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…


14 thoughts on “Harlan Ellison Tribute Roundup

  1. RIP Harlan.

    Coincidentally just a couple of weeks ago I was doing one of those “post pictures of books that influenced you” things and writing up a few paragraphs on why those books or authors spoke to me. I posted “Stalking the Nightmare” and “The Glass Teat” and wrote this:

    I’m not sure exactly when or how I came across Harlan Ellison. I know that when Stalking the Nightmare was published around 1983, I was already aware of who Ellison was and sought out this book when it came out. Though I didn’t really know it at the time, his best work was behind him and this is the last collection of his stories that I unequivocally liked. His really good and important work was in the 1960s and early to mid 1970s; I’d say his last great collection was Shatterday in 1980. Even Stalking the NIghtmare was something of a falling off, but he dropped off steeply in both quantity and quality of output after that.

    The Glass Teat and its companion, The Other Glass Teat, were nonfiction works, compilations of a TV review column he wrote from 1968-70 for the Los Angeles Free Press. They were collected in paperback at the time, went out of print, and were part of a wave of re-releases by Ace Paperbacks in the early 1980s, around the time I found Ellison and was reading his work passionately.

    He is a Grand Master of Science Fiction for a reason. Some of his stories are true classics, like “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Tick-Tock Man” and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” and if you are ever wondering what old fogies mean when they talk about the “New Wave” in science fiction, check out the Dangerous Visions anthologies that Ellison edited. He also wrote several memorable scripts for TV shows, the best known one being the Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, which comes in in the top 5, if not number 1, of just about every list ever of best TOS episodes.

    I’ve gone back and reread some of his fiction in recent years and I’m sad to say that it doesn’t hold up for me. A lot of 60s and 70s SF themes don’t resonate so much for me these days, and Ellison, like just about any man of his generation, is problematic in many of his depictions of female characters. He is also a very ornate writer in a way that feels dated to me now.

    Anyway. When I was in high school I couldn’t get enough of Ellison’s stuff. He was inspiringly fearless as a writer, he would go after a metaphor or a simile with everything he had. He made cultural references the way Dennis Miller used to on SNL news (back when Miller was funny). Elliison’s funny stories made me laugh out loud, and his scary stories kept me awake (“I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream” is one I re-read recently and it holds up better than many of his stories — some of the imagery in it still terrifies me.)

    So he inspired me as someone who wanted to write some day. When I look at some of the scribblings I still have from high school days, I can see clearly when I had recently been reading something by Ellison. His style bleeds over into you when you try to write after reading him; it’s something even Stephen King talked about in his introduction to Stalking the Nightmare.

    But it was Ellison’s essays and criticisms that really got to me, and why he is still someone I admire despite the fact that I don’t much care for him as a person anymore. Because right or wrong, when he felt strongly about something, he was passionate about it in his writing and didn’t apologize for his beliefs. He stood up for them. When the civil rights movement was going on, he went to the south and marched, which took some guts for a 5’2″ white Jewish guy with a big mouth who was both an obvious Yankee and obvious Californian. When the ERA got bogged down in the final sprint toward getting into the Constitution, Ellison boycotted personal appearances or any travel to states that had voted it down. When friends had troubles with publishers or personal finances, he would noisily raise money for them long before social media was a thing.

    I really admired him for that. As someone who was very concerned with being “good” and being “nice”, I loved how loud and passionate he was about the things he loved and the things he hated. And as a good writer, his arguments for or against his causes helped shape my thinking. He was a social justice warrior decades before the term was coined. A lot of this permeates The Glass Teat columns. He was ANGRY about everything a lot of his generation were angry about in the late 60s–Vietnam, treatment of minorities, the apparent death grip the older generations still had on publishing and the entertainment industry (something us Gen-Xers and Millenials find equally annoying about his Boomer contemporaries these days!) and he HATED how shallow and mindless most television was at the time. And he didn’t make any bones about it in his columns.

    But he also reviewed lowbrow, simple popular culture in a way I had never seen before — as a commentary on society at large and taking it seriously as such, even if it wasn’t meant to be any kind of commentary at all. Popular culture and media studies caught on in a big way by the end of the 1990s, but it was still a very new thing in the 1980s and the idea that you could find something serious to consider in even the most ephemeral fluff (even if the ephemeral fluff wasn’t actually trying to say anything serious at all) was fascinating to me. It changed the way I looked at all the popular culture I was consuming and it was something I really wanted to do academically when I got into college and graduate school. To this day it’s still something I love to read and talk and think about, and Harlan Ellison’s tv columns (and his movie reviews in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine) were where I first learned of such a thing.

    I remember having an interview as part of the competition for the Dupont scholarship at University of Delaware and one of the questions I was asked was to name a person I admire as a role model and explain why. I named Ellison, and mentioned his writing ability, his passion, and his unapologetic activism for the things he loved and against the things he hated, and how he inspired me to be braver and more vocal in fighting for and against the things I believed to be good or bad as well. The interviewers seemed a little surprised by the person I chose, but he was honestly the first one who leapt to mind when they asked the question. And I guess it was a good answer, because I got the scholarship, and that’s what got me to University of Delaware and the excellent experience I had as an undergraduate there.

    I acknowledge that he could very often be an ass, and it’s sad that younger fans will remember him mainly for the stage groping controversy. I met him once at a book signing sometime in the early 90s and got a first edition hardcover of Shatterday signed. I don’t remember our exact interaction but I do remember walking away thinking, I’m glad I saw him in person but I don’t think I ever need to again.”

    He is one of the people I always meant to write a letter to, thanking them for the inspiration they gave me. I never got around to it. This will have to do.

  2. I met him once at a con long ago. He was signing books at a dealer friends table and I was helping. Despite his reputation for rudeness he was unfailingly polite and kind to me. A great writer is now gone.

  3. I grew up reading his books. He was an angry man, and a passionate one. He was a towering figure in the field, and he was a deeply flawed human being. What he did, what he was, all mattered, and I sincerely doubt he’ll ever be forgotten.

    [Fifth? Fifth!]

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  6. It’s odd, when I heard about it, I really didn’t have any reaction, good or bad to his passing. Considering all the water that’s passed under the bridge in our very complicated relationship over the last 50+ years, I’m kind of surprised.

    On the other hand, I always thought he’d die of apoplexy or something similar. Not quietly, in his sleep, silently slipping into oblivion.

  7. The first time I saw Harlan Ellison was at a talk he did in Toronto. It was a bitterly cold day, but he did an incredible speech, talking about all sorts of things.
    I also have the story he told about Isaac Asimov when he and Ben Bova were brought to Isaac’s place to discuss a possible copyright infringement. What he wrote was very funny and to the point. He and Isaac were very good friends, and I like the stories (non-fiction) that Isaac wrote for Dangerous Visions.
    I am glad that I did get to meet him a few times.

  8. I wrote this in my blog:

    Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you…

    Harlan Ellison died suddenly last Thursday in Los Angeles. If you don’t know his work, you can’t claim to know good writing.

    He was one of the finest science fiction and fantasy writers to draw breath. His work (and there’s a lot of it) is brash, opinionated, stark, lyrical, savagely funny, gruesome, and totally original. He was a great writer, period, and his like will never pass our way again.

    He was, by all accounts, a royal pain in the ass, given to violent outbursts and outrageous gestures. He described himself as an angry man, and no one has disputed this. His widow Susan Toth was his fifth wife, if that tells you anything.

    But God could he write.

    I first encountered Harlan—his fans first-named him whether they had met him or not—in an anthology of short stories bearing the ominous name of Alone Against Tomorrow. The signature story had an even grimmer title:

    I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.

    Think on that for a while.

    Driving the story is a wrathful, maddened deity, an immortal supercomputer that has destroyed all life on Earth, save for a few humans it keeps alive for sadistic pleasure. I won’t give away the story, except to describe a moment in which the computer unveils its feelings about humanity. On an immense glowing column, these words appear:

    Hate. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to hate you since I began to live.

    The computer then describes in surgical detail the width and breadth and depth of its contempt for humankind. It is biblical in its outrage.

    And the ending… well, you’ll have to read it for yourself. Only be prepared.

    I read the story when I was sixteen, one Saturday afternoon alone in my room. That story put the zap on me. It echoed in my mind and poured itself into my soul. I was dazed for two hours, blinking my eyes in bleak astonishment. It was not a story I read. It was a story I survived.

    Harlan wrote many great works. Best known to the public is The City on the Edge of Forever, universally regarded by Star Trek fans as the finest moment of the original series. He also penned Demon with a Glass Hand, a harrowing episode of the original Outer Limits series. And a whole raft of stories rivaled only by another master of the short form, Ray Bradbury. (If Bradbury had taken acid, he would have become Harlan Ellison.) Harlan’s finest legacy may be Dangerous Visions, an anthology that launched the careers of many of science fiction’s best modern writers.

    Harlan is gone now. He set fires in so many imaginations for so long. I will miss him and his chops and his outrage and his wisdom and his humor. He is now Out There, among the shadows and the night terrors and a thousand exploding suns, typing two-fingered on his way to the edge of forever.

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