle he was always for – it’s true.

I’m glad, not I hope without humility, that what pushed down the Montaigne piece was your notice of Brother Ellison’s death. Although Montaigne and the nature of zeal were two topics I never discussed with him, he might – and he did this sometimes – have approved.

David Doering

I feel a strong sense of loss with his passing. While he and I shared few opinions in common, I always appreciated his ability to stir up discussion.

To be clear, I did not have much personal interaction with Harlan over the years. The first tho was at a Worldcon in the 80s when he asked a large audience who had read a particular book he appreciated. Turned out that only he and I had done so. We chatted for a minute sharing comments, and, as a first encounter, I found him pleasant despite his reputation.

The other time was when Ray Bradbury suggested I call “his friend Harlan” about serving as a guest to LTUE. I can just imagine what must have gone through Harlan’s mind when he got a call from Utah, and from very Mormon BYU at that, asking about being a guest. (Had it happened, it would certainly have stirred things up here!) He was polite, straightforward, and nothing like his public “persona”. I came away appreciating him much more.

The last time was at a LASFS meeting at the old “Hooverville” building. He looked tired, but came to be with fen and seemed to have a good time. I’ll keep that image in my mind as I remember him.

Deadline.com“Harlan Ellison Dead: Legendary ‘Star Trek’, ‘A Boy And His Dog’ Sci-Fi Writer was 84”

Along with the Star Trek episode, Ellison’s 1964 Outer Limits installment “Demon with a Glass Hand” is widely considered among the best of its series. The bizarre, uncanny episode starred Robert Culp as a man who wakes with no memory but an apparently all-knowing glass hand. For years, rumors persisted that “Demon” inspired Terminator, though Ellison was quoted to have said, “Terminator was not stolen from ‘Demon with a Glass Hand,’ it was a ripoff of my OTHER Outer Limits script, ‘Soldier.’” According to a 1991 Los Angeles Times article, Ellison once again sued and settled.

ComicBook.comSci-Fi Writer Harlan Ellison Dies At 84

…Ellison also crafted a script for the Batman ’66 television series that would’ve introduced Two-Face into the show’s canon, but it was never shot. The story recently was turned into a comic titled Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, which officially brings the character into the series.

Variety Harlan Ellison Dead: Sci-Fi Writer Was 84

…When he dealt with Hollywood, he fearlessly said exactly what he thought again and again — often causing fallout as a result. In the wake of the 1977 release of “Star Wars,” a Warner Bros. executive asked Ellison to adapt Isaac Asimov’s short story collection “I, Robot” for the bigscreen.

Ellison penned a script and met with studio chief Robert Shapiro to discuss it; when the author concluded that the executive was commenting on his work without having read it, Ellison claimed to have said to Shapiro that he had “the intellectual capacity of an artichoke.” Needless to say, Ellison was dropped from the project. Ellison’s work was ultimately published with permission of the studio, but the 2004 Will Smith film “I, Robot” was not based on the material Ellison wrote.

Perhaps Ellison’s most famous story not adapted for the screen was 1965’s “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman,” which celebrates civil disobedience against a repressive establishment. “Repent” is one of the most reprinted stories ever.

Shawn Crosby

[Editor’s note: The evil done to Harlan Ellison’s television scripts by cigar-chomping producers has long been part of his legend. In some of the worst cases he refused to have his name appear in the credits, and they aired with his pseudonym Cordwainer Bird shouldering the blame.]

Harlan’s death is accompanied by the passing of Cordwainer Bird, his writing partner of many years, described as “a short, choleric, self-possessed writer of mystery stories and science-fiction for television”, who “has no compunction about punching directors and producers two foot taller than himself right in the mouth.” Bird’s parents were Jason Bird and Rhonda Rassendyll, and he is nephew to The Shadow and a descendent of Leopold Bloom. As a member of the Wold Newton Family himself, Bird’s illustrious heritage has made him something of a fighter for justice in his own right.

Godspeed, gentlemen…

Mark Barsotti

A great voice silenced.

Until you pick up one of his books…

 

Michael Cassutt: Z Nation, and Space Exploration

michael-cassutt

Michael Cassutt

By Carl Slaughter: Michael Cassutt produces and writes for a different kind of zombie story. SyFy’s Z Nation is a post-apocalyptic science-humor show. He has 6 nonfiction books about space exploration and has been interviewed by Discovery Channel and History Channel on this topic.  He teaches television writing at USC.

CARL SLAUGHTER: Where does Z Nation fit into the zombie genre television landscape?   

MICHAEL CASSUTT: It depends on which scale you’re using – if judging by how grim the world is, you would put The Walking Dead at one end with Z Nation at the opposite end. Both of us are exploring life in the Zombie Apocalypse, but our characters frequently comment on the absurdity of their situation. (And they are also actively trying to take action to improve it.)

CS: What is the appeal of the zombie genre?  

MC: In some sense, it’s the same appeal that so many Cold War-era post-apocalyptic films of the 1950s and 1960s had, or classic SF like Earth Abides: it gives the viewer or reader a chance to play in a world without rules, where the old standards and restrictions no longer apply. In the Zombie Apocalypse, you get to be a badass survivor and killer, something you are not likely to be in real life.

George R.R. Martin guests on Z Nation.

George R.R. Martin guests on Z Nation.

CS: What’s your role as producer? Same question for script writer?   

MC: In television – and this has been the case for something like thirty years – a producer is almost always a script writer. And as a writer, I am part of a staff that can number as many as eight individuals who meet for 2-3 months and workshop – in TV we say “break” – every episode of the forthcoming season.

Then we go off to write as individuals; I typically write two episodes per season.

Our second drafts go to Karl Schaefer, the showrunner, who does his pass, sometimes light, sometimes heavy. Karl’s draft serves as the basis for prep and production, and in most cases a writer like me comes back into the episode at that point.

We have several writers on ZN who are also directors: Dan Merchant, Jodi Binstock, Abram Cox and Jen Derwingson. When they get their Karl draft, they not only deal with the material as writers, but as directors, too.

We all have input into post-production to some degree.

CS: What other speculative fiction television shows have you been involved with and in what capacity?   

MC: The Twilight Zone (1984-86), freelancer writer, then staff writer;

Max Headroom (1987), story editor, executive story editor;

Eerie, Indiana (1991-92), writer/producer;

The Outer Limits (1994), writer/producer;

Strangeluck (1995-96), writer/producer;

Seven Days (1998-99), writer/producer;

The Dead Zone (2003-04), creative consultant/writer;

Masters of Science Fiction (2005, short-lived ABC anthology), consultant;

Z NATION (2013-present), writer/producer;

I’ve contributed freelance scripts to Beauty & The Beast (CBS 1980s version) Seaquest DSV, Farscape, Stargate SG-1 and several animated series like Dungeons & Dragons, Centurions and even Transformers.

CS: Same question for screen adaptations.  

MC: At one time or another, I’ve adapted novels or short stories by Clifford Simak, Philip Jose Farmer, John Varley, Arthur C. Clarke, Clarke & Stephen Baxter, and Robert A. Heinlein.  None of these have ever been produced, though it doesn’t stop me from trying.

CS: What information about space flight do your nonfiction books contain? 

MC: My space-related non-fiction books – six of them, if you count the forthcoming Astronaut Maker (which may get a new title) – deal with the human side of that world. Who gets to go into space? What did he or she do?  What was it like? I am less interested in, or capable of evaluating, technical advances in rocketry, though I follow them.

deke-by-cassutt

CS: Same question for Astronaut Maker.   

MC: This book, which has been in the works for five years and consumed all of my non-TV writing time for the last couple, focuses on one individual who had a 37-year career at NASA, rising from systems engineer to director of the Johnson Space Center, where he was for several years the most powerful individual in the history of human space flight, leading development of the International Space Station and also being in charge of the Space Shuttle.

He was a USAF helicopter pilot who became an engineer on the long-forgotten Dyna-Soar spaceplane program, then was assigned to NASA to work on Apollo. He was deeply involved in the design and development of the Apollo command module – was with the Apollo 1 astronauts at the Cape the night before they died in the tragic fire on the launch pad. Was part of the team that had to disassemble the charred spacecraft.

In the 1970s he became the NASA official in charge of astronaut selection – recruiting the first women and minorities into the astronaut team. He also assigned the crews.

After some career setbacks following the Challenger disaster (he was the NASA official who picked that crew, and two of those who were killed were his best friends on the astronaut team), he sort of rose from the ashes to that position at JSC.

He is a brilliant, fascinating man with priceless stories of Apollo, Shuttle, the Russians, and ISS.

CS:Is there an overlap between your trilogy and your nonfiction books?  

MC: My non-fiction work on spaceflight was the reason David Goyer asked me to collaborate on Heaven’s Shadow. He had a notion for a near-future space adventure, and figured it was easier to bring me into the project than to spend a lot of time trying to research the subject.  (We had known each other for fifteen years by that time, so the offer wasn’t entirely out of nowhere.)

CS: Same question for your novels and short stories.   

MC: Three of my novels – Missing Man, Red Moon, and Tango Moment – came directly out of my research into the space program . . . its history and especially figures like Deke Slayton.  The first Heaven’s book, Heaven’s Shadow, incorporates that research, too. But the next two books don’t – they are pure SF, as was my first novel, The Star Country.

star-country-by-cassutt

A few of my short stories have dealt with space flight – “The Last Apostle” from Asimov’s is my favorite. “The Longer Voyage”, published in F&SF in 1994, was apparently too realistic for some readers. One wrote, “If I thought that Michael Cassutt’s vision of future interstellar travel was true, I’d die” – or words to that effect.

I’ve done a couple of spaceflight-related pieces for George R. R. Martin’s WILD CARDS series.

CS: What did you do for Discovery?  

MC: For Discovery and History Channel I have made half a dozen appearances in space-related documentaries. Most of these – especially the most recent, Secret Space Escapes – deal with history.  But in Universe: Space Weapons [2009], I am on camera a lot, hitting golf balls and taking part in the operation of a trebuchet.

CS: What do you tell your USC students?   

MC: I teach television drama writing and, every few years, do a survey lecture about the various types of SF, fantasy and horror series. For writing students, I try to give them tools and strategies for writing effective drama – not just the basic challenge of creating interesting characters, but dealing with settings and structures and season-long arcs.

It’s as educational for me as it is for them, perhaps more so.

CS: Any advice for print authors who want to break into screen?  

You have to have a book agent, and your book agent must have a relationship with some TV agency.  Then you can write spec pilot scripts and get them to that TV agent.

That’s the only pro-active step you can take that has a chance of working – unless you happen to have some friend or associate who is already a successful TV agent.

Other than that, you must wait for some producer to discover your print work – and option it. Then you can insist that you be involved in the adapation.

CS: How hard is it to break into showrunning?   

MC: If you are a senior writer-producer on the staff of a successful TV series, it’s not difficult at all: you will either move up when your original showrunner burns out, or you will sell your own series and move off to do that.

If you aren’t a senior writer-producer, it’s almost impossible to become a showrunner. You might get a shot if you are an acclaimed writer from, say, feature films, and a network or channel simply wants to work with you.

CS: What’s on the horizon for Z Nation

MC: All I can or should say, since we have surprises in store, is that in Season 3 ZN gets more science-fictional.

CS: What’s on the horizon for Michael Cassutt?  

MC: At the moment I’m completing Astronaut Maker for delivery to Chicago Review Press. When that’s done, I’m going back to writing short fiction and eventually a new novel.

As for TV – who knows? If there’s a Season 4 of ZN I’m eager to be involved. I also have a few projects of my own that I am pursuing.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Spotlight on The Heinlein Society

Heinlein Society logoKeith Kato was elected the fourth President of The Heinlein Society at its September 7, 2014 meeting. He succeeded LA-area fan and LASFS member Michael Sheffield, who chose not to run for the Board again.

Keith is someone I have known for over 40 years — and he has played host to many of you at his famed Worldcon chili parties. Keith hopes you will help him fund Heinlein’s bust for the Hall of Famous Missourians (click here).

In addition to President Keith Kato, the Society’s other new officers are Minnesota fan Geo Rule as Vice President-Secretary, and Baltimore fan John Tilden as Treasurer. The Board of Directors (in order of elected seniority) consists of Joe Haldeman, Jerry Pournelle, Michael Cassutt, Connie Willis, Washington fan John Seltzer, and Texas fan Betsey Wilcox.