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Writing the end of the longest story he's written
September 24, 2010 10:09 AM   Subscribe

"The truth of what's going on here is that I'm dying." Harlan Ellison is not dead, but he's anticipating it, saying that Madcon this weekend in Madison, Wisconsin will be his final public appearance and that his next book will be his last.

On his unfinished work, he says:
My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There's three quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I'm concerned. Or God forbid, James Patterson or Judith Krantz should get a hold of The Man Who Looked for Sweetness, which is sitting up on my desk, and try to finish it, anticipating what Ellison was thinking -- no! Goddammit. If Fred Pohl wants to finish all of C.M. Kornbluth's stories, that's his business. If somebody wants to take the unfinished Edgar Allan Poe story, which has now gone into the public domain, and write an ending that is not as good as Poe would have written, let 'em do whatever they want! But not with my shit, Jack. When I'm gone, that's it. What's down on the paper, it says 'The End,' that's it. 'Cause right now I'm busy writing the end of the longest story I've ever written, which is me.
And he's selling his first typewriter.
posted by Zed (89 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
"This is gonna be the biggest fucking science-fiction convention ever," Ellison says, "because no con has ever had a guest of honor drop dead while performing for the goddamn audience."

Is he auctioning off the right to hammer in the stake?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


He really should have his unfinished stories locked away and sometime in the 23rd century thrown into the Guardian of Forever. That should give the man himself all the time he needs to finish his work.

We'll miss you when you're gone.
posted by m@f at 10:16 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]



I stood there at age 10 in Paynesville, Ohio, and I said, 'This is all mine! All I gotta do is go and get it.' And so I started running away. After a while, my mother said, 'I'll pack you sandwiches. Would you like peanut butter-and-jelly?'


I have to say, a lot of what's great about America is wrapped into that paragraph. Perpetual flight from the heartland, neverending PB&Js, and eternally wonderful mothers.

I haven't read any Harlan Ellison since high school. Have to try that again, I guess (Ellison, not High School, thankyouverymuch).
posted by chavenet at 10:19 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


So much for The Last Dangerous Visions.
posted by juv3nal at 10:19 AM on September 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


Crap.

Whenever the subject of Ellison comes up I’ll usually put in some jibe about him being a self aggrandizing grumpy weirdo …because, well, he is… but damn is he going to be missed. One of the giants.

It's not really looking good for Dangerous Visions 3, is it?
posted by Artw at 10:21 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Ha! 'I've left instructions for my unfinished work, (which is a rich and voluminous cache of awesome stuff) to be burned after I die; so don't let anyone (and here are a few good ideas on who is and is not qualified) finish or even publish any of my unfinished stories (which I'm making a point of repeating are really good and should be read by everyone, and which I am pointedly not going to burn myself). Okay?'

Love ya, Harlan. Always have, always will.

On that point: science fiction has come a whole long way in the last fifty years, and it's expanded and grown in maturity and depth all along the way. But when in god's name is it ever going to outgrow this childish and silly habit of having people finish other people's stories after they die, or even (I spit as I say it) pen whole new series 'inspired by' and 'branded as' another's work? I mean, besides the fact that we apparently feel the need to make sure Kevin J Anderson always has work, when has this ever really been necessary? I can think of one or two cases where a writer explicitly instructed that a story cycle be completed (Robert Jordan's Wheel Of Time series, for example) but usually it's just something people choose to do after a writer dies, and springs from a kind of crass consumerist cannibalism. And that's not really fitting for thoughtful fiction that has an interest in preserving its legitimacy.
posted by koeselitz at 10:24 AM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


An old rumor, passed along at four in the morning in dim rooms at conventions, is that every great science fiction author (whether they want to be known as such or not), upon death, is granted access to the Celestial Time Machine, that they might jaunt across their lives and history itself, altering it at whim to see the results, like "The Men Who Murdered Mohammed." What marvels would they witness and truths could they learn? When would they go and what would they do with such a thing? And then I read the article:

"I was great-looking when I was younger — I was hot. All the pictures of me, they're very hot."

*lays out the kimono and starts the drum machine off on the "Goodbye, Horses" preset, then retreats like Tuck, in The Ruling Class*
posted by adipocere at 10:25 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


The world will be a sadder place without that crazy old man. But if HE has to go, I'm glad he has the opportunity to face it wide-eyed and on his own terms.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:27 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ugh.
posted by nj_subgenius at 10:28 AM on September 24, 2010


(If Harlan Ellison were any other kind of writer – if he wrote horror stories, say, or chick-lit, or pretentious NYT blather, or anything else – he wouldn't have to say this, would he? Because nobody in any of those genres would ever have to fear that somebody might have the audacity to finish their unfinished work after they've died. Why is this so different with science fiction and fantasy? That seems wrong to me.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:28 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


So sad.

I really enjoyed the Star Wars stuff he wrote.
posted by The Confessor at 10:32 AM on September 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


When they made him, they broke the little mold. And then fired the pieces into the Sun just to make sure.

Hope his passage is an easy one.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:40 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now I'm tempted to finish his stories out of spite.
posted by drezdn at 10:42 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Damn, I wish he wouldn't go the Kafka route and have all of his unfinished stuff burned. But then again, nobody would have phrased that demand quite as prefectly as he did. Amazing.
posted by blucevalo at 10:43 AM on September 24, 2010


If Harlan Ellison were any other kind of writer – if he wrote horror stories, say, or chick-lit, or pretentious NYT blather, or anything else – he wouldn't have to say this, would he? Because nobody in any of those genres would ever have to fear that somebody might have the audacity to finish their unfinished work after they've died.

I'll check on that as soon as I finish Garden of Shadows by VC Andrews.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:46 AM on September 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


Why is this so different with science fiction and fantasy? That seems wrong to me.

Because trilogies and series and such are far more common in genre writing. I'm not justifying it; when George R. R. Martin croaks without having finished his current fantasy series, that should be it. Finis. But that's why.

In terms of finishing Harlan's unfinished stories, well, he's just being paranoid. The odds on that happening are essentially nil even if they aren't destroyed.
posted by Justinian at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Money, to be sure, is a factor, but other reasons are why the possibility even exists for money to show up.

First: science fiction and fantasy are highly series-dependent. Readers desire a satisfying conclusion to a series. When David Gerrold passes, I am sure, readers will want a conclusion to The War Against the Chtorr. They're invested.

Now, take horror. Not a lot of serial fiction in it. I'm going to do some handwaving here because her work was clearly that in the old gothic, girl-in-trouble, but she gets filed under horror anyway. She wrote serial fiction and those series were continued after her death: V.C. Andrews. More books have been made under her name dead than when she was alive, a fact which might well have pleased her, given her proclivities. So here we have an exception to the genre, but it is an exception that points out the rule.

Another factor is that science fiction and fantasy have a high mentoring factor. These folks know one another, rub shoulders, but most of all, they are inspired and lead by older authors. Some authors have grand visions and apprentices are eager to finish the work of the fallen masters.

And, finally, the strangest factor: aside from some of the very pointless space opera, science fiction trades on unique ideas. The readers of science fiction are highly sensitive, almost allergic, to ideas to which they have been exposed before. "I have seen that." "That was done elsewhere, better, before." And so on. "Rehash" and "lack of imagination" are some of the biggest put-downs in the business. So you have Harlan Ellison (or the other giants) with a trove of some very interesting, unique ideas. These ideas are not precisely commodities, more like experiences. You can only go back and kill your grandfather for the first time once. Each idea (or gimmick, if you scoff) is a seed out of which a story will bloom, a unique orchid; grown to all the more beauty by the hands dripping with art. And then its first appearance on the scene. That idea is a debutante at the ball.

When Harlan dies, he is essentially saying that all of his beautiful seeds we know about, seeds which he will never tend, are going into a pyre with him, not a grave, so they will never burst forth from his soil. Other hands may dig in the ashes for these seeds and rescue a few, but the most discerning readers will mutter to themselves, "Ah, that was one of Harlan's, not Kevin J. Anderson's," and know that it could have been all the more beautiful that first time.

All I can really say about the man is that he would not have his seeds planted in any ditch he had not dug himself.
posted by adipocere at 10:48 AM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Makes perfect sense that fans of fantasy / science fiction would want and would buy posthumous works completed by different authors. It's not just the author's unique voice they're wanting, but the world(s) they've built, and in many cases, the created world is much more important than the author himself. If a new author can come along and write in the style of the original author while maintaining at least some of the all-important continuity of a given universe, then there will be enough happy fans to keep the work going. Herbert's demon spawn + minions understand this well and cater to those who want the spice to still flow.

For comparison, if Franzen had an unfortunate run-in with a rabid camel tomorrow, would there be any demand for further adventures in the Franzen-verse? Probably not much since the realm of suburban ennui can be easily found elsewhere.

Ellison's work would be in a similar boat. There would be some demand for his unpublished works but probably little to no demand to have them actually finished or have new books created by others, mainly because he didn't spend much time in any specific created world and I would imagine his fans are chiefly paying for his particular form of crankiness.
posted by honestcoyote at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


when in god's name is it ever going to outgrow this childish and silly habit of having people finish other people's stories after they die, or even (I spit as I say it) pen whole new series 'inspired by' and 'branded as' another's work?

Oh, some time after people stop buying it and it stops making publishers money, I imagine.

nobody in any of those genres would ever have to fear that somebody might have the audacity to finish their unfinished work after they've died

The practice both predates science fiction and happens in other genres today.

A lot of my reading lately has been Lovecraft mythos stuff, the best of which I've liked better than the source material. And I liked William Tuning's Fuzzy Bones better than Piper's own third Fuzzy novel (discovered and published posthumously, and I've always assumed he wouldn't have considered it a final draft.)

Personally, I think the more important part is whether the result is any good. WTF was I thinking reading a Spider Robinson novel based on Heinlein's fragmentary notes for a never-written novel oh dear lord someone burn the memories from my brain.
posted by Zed at 10:53 AM on September 24, 2010


When David Gerrold passes, I am sure, readers will want a conclusion to The War Against the Chtorr.

Oh ye of little faith. A Method For Madness has been nearly completed for twenty years. Surely it must be ready soon!
posted by Justinian at 10:55 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because trilogies and series and such are far more common in genre writing.

This. Rightly or wrongly, readers (both fans and other writers) wait years or decades in between books in a triology...that becomes a quadrology...that morphs into a sextet...that spawns a prequel in between books 5 and 6...that begats a nonology...accompanied by a pre-prequel after book 8...which will finally be wrapped up in Book..oh sorry, the author died. Insert ending here. This read does not happen in any other genre aprart from epic scifi/fantasy. Some people might feel that the author owes them an ending after milking them along through 4000+ pages over 10 years or longer. And some writers are happy to provide the closure if it will get thier name out there as the next-next-Tolkien.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:59 AM on September 24, 2010


Is he auctioning off the right to hammer in the stake?
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:16 PM on September 24 [2 favorites +] [!]


Look, I know that you're making a joke here. And its a good one: pithy and (perhaps unintentionally) topically appropriate. And its made at the expense of someone who even his most ardent fans would agree has been a misogynistic, litigious asshole of legendary proportions for much of his career. Hell, its a joke that Harlan Ellison himself would probably make about someone he dislikes.

But I still have to say that when the very first comment in a thread about a great (though controversial) author's impending mortality is a mean-spirited, snarky comment about hastening that mortality - well, I can't help but think that Metafilter is a slightly meaner and more debased place.
posted by googly at 11:00 AM on September 24, 2010 [8 favorites]


"I'm not afraid of death, and there is not one iota of suicide in me. All I want to make sure is that when the paper comes out, it says, 'Harlan Ellison died in his sleep.' You're talking to, essentially, a pretty happy guy. No, not 'pretty' happy -- that's television talk. I am inordinately happy. I am wonderfully happy. I am Icarus-flying-to-the-sun happy. I have led a magical life. I have led exactly the life I would wish to lead. I have led the life I guess that everybody in their heart of hearts wants to lead."

I've never read any of this guy's stuff before, but I'll have to do so because man, I totally admire this outlook. Would that everybody would be this blessed and be this ecstatic to realize it. Truly, it's awesome to see people saying "Fuck yeah, I'm happy!"
posted by sonika at 11:03 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'll believe this man is dying when he actually DIES. Old dogs know when they are dying? Pish and piddle.

(He was my favorite writer thirty or so years ago, the old scamp.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 11:18 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


If Harlan Ellison were any other kind of writer – if he wrote horror stories, say, or chick-lit, or pretentious NYT blather, or anything else – he wouldn't have to say this, would he? Because nobody in any of those genres would ever have to fear that somebody might have the audacity to finish their unfinished work after they've died.

What are you talking about? This happens all the time in all kinds of genres, and with writers much more revered then Ellison is. Usually it's called "editing," but we don't really know what goes into that. Another famous Ellison (Ralph) has had at least two posthumous publications. There's one coming from David Foster Wallace. Kafka's work, all the novels, was largely posthumously published. The particular crassness may be different in science fiction and fantasy, but it's a much more plot driven genre.
posted by OmieWise at 11:21 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


If Fred Pohl wants to finish all of C.M. Kornbluth's stories, that's his business.

Call him out or don't, Ellison. Fred Pohl's a nicer guy, and a better writer.
posted by Chrysostom at 11:23 AM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Sounds like someone wants to read his own obituaries.

[ ] Space reserved for dot when the time comes.
posted by WPW at 11:31 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The 76-year-old writer ... is also adamant that MadCon will be the final convention he ever attends, in any fashion.

I saw Ellison when he was still a spry 58. Timor mortis conturbat me.

When David Gerrold passes, I am sure, readers will want a conclusion to The War Against the Chtorr.

I enjoyed the Chtorr books at the time, but somehow, during the 17 years that passed since the last, I totally lost interest in the next.
posted by octobersurprise at 11:32 AM on September 24, 2010


He is a bit of a weird old grouch. I'll miss him.

(maybe I should actually go to Madcon, it's only an hour and a half away...)
posted by quin at 11:37 AM on September 24, 2010


This. Rightly or wrongly, readers (both fans and other writers) wait years or decades in between books in a triology...that becomes a quadrology...that morphs into a sextet...

Roughly speaking I'd say I'm against this sort of thing, but then I'd look at my bookshelves and see all the books by Reynolds or Banks, and then there's all the WH40K crap I've enjoyed...
posted by Artw at 11:39 AM on September 24, 2010


Banks doesn't write books in a series any more than Bret Easton Ellis does. Same universe, yeah, but that's not at all the same thing.
posted by Justinian at 11:47 AM on September 24, 2010


Goodbye, little fuck.
posted by dr_dank at 11:49 AM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


YEah, I guess there's a distinction between having a shared universe and having books 1-10 of the Culture Saga. Both do seem a little problematic to me at times though.
posted by Artw at 11:51 AM on September 24, 2010


I still have to say that when the very first comment in a thread about a great (though controversial) author's impending mortality is a mean-spirited, snarky comment about hastening that mortality - well, I can't help but think that Metafilter is a slightly meaner and more debased place.

Oh, Lordy, I done gone and ruined the blue.

Let me try and make this simple. When other authors get too old or have health problems and stop going to cons, they say as much, they don't go through this whole cough-cough-the-light-is-growing-dim routine. And there's a pretty good reason for not taking Ellison at his word. I still treasure the work of Ellison's that I enjoyed as a teenager and young adult, and I have no particular reason for wishing him dead. Really, I'm just a little dismayed at the people who continue to get sucked into the personality cult.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:52 AM on September 24, 2010 [7 favorites]


I enjoyed the Chtorr books at the time, but somehow, during the 17 years that passed since the last, I totally lost interest in the next.

Not me! I can't wait to find out what happened with the Baby Cooper Dollar Bill lawsuit! Surely it must have been resolved by now!
posted by Justinian at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2010


Can I confess to a slight suspicion that Harlan Ellison would totally have a box of blank paper (or papers typed up with ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY) that he would big up as his great, totally awesome ideas and then have burned just so everyone would be forever speculating about it?
posted by Artw at 11:55 AM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whenever the subject of Ellison comes up I’ll usually put in some jibe about him being a self aggrandizing grumpy weirdo …because, well, he is… but damn is he going to be missed.

Don't you worry -- science fiction has no shortage of those.
posted by Amanojaku at 12:03 PM on September 24, 2010


Not strictly related, but did Ellison ever record any more of his own audiobooks? His reading of "Jeffty is Five" is one of the best narrations I have ever heard.
posted by Monster_Zero at 12:10 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's done a bunch of audiobook narration and not just of his own stuff.
posted by Zed at 12:13 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I very much hear what you're saying Halloween Jack. Put me in the camp of people who loved Ellison's work as a young adult but hasn't really kept up with him since, and finds him more annoying than insightful these days. I think my frustration isn't with your comment per se, but with what feels like a more general trend of snarkiness on the blue.
posted by googly at 12:14 PM on September 24, 2010


I'm just a little dismayed at the people who continue to get sucked into the personality cult.

I assure you, my own interest in this story is motivated entirely by self-pity.
posted by octobersurprise at 12:21 PM on September 24, 2010


I think it's significant, too, that sci-fi fandom is where we get filk and fanfiction and all sorts of other metafictional whatnot. It's just got a huge tradition of borrowing other people's ideas and monkeying with them, often in wonderfully irreverant ways.

Sci-fi fans tend to be skeptical of the romantic idea that artists are special in some intangible way. They're more likely to think of artistic genius in practical terms — it's something you can attain if you're smart and you work hard, and that's the end of the story. That attitude makes it harder to put your favorite author's works up on a pedestal. To a lot of fans, good books aren't sacred glimpses into a unique realm of imagination that died with the author. They're more like clever inventions. And the way you honor a clever invention is by taking it apart, putting it back together, breaking it, fixing it, souping it up, tearing it down for parts, and so on and so on.

Given all that, I think it's only natural that sci-fi authors are always cannibalizing each other's shit. It's just frustrating that the outcome is rarely all that good.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:21 PM on September 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'd like to say I'd have a more even-handed view of this, but I can't really bring up much for someone who openly gropes women, publicly. But I'm going to save my hate for the community that enabled, protected and kept worshipping him, no matter how much he assaulted people.
posted by yeloson at 12:25 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Harlan Ellison can't die yet. There are still people he hasn't sued.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:37 PM on September 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


Not to push the point too hard in a generally Ellison-friendly thread, but....

The thing to do when he pushes off his argumentative mortal coil is to prepare a read-only website with all his unfinished works on them, and declare them all public domain. All kinds of people would be able to finish his stuff, but there will be no air of the official to any of it, people will be able to clearly see what's Ellison's and what's the new author's. The material will be freely available so his legacy will be secure, and it's not like he'll be around to profit from it.

But this is Harlan Ellison we're talking about, and there's no way he'd do any of this.
posted by JHarris at 12:50 PM on September 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Sci-fi fans tend to be skeptical of the romantic idea that artists are special in some intangible way.

That totally explains the cults of Heinlenn, Ellison, Rodenberry, and, if you'll stretch a little, Whedon.
posted by rodgerd at 12:54 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


The act would have been nobler if he had done it without the pronouncement.
posted by digsrus at 12:59 PM on September 24, 2010


"he strongly encourages fans to attend.

"This is gonna be the biggest fucking science-fiction convention ever," Ellison says, "because no con has ever had a guest of honor drop dead while performing for the goddamn audience."


I'll go to Madcon if he really wants me to, but first, he'll have to pay me.
posted by markkraft at 12:59 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


(reference...)
posted by markkraft at 1:04 PM on September 24, 2010


"I'd like to say I'd have a more even-handed view of this, but I can't really bring up much for someone who openly gropes women, publicly."

Pay them, Harlan!
posted by markkraft at 1:06 PM on September 24, 2010


I'd like to say I'd have a more even-handed view of this, but I can't really bring up much for someone who openly gropes women, publicly. But I'm going to save my hate for the community that enabled, protected and kept worshipping him, no matter how much he assaulted people.

Are we talking about Isaac Asimov now?
posted by Justinian at 1:18 PM on September 24, 2010


*Metafilter is a slightly meaner and more debased place*

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:19 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


that's not how you do italics on MeFi stop trying to read two threads on different sites at at the same time anigbrowl
posted by anigbrowl at 1:20 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


That totally explains the cults of Heinlenn, Ellison, Rodenberry, and, if you'll stretch a little, Whedon.

Well, that's the thing. Most Heinlein fans do think the man was very very clever, and that he Had The Right Idea on some important points. But I think most Heinlein fans also secretly feel like they could have written those books if they'd been born earlier and worked harder.

There are a lot fewer fans of, say, Hemmingway who would be inclined to say "Yeah, I'm a smart guy — I totally could have written that." Hemmingway fans will chalk up the greatness of his books to irreproducible details about the author. ("Nobody else could have written For Whom The Bell Tolls, because nobody else saw what Hemmingway saw, or felt what he felt, and now the Spanish Civil War is long over and the world is a different place.") That's the difference.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:32 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is a movie about Harlan Ellison, entitled "Dreams With Sharp Teeth". I have a copy of the DVD, which includes several readings as bonus features. Although the movie is intersting and the readings are interesting, they are not his best readings. I have a recording of a live broadcast (from radio station KPFK, Los Angeles) of "The Hour That Stretches" which I consider to be the finest dramatic reading that I have ever heard, by Ellison or by anybody else.

Ellison is a paradoxical character. A man of vast and aggressive integrity who was sometimes dishonest, a man of great talent who was not always entertaining. Ellison has published a series of anthologies of his work, with elaborate introductions. He would go on at great length about all his dear friends who had recently died. And one year, one of those dear friends turned out to be (you'll never guess) L. Ron Hubbard (1911-1986). There may be some theory that all science fiction writers belong to the same fraternity and they are all friends, but even if that is true, there is an exception for L. Ron Hubbard, whom (I am sure) Ellison has never met, and who could not have been a friend of Ellison and who furthermore did not deserve to be a friend of Ellison, since Hubbard was an amoral con artist, narcissist, and a highly destructive person. After Ellison made that disturbing assertion, I have never looked at Ellison the same way. But as I say, he is paradoxical.
posted by grizzled at 1:42 PM on September 24, 2010


Is there an address to send him a "Feel Better" case of jellybeans?
posted by kafziel at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2010


But I think most Heinlein fans also secretly feel like they could have written those books if they'd been born earlier and worked harder.

I have spoken with a lot of Heinlein fans about a lot of things and have never, ever, ever suspected any harbored this opinion. I find the suggestion that it applies to most Heinlein fans to be bizarre.

L. Ron Hubbard, whom (I am sure) Ellison has never met

Science fiction is a very small world, and it would be dangerous to assume any given two American writers in the field who had worked contemporaneously hadn't met. Dianetics wasn't until '64. Ellison has been writing and going to cons since the early fifties. If he's never met him, it's a hoax he's been maintaining since long before Hubbard died.
posted by Zed at 1:57 PM on September 24, 2010


Of course Ellison met Hubbard. Ellison was attending meetings of The Hydra Club when he was a teenager of 15 or 16. Hubbard would have been present at some of these meetings, as were (to pick a few example) de Camp, Bester, Lester Del Rey, and Cyril Kornbluth.

Ellison and Hubbard were also both members of LASFS but I don't know how much overlap there would have been at the clubhouse.
posted by Justinian at 2:03 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Holy crap, Ellison is down the street from me RIGHT NOW. *sob*

...stupid work.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:07 PM on September 24, 2010


...stupid work.

That sounds like a nasty cough you've got there, thanotopsis. Maybe you'd better go home early.
posted by Zed at 2:09 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think he'd ever have finished TLDV, so there's one good thing that would come out of his passing.

Wish he'd thought to bring out what he'd already finished work on.
posted by DavLaurel at 2:12 PM on September 24, 2010


I read Paladin of the Lost Hour in a compilation of short sci-fi stories a few years back and thought it was one of the best pieces of short fiction I'd ever read. I immediately went out and bought a bunch of Ellison's other short fiction... and gosh, I was disappointed. There was a lot of what I call textual cleverness (writing in spirals, zig zags across the page, so on and so forth) and it just irked me. I'm grumpy about things like that, I guess. I can admire Ellison's attitude with regards to his unfinished work - it's his, and so it's his to do with as he likes, including having it burned after his death. It isn't what I would do, and obviously not what other people would do, but he's nothing if not opinionated.

(if anyone is up for an impromptu madcon meetup, send me a message. I'll be there for a few hours at least tomorrow)
posted by lriG rorriM at 2:26 PM on September 24, 2010


The War against the Chtorr always struck me as the kind of series I'd rather read about, when it was done. I'm interested in the alien ecosystem and the unique approach to invasion. I'm not that interested in seven volumes of guys fighting it with flamethrowers.
posted by No-sword at 2:30 PM on September 24, 2010


Come to think of it, hardcore Whedonites do really have an air of "fans are slans" about them.
posted by Artw at 2:30 PM on September 24, 2010


No-sword: We seem to have read different books. There isn't actually all that much flamethrowery action in terms of fraction of page count.
posted by Justinian at 2:35 PM on September 24, 2010


Yeah, every biography of Hubbard that I've ever read claims that Ellison and Hubbard met each other on numerous occasions. From this we may draw the shocking but apparently true conclusion that amoral con men do meet people in real life, and are moreover sometimes well-liked (in ironical and unironical ways) by morally ambiguous old dreamers like Harlan Ellison.
posted by koeselitz at 2:49 PM on September 24, 2010


Sci-fi fans tend to be skeptical of the romantic idea that artists are special in some intangible way. They're more likely to think of artistic genius in practical terms — it's something you can attain if you're smart and you work hard, and that's the end of the story.

Last month, I started working my way through Moorcock's Elric stories, which I found refreshing for:
1) oh so lovingly demolishing the myth that Tolkien single-handedly created modern fantasy
2) admitting that as the early work of a starving pulp writer, they're not that good in parts
3) this wonderfully gonzo bit of pulp "... pursued by beasts that looked like dogs. But they were not dogs, because they were half-dog, half-bird."

Coming across things like this makes my struggle through multiple drafts as an amateur more tolerable.

There are a variety of reasons for continuation in speculative fiction. It's an easy market for one thing, fans often fall in love with settings and characters rather than individual authors, and the genres are loaded with multi-author collaborative franchises. But generally I find posthumous continuations to be not my thing, because they usually come after the original author has worn out his welcome with those particular characters.

Pratchett in my opinion breaks that rule by getting better and better. But he's an exception.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:00 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


"... pursued by beasts that looked like dogs. But they were not dogs, because they were half-dog, half-bird."

Spider-Baby! It's got the body of a spider, and the mind of a baby.
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


when George R. R. Martin croaks without having finished his current fantasy series, that should be it. Finis. But that's why.

Right now A Dance With Dragons is Waterstone's #5 bestseller and, supposedly, it will be out in a year. If Martin dies before finishing the series I'd be surprised if he left behind fewer than 1000 pages and somebodygethimaneditoraaaaaaargh!
posted by ersatz at 3:28 PM on September 24, 2010


Only Ellison can annoy Frank Sinatra in that certain style.

He wrote enough filler, but I have a special fondness for The Deathbird.
posted by ovvl at 3:57 PM on September 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


Justinian: Oh, I didn't read the books. I just looked at the covers. DON'T JUDGE ME!

Actually I guess it is okay to judge me a little bit for that. But come on, that series has been on hiatus long enough to get a learner's permit. I'm not getting involved until I at least know that when I read everything available the central mystery will be solved.
posted by No-sword at 4:15 PM on September 24, 2010


Oh look, there's a whole story list on WikiP for The Last Dangerous Visions. Maybe we'll get right on that...
posted by ovvl at 4:55 PM on September 24, 2010


Harlan Ellison is the best hero a weird misfit teenager can have. If he's really on his way out, and is not just getting spooked by his own encroaching mortality, it's a loss. To me, and probably to a lot of people, it's a bigger loss than Kurt Vonnegut or David Foster Wallace, and I mean by far. It's too bad that it's become so popular to talk smack about him in internet circles, and it's maybe worse that so much of that smack-talk is not wholly unwarranted, but Ellison's had a pretty great life and I assure you he laughs at your four winds, laughs from his mountain, and would probably be disappointed if no one were hating on him (or at least very much unnerved). And you know...

Well. I was going to write some long treatise on what his work did for me as a kid, how for better and for worse it affected my path as a young adult, but few people really criticize his work, and I doubt there's much need to go on for 5000 words about the greatness of "A Boy and His Dog" (and man, I gave up on seeing the Blood novel a long time ago, but...!) or Deathbird Stories or what have you, but there's been a lot written along those lines and I'm sure there's a metric fuckton more being written right this very second, so instead:

Cutting to the heart of the matter, which is the very real problems people have with Ellison himself, I will say this. This is a person who's lived larger than life. This is a person who has basically engaged with life as though he were a Jack Kirby character with the enthusiasm of Ray Bradbury, the inhibitions of Jim Carrey, and the vocabulary of Al Swearengen. If you're that guy, you're going to embarrass yourself in public. You're going to piss people off. It's just going to happen, and there's nothing that anyone can do about it, least of all yourself. You're also going to endear yourself to a hell of a lot of people. I'm not sure most of us would choose to live that life, because it's gotta be stratospheric highs and catastrophic lows pretty much 24/7, but there's a lot there to admire. As I sit here on a Friday night, taking a break from cleaning my filthy-ass apartment, 37 years old, and realize this is the last thing on earth a 37-year-old Harlan Ellison would be doing right now, I sure as hell have some admiration. Maybe a little fear!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:36 PM on September 24, 2010 [17 favorites]


Right now A Dance With Dragons is Waterstone's #5 bestseller and, supposedly, it will be out in a year.

It has been coming out within the year for 6 years now. Of course now that Duke Nukem Forever is actually coming out all bets are off. Maybe this is the year! Or surely the year after that!
posted by Justinian at 5:52 PM on September 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Beautifully said, Kittens.
posted by Artw at 5:55 PM on September 24, 2010


Pratchett in my opinion breaks that rule by getting better and better. But he's an exception.

Derailing someone, but I found Thud pretty poor, to be honest. Turning Vimes into another one of the unstoppable Vetinari/Weatherwax Pratchett characters is pretty arse, and, worse yet, bloody boring.

Cutting to the heart of the matter, which is the very real problems people have with Ellison himself, I will say this.

I'd love to see the people nomiated as better than Ellison by that contingent. Because Ellison may be a lech and a grumpy litigous arsehole, but there aren't actually that many notable folks who don't have a decent range of serious character flaws. That doesn't give one license or render one immune to criticism for them, but I'd be willing to bet any number of the people evacuating on a dying guy hear would squeal like stuck pigs if their sacred cows were similarly slaughtered at such a time.
posted by rodgerd at 7:33 PM on September 24, 2010


Thanks, kittens. A lot of what you wrote goes for me as well.

Is he an ass? Yes. Has he done shitty things? Yeah, he has. Most people do. There aren't many saints out there, and if there are, I'm willing to bet their short fiction isn't all that interesting. I'm here for the quality of the writing, and not to get into a "your favorite band" thing, I love Ellison's work. If you don't, hey, don't waste your time posting your glee at someone's mortality. This world will be a bit dimmer, and certainly less elegantly described when we lose him, and I don't look forward to that.

I remember driving three hours each way one night during college with a car full of friends to see him speak in Chicago. He started off by claiming that the most filthy, dispicable word in the English language was Nixon, which, well, it's hard to argue, though I'd say Cheney is a bit more obscene. After, when he was signing books, I was embarrassed by how fanboyish I felt when I had those couple seconds to talk to him. Contrary to all stories about what an ass he is, he listed to me, asked me a couple questions, and was very kind. Obviously, people who sign books can get pretty good at faking that, but he could have just nodded and said, yeah yeah, next! but he didn't.

It also helps that when I was later pulled over for speeding, I was able to use the "my friends and I need to get back to school after driving to Chicago to see a famous author" line and get off with a warning for doing 90 at night in the rain in a 55.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:04 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


What Kittens said!
posted by Scoo at 3:24 AM on September 25, 2010


Zed, Ellison and Hubbard did not work contemporaneously, Dianetics which you state began in 1964 actually began in 1950 (check the copyright date on your copy of "Dianetics: The Modern Science Of Mental Health")

I know that Hubbard was part of the science fiction community until the time he begain to devote himself to the more lucrative field of religious cultism in 1950, and the earlier Sf authors, such as Heinlein and Asimov, did know him. The timing doesn't work out in the case of Ellison.

Justinian mentions that Hubbard and Ellison were both members of LASFS. Well, oddly enough, I too am a member of LASFS (and will be forever, since the club motto is "Death will not release you") and I have met Ellison, but I have not met Hubbard, who became extremely reclusive and was not seen outside of the cult environment for the latter part of his life.

koeselitz makes this interesting claim, "every biography of Hubbard that I've ever read claims that Ellison and Hubbard met each other on numerous occasions." I have read several biographies of Hubbard and Ellison is not mentioned. koeselitz also informs us that "From this we may draw the shocking but apparently true conclusion that amoral con men do meet people in real life, and are moreover sometimes well-liked (in ironical and unironical ways) by morally ambiguous old dreamers like Harlan Ellison." But that wasn't my point. I said that even if they had met, Hubbard did not deserve to be liked by Ellison. Hubbard was a deeply evil person and Ellison is a person with vast and constantly asserted outrage against the various forms of immorality which he observes in society. For Ellison to feel a deep sense of loss (as he claimed) because of the death of L. Ron Hubbard is ridiculous.
posted by grizzled at 6:25 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of Hubbard, Ellison says in Angry Candy:

"Ron Hubbard...went in January of '86. I hadn't seen Ron in decades, but we'd exchanged a few letters; and despite the looneytunes scene his Dianetics and Scientology had become, he was always still just Ron Hubbard, who'd written To the Stars and Final Blackout and Fear and Typewriter in the Sky and Slaves of Sleep, all of which great pulp fiction which I can still reread with pleasure; and he was not some sort of mysterious recluse with a worldwide following of dippy 'clears' who are so scared someone will light into their cultish religion that they sue people who talk in their sleep, one supposes, rather than suffer any negative comment. He was just Ron, and I kinda liked him, mostly because he wrote well, and I never felt he took all that Scientology nonsense seriously but knew how to make a good buck, and he liked me, and...well, he was a friend who died."

Make of that what you will?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:33 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


again, kittens. The introduction to Angry Candy is probably one of the best things I've read by Ellison. Losing a close friend is hell on anyone. Losing that many close friends, colleagues, and idols in such a short time must have torn him apart, and that introduction is his way of sharing that pain.

My own half-baked Ellison theory, partly to do with why his productivity dropped off, is that, as a young turk, he and the other people who were doing 'speculative' fiction really, deeply believed that through their writing, they would be able to change the world. And my god, so much of their work was amazing, and certainly changed my world (years later, when I discovered it, as a teen in the late 80's/early 90's). The thing is, most of those names were in the sidebar to that introduction. All of the people that Ellison was going to change the world with were, for the most part, dead, some of whom had been forgotten even before their death. I believe, at some point, Ellison looked around, realized that not only was he the last one standing, they hadn't actually changed the world all that much, and that, in a lot of ways, the world was even shittier than before (yes, he was virulently anti-drug, and not always keen on hippies, but the idealism of the sixties and seventies died, and the eighties were born on its rotten, putrid corpse). I think, honestly, he kind of gave up, and settled into his role as the shrill angry guy trying to tell people it could be better. There's a lot of examples of the type, but for whatever reason, the one that springs to mind is the fucking Lorax. To me, there's no doubt that his fiction radically changed after that point, and that there's been a hell of a lot less, as well as a lot more health issues.

I wish him well, and hope that he's wrong, and that he'll be around a bit longer, but no more than he wants to be.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:34 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


DavLaurel: "I don't think he'd ever have finished TLDV, so there's one good thing that would come out of his passing.
"

Yes, releasing copyright back to the authors once it became clear that it would never be finished would have been the decent thing to do.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:17 PM on September 25, 2010


Make of that what you will?

What I make of it is that this supposedly idealistic person was willing to handwave away Hubbard's creation of a fantastically corrupt and vindictive enterprise on the basis of an old acquaintance. That (and the intro to Angry Candy in general) was actually one of the things that led to my losing interest in Ellison; the other was his essay on comics, "It Ain't Toontown", published in Playboy and mercilessly dissected by Gary Groth in The Comics Journal.

Groth and Ellison had been friends, but fell out during the lawsuit against TCJ and Ellison brought by comics writer Michael Fleischer after Ellison had called Fleischer "bugfuck crazy" in his TCJ interview. Even considering that Groth may have been a bit vindictive himself, though, and even given Groth's long-standing distaste for superhero comics, he still makes some good points in his critique, particularly in noting that Ellison had studiously ignored any artist working for Fantagraphics (with the exception of Los Bros Hernandez), even though that group included people like Dan Clowes, Peter Bagge, and Jim Woodring, artists that were and still are producing superior work.

What I get from that is that, if you're a friend or even a friendly acquaintance of Ellison's, he's willing to overlook even something as hideous as Scientology, and if you're not, or worse yet, are a former friend that he's had a falling out with, he not only punishes you but also almost anyone that you're associated with. Make of that what you will.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:33 PM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, first of all, nothing ever comes of getting into the main Ellison/Groth debate, so I won't. In this particular case, though, I do know that Ellison was unhappy about that article, which was retitled and may have been revised by Playboy (I don't remember that last for sure). Nevertheless, I don't think there's anything really glaring about failing to note the above-mentioned artists. Clowes, Bagge and Woodring have all done fantastic work, but just about none of that work had happened by the time of the article, which was sometime in the late '80s; Los Bros would have been a glaring omission, but they weren't omitted, as you've noted, so I'm really not seeing it here. If we were talking about Ellison failing to mention, say, Ghost World or Hate in an article published in 1996, then okay.

W/r/t Hubbard, if you think that's him "waving away" Scientology, I don't know. Keep in mind, too, that Scientology was not as much on the public radar twenty years ago. It's obvious that Ellison had heard some stories, but it's not clear to me that he would have known how seriously to take them, or how responsible Hubbard was personally for anything the church was rumored to have done.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:08 PM on September 25, 2010


Fuck. I haven't spoken to Harlan in decades. He was a friend of my first wife. I didn't know him that well, but whenever we were at a convention together we spent a few minutes chatting. I'm going to miss the irascible cocksucker.

Love you Harlan, the haters can eat shit.
posted by Splunge at 5:44 AM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Harlan Ellison once hassled me for money outside the Golden Apple in L.A. Yeah yeah it was for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and he was going down the line of people waiting to see Neil Gaiman. But believe you me it was hassling and not asking for donations. Crazy old coot :) Got all in my face.
posted by halonine at 7:48 PM on September 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Splunge, by calling Harlan Ellison an irascible cocksucker, has delivered as much of an insult to Ellison as anyone else in the course of this discussion, so his concluding remark that "the haters can eat shit" is a bit out of place - there are no haters here, although there are some critics. However, the comment does have a somewhat Ellisonian tinge to it. Ellison is fond of overheated rhetoric. Anyway, I too will miss him when he is gone.
posted by grizzled at 5:42 AM on September 27, 2010


I have one more comment on the question of Ellison's possible connection to L. Ron Hubbard. I read that interview which Zed linked to above, in which Ellison claimed to have been present at a gathering of SF authors in which Hubbard first decided to create a new religion (but starting with a new psychotherapy). Hubbard's original article was published in Astounding magazine in 1949 so that meeting would have taken place in 1949 (assuming that it did take place). Ellison was born in 1934 and would therefore have been 15 years old in 1949. He had, at that age, no credentials in the world of SF. Why he would be present at such a meeting, which was otherwise attended only by some of the most popular SF writers of the 1940's, is difficult to explain. How would he have known these people? He was not yet an author himself.

It my considered opinion that Ellison has chosen to write an alternate history, of what would have happened if he had been present at that meeting. From Ellison's perspective he has written a poetic truth rather than a literal truth. As for Ellison's correspondence with Hubbard, that would not be impossible. Hubbard encouraged people to write to him, and did reply, although it is clear that most of the replies coming from Hubbard were produced by his staff, to save time (the signatures were stamped, rather than written). I also wrote some letters to Hubbard and received replies. But I never considered myself to be a personal friend of Hubbard as a result.
posted by grizzled at 6:49 AM on September 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


StarShipSofa this week opens with an Open Letter To Harlan Ellison by Matthew Sanborn Smith.
posted by Artw at 10:26 PM on September 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


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