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He can't be bargained with. He can't be reasoned with. He doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear.
January 2, 2011 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Why the Entire World Doesn't Steal from Harlan Ellison
posted by Artw (124 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
He's got a mouth to feed, and so must scream?
posted by chavenet at 3:10 PM on January 2, 2011 [14 favorites]


Harlan Ellison vs. Hitler
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:12 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


There are so many elements of absurdity here, I don't even know where to start.

First, Ellison is nuts. He thinks he invented really broad sorts of fiction? He's better watch out! Aeschylus is going to sue him for stealing "I Have No Mouth..." from "Prometheus Bound."

On a whole other level, is "being influenced by" the same as "stealing"? Well, there's only one way an argument about this can go.

Person One: Yes, it is.

Person Two: No, it isn't.

Evidence?????

[Pause.]

Person One: It just IS!

Person Two: No, it isn't.

Stealing is a word. Define it however you like. Let's say being influenced IS stealing. So what? The question is, is it moral or legal to engage in certain kinds of stealing. Maybe so, maybe not. But simply labeling something a "stealing" or as "just being influenced by" changes nothing.
posted by grumblebee at 3:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Harlan Ellison has disappointed me by not being as good a writer as I remember from my teens and more generally by turning into a crabby old asshole. But that's what angry young men turn into, I guess.

Note to elderly me: talk less, listen more.
posted by fleetmouse at 3:20 PM on January 2, 2011 [27 favorites]


grumblebee stole what I was going to say.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:21 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've never read Harlan Ellison, but this makes me feel okay with adding him to my "cranky asshole scifier" folder along with Ray Bradbury.
posted by Rory Marinich at 3:24 PM on January 2, 2011


Many years ago I printed I Have No Mouth in an anthology I published. When the text was printed, the image of what was to be computer tape left margins of about 3/4 o" on either side of the page. Ellison called me in Connecticut, from California, late at night, to tell me that I had ruined his story because the make-believe tape that resembled some computer tape was not to have margins!

I tried to explain that since the tape was meaningless but merely representative it did not matter. He insisted it did. Nothing to be done about it I noted. Get in touch with the publisher.

A friend, a sci fi writer, told me Ellison lonely and notorious for making late night calls about this or that.

A great writer. Yes. But odd, indeed.
posted by Postroad at 3:40 PM on January 2, 2011 [11 favorites]


Ooh, I know this one: Because of copyright laws? I didn't realize Ellison was dead.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:40 PM on January 2, 2011


Ellison isn't dead. But he has been making a big public fuss about dying for at least a year now. I guess we shouldn't be surprised that he is not going quietly into that good night; nor should we be surprised if he claims I stole that last sentence from him.
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:42 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


"How about your very own Harlan Ellison?"
posted by hippybear at 3:46 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


"He's got Scotty dealing drugs..."

(Not really, but it's a funny quote. I meant to use it in the recent TNG/movie script thread, but this is better.)
posted by ovvl at 3:47 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded about what Jim Jarmusch said about stealing stuff.
"Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery - celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said: “It’s not where you take things from - it’s where you take them to."
posted by joelf at 3:50 PM on January 2, 2011 [103 favorites]


Why do people still pay attention to Ellison? It's one thing if you're going to be an asshole and still produce good work, but does he do anything other than be an asshole these days?
posted by kmz at 3:50 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is kind of a "Single Link Ellison Overstates Again," isn't it? On the other hand, Ellison once threatened my life on the flimsiest of pretexts, which I feel was my gateway into the deeper recesses of the SF world, so I guess that's OK.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:59 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's iconic!
posted by Artw at 4:00 PM on January 2, 2011


Well, with his absurd, cruel The Last Dangerous Visions fiasco, Ellison has kind of stolen a chance at posterity from a bunch of SF writers. At this stage it's a kind of monumental "FU" to everyone involved. Usually, you have to wait until someone's dead to piss on their grave but, with TLDV, Ellison cleverly managed to get much of the grunt work done beforehand.
posted by meehawl at 4:04 PM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


I once considered buying a Geo.
posted by SPrintF at 4:06 PM on January 2, 2011


In The Making of The Trouble with Tribbles, David Gerrold tells a story of Ellison waiting to see Gene Roddenberry. Elllison uses the idle time to tie a noose and when Roddenberry finally gets free to see him, he holds up the noose and says "Tell me you didn't change my words."

Brilliant writer, but as they say in this part of the country the boy ain't right in the head.
posted by localroger at 4:08 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know much less about SF or literature than I know about pop music, but the latter at least has been subject to a similar, and similarly heated, debate for a long time. joelf's great Jim Jarmusch quote reminds me of the words of Erik de Jong aka Spinvis, one of the greatest contemporary songwriters IMO (who, alas, only sings in Dutch):
"I always have about four books next to my bed that I read simultaneously. What happens is that those books — no matter what they are, poetry, science fiction, instruction manuals — always seem to comment on one another. That way you create the fifth book yourself."
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 4:10 PM on January 2, 2011 [16 favorites]


Some old misanthropes are brilliant, but contrary to myth, few of them are lovable. In the case of Ellison, I wouldn't be surprised if he dies from having fans beat him into the ground with their shovels in a fit of exasperated rage. (There's a story there, surely... or a parable at the very least...)
posted by spoobnooble at 4:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, is there some sort of context for this article? I read Ellison's scream and saw terminator.... but so what? Is he filing some recent lawsuit, or has he been in the news, or something?
posted by rebent at 4:16 PM on January 2, 2011


He said that Cormack McCarthy had ripped The Road off from A Boy and His Dog. It's in the first paragraph of the linked piece.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:24 PM on January 2, 2011


I've always found Harlan Ellison to be unbearable--one of the few authors whose books I've actually been tempted to destroy rather than give to Goodwill. And high on his own supply, good lord.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 4:27 PM on January 2, 2011


He's on my radar partly because he's written some great stuff, and partly because he belongs to the fraternity of manual typewriter holdouts that I hold in particular esteem because every one of my closets is packed with manual typewriters in an indication that I'm possibly the most organized hoarder ever. Sure, I could buy another pair of shoes, but where would my Hermes 2000 go?

My interest in most writers begins and ends with their work, though I'm increasingly fascinated with their workspaces and writing instruments, not because I hope to emulate those writers, but rather because I'm very particular about how and where I work, and I'm curious how that is manifest in the working modes of others.

I dug into some interviews with Ellison while idly looking up typewriter quips, and on that matter, he's well-spoken, if somewhat cranky. Dig deeper, though, and my idle digging occasionally goes in that direction, and hoo boy—he's certainly got a lot to say. He's definitely an SF writer (Don't call him an SF writer, apparently!) whose history I have had to sort of unlearn after the fact in order to keep enjoying his work, like James Hogan or Niven.
posted by sonascope at 4:28 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Do I have to choose between Ellison and Cameron? Can't I hate them both?
posted by LarryC at 4:29 PM on January 2, 2011


Am I the only person who figured out Harlan Ellison was nuts when I was like 13 years old? Why does anybody listen to anything he says anymore?
posted by Sara C. at 4:32 PM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


I kinda feel my last comment was a little harsh (albeit honest). In light of this, I should point out that I will always respect Harlan Ellison for this one interview clip regarding compensation for creative work:
"Pay the Writer"
posted by spoobnooble at 4:36 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why do people still pay attention to Ellison?

Because his rants are a source of entertainment for the easily amused?

His best work was decades ago, but I think The Deathbird assures his place in literature. Um, shame about that whole The Last Dangerous Visions fiasco (Now known as TLDV-f). That puts a downer on things. I would love to have a copy, if one existed.
posted by ovvl at 4:36 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, seeing as how he's given to groping female writers, I suppose tales of his assholery come as no surprise. I've liked what I've read of his stories, though, so I just add him to the "Good Artist/Regrettable Human Being" category.
posted by emjaybee at 4:38 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh, it's just low blood sugar. Give him some jellybeans or something, he'll calm down.
posted by kafziel at 4:42 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Everything belongs to the inspired and dedicated thief.

- William Burroughs
posted by newdaddy at 4:45 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


What are the running odds that he turns up here, in this thread?
posted by edgeways at 4:46 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


In an essay collected in Shatterday, Ellison tells the story of a reader who writes to him, excited by the detailed parallels between one of Ellison's short stories and Virgil's Aeneid. Hah! says Ellison: "I've never read Virgil's Aeneid." Perhaps Ellison should remind himself of his own anecdote sometime?
posted by thomas j wise at 4:48 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


" If someone could copyright the idea of spaceships, half of science fiction would vanish with a stroke of the lawsuit."

Naah. Jules Verne died in 1905, so it would be in the public domain by now. (Unless they extend the copyright period again.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:49 PM on January 2, 2011


he latest example comes in a Wall Street Journal interview where Ellison claims Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer-Prize winning novel The Road rips off "A Boy and His Dog."


Why would he wish to imply any relation between "A Boy and His Dog" and "The Road" ? I love McCarthy but man a Pulitzer?
posted by nola at 4:51 PM on January 2, 2011


I've never read Harlan Ellison, but this makes me feel okay with adding him to my "cranky asshole scifier" folder along with Ray Bradbury.

Harlan Ellison's work is absolutely worth reading though, as is Ray Bradbury's (even more so in fact). Jason Sanford's work is actually very worth reading as well. That the brain eater got to Ellison and Bradbuty them should not detract to that (nor should it detract from the works of Sanford should it ever get to him).
posted by Artw at 4:51 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is the "every Ellison piece is a first draft" legend true?
posted by griphus at 4:53 PM on January 2, 2011


My prediction: A book titled The Last Dangerous Visions will, some day, be published. It will probably be a very good anthology, and its contents may even resemble the previously announced list of stories. It will not, however, be published while Ellison is still alive.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:57 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


edgeways: "What are the running odds that he turns up here, in this thread"

Possibly the worst of all possible outcomes.
posted by boo_radley at 5:00 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Previous post about Ellison selling his personal library due to impending death.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:02 PM on January 2, 2011


What are the running odds that he turns up here, in this thread

We've taken that risk before.
posted by Artw at 5:03 PM on January 2, 2011


What are the running odds that he turns up here, in this thread?

I would/might pay to see that.
posted by ovvl at 5:05 PM on January 2, 2011


I thought that I read that he doesn't actually use a computer himself.
posted by octothorpe at 5:09 PM on January 2, 2011


Sometime in the late 70s or early 80s, Ellison published a book of short stories; and in the forward to this book, he wrote a bit about all the numbers that identify us as modern humans. And he listed many of these numbers as they pertained to him. For some reason that surpasses human understanding, one of the numbers he listed was his phone number. A couple of friends and I, being big fans, decided that it would be fun to call Mr. Ellison; and so we did. The phone was answered by a woman, and we explained to her how we had come by the number, and said we'd like to speak to Mr. Ellison. She asked us to hold. After about five minutes, a gruff male voice came on the line: "Operator! Trace this call!". Obviously, we weren't the first fans to call the number; and, obviously, Harlan hadn't intended to start a fan line. We thought it was unlikely that there was actually an operator on the line, so we spent a few minutes asking him questions about his stories. He didn't hang up, or abuse us in any inventive fashion; he just kept repeating: "Operator! Trace this call!". Finally, we hung up.

So he hasn't always been old; but he's always been cranky.
posted by steambadger at 5:10 PM on January 2, 2011 [30 favorites]


It's sad, really. Harlan Ellison has reached a point in his life where he's to be pitied more than respected.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I thought that I read that he doesn't actually use a computer himself.

As someone who uses a computer, I think that might be a good way to get some work done.
posted by ovvl at 5:14 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


He sued Orion Pictures and James Cameron for "stealing" the ideas behind The Terminator, specifically the idea of a soldier being sent into the past to fight. Ellison also claimed they stole his idea of a human-like robot from the "Demon with a Glass Hand" episode he wrote for The Outer Limits.

Somehow the author of this piece fails to mention that a core story element of The Terminator is also found in "I Have No Mouth...": that of the nuclear defense computer system becoming sentient and deciding to turn on humanity. That to me comes closer to plagiarism than the Soldier or Demon similarities.

Normally I agree with all of the above, everything you create becomes part of the cultural landscape and if it informs the work of others, that's to be expected.

But in the case of Terminator, it's just too overwhelming. Core components of not less than three well-known Ellison stories, all of them quite distinctive and about as original as an idea ever gets. I think acknowledging Ellison is the least Mr. Cameron could have done.

On the other hand, Ellison is full of crap about "The Road" and the article is right. They're not even similar in any important way.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:19 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


You could just as easily say that The Terminator stole the idea of a defense system gaining sentience from The Forbin Project.
posted by octothorpe at 5:24 PM on January 2, 2011 [9 favorites]


The main problem with Cameron and Wisher "acknowledging" Ellison is that The Terminator isn't directly adapted from any particular Ellison Story (that I know of?), and Ellison doesn't seem to have been involved at any point in the screenwriting process. The WGA has exceedingly strict rules about who gets what kind of credit for a film. Rules that work under the conventional idea of what it means to be the author of a creative property, not Ellison's ideas.

Their only recourse would be to put Ellison on that "Very Special Thanks To" list at the end of the credits where they do their due diligence by thanking various state film boards, that guy who lent them the boat, someone's college roommate, stuff like that. Which isn't the sort of acknowledgment Ellison seems to crave.
posted by Sara C. at 5:26 PM on January 2, 2011


I invented the flashback.
posted by mhoye at 5:30 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


All my comments are taken verbatim from Harlan Ellison's works.


Including this one.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:33 PM on January 2, 2011


Harlan don't surf!
posted by octothorpe at 5:34 PM on January 2, 2011


I invented the flashback.

I remember that... (WAVY DISSOLVE TRANSITION)
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:35 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Meanwhile, at MeFi HQ, an ancient telegraph receiver comes to life...
posted by Artw at 5:37 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Obligatory Penny Arcade account of Harlan crankiness
posted by A dead Quaker at 5:44 PM on January 2, 2011 [14 favorites]


Their only recourse would be to put Ellison on that "Very Special Thanks To" list at the end of the credits where they do their due diligence by thanking various state film boards, that guy who lent them the boat, someone's college roommate, stuff like that. Which isn't the sort of acknowledgment Ellison seems to crave.

You might not realize it, but this is exactly what Ellison requested. In interviews he's said something along the lines of "they could have come to me first and admitted my stuff was the foundation and just thanked me in the credits along with their thanks to Coke or whatever. But they didn't. Cameron bragged, on set and in interviews, that he'd smushed a few of my stories together and then denied it when confronted."

Ellison has always been and always will be a hard-nose about principle, and that's why I love him. If you shoot straight with him, he'll deal with you decently. If you fuck him, watch out: he will fuck you and you will feel it. He will win. Always has, always will.

I got no problem with Ellison suing Cameron and Hemdale. If anything, in project after project since Terminator, Cameron has proven he doesn't have an original idea in his head. He's great at combining ideas from other places but it's foolish of him to deny they're other peoples' ideas. At least with stuff like Avatar he's been smart enough to steal from the public domain. Pretty fucking funny that though he's learned enough to do that, he still tries to pretend he didn't. "Pocahontas? Never heard of it."
posted by dobbs at 5:44 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Ellison, in a Comics Journal interview, called Mike Fleisher "bugfuck crazy". Fleisher sued and lost. Then Ellison turned around and sued Fantagraphics (publishers of CJ) for libel in their reporting of the matter and they settled by removing mentions of Ellison (re the lawsuit) that he disapproved of. Guy is used to courtrooms.
posted by CCBC at 5:49 PM on January 2, 2011


You won't find him out here in cyberspace, staring goggle-eyed at one of the many pages which were apparently designed by a team of color-blind dyslexics; or spending ten minutes downloading an MPEG movie that fills an eighth of his display for three seconds; or running a WebCrawler search on "Ernest Hemingway" which yields two Muriel Hemingway sites and a promo page for the movie Ernest Goes to Camp 2.

Lol. I love that he puts this on the internet. Shows exactly what kind of person he is.
posted by Sara C. at 5:49 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


He sued Orion Pictures and James Cameron for "stealing" the ideas behind The Terminator, specifically the idea of a soldier being sent into the past to fight.

Oh Jesus. The idea of going back into the past to change things in some manner, via soldiering, investments, what have you is hardly unique to any individual.

Ellison also claimed they stole his idea of a human-like robot from the "Demon with a Glass Hand" episode he wrote for The Outer Limits.


Philip K. Dick's Jon's World (1954) had human like robots as well and Second Variety and Jon's World together have a lot of elements that have shown up in sci-fi since, and particularly the Terminator, and probably before.
posted by juiceCake at 5:55 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd like to take another gander at the concept of influence vs steal - how does one draw the line? The blog post in the FPP articulates the influences well, I can't argue with that, but it made me think about how ideas spread and influence and whether its more important that they be anonymous in their spread or that they be credited? Does the crediting hold the spread of the idea back? Does putting it out in the public domain move it faster? What then becomes more important to the thinking writer's egoic satisfaction? Influencing change or being known to have had the concept?

/end plate
posted by infini at 5:55 PM on January 2, 2011


dobbs, you say "a hard-nose about principle", I say "entitled jack-ass who thinks the entire entertainment industry owes him some kind of hand-out". Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, really.

Though I'll go a little further and say that "I wish they would have thanked me in the credits != AND THEREFORE I AM SUING YOU." What damages would he have? Unless Ellison was pitching a film version of "I Have No Mouth..." around Hollywood at the exact same time and can prove that Cameron & Co. saw the script and stole the idea directly (which would be hard considering The Terminator != an adaptation of "I Have No Mouth..."), he wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

Nobody in Hollywood has an original idea in their head. And I'm saying that as an aspiring screenwriter. That's what makes Hollywood so great. Black Swan is basically just a trippy retelling of All About Eve. Nothing is original. Nobody cares.

Except for Harlan Ellison, apparently.
posted by Sara C. at 5:56 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


What juiceCake said - the most recent Terminator movies has many similarities to Demon with a Glass Hand, but Second Variety and other stories by Phil Dick from around the same period were far, far more influential on the Terminator concept. Also, better.
posted by anigbrowl at 6:00 PM on January 2, 2011


I've always found Harlan Ellison to be unbearable--one of the few authors whose books I've actually been tempted to destroy rather than give to Goodwill. And high on his own supply, good lord.


I feel the same way about heinlein. That said, I've only read Starship Troopers and Stranger In A Strange Land.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:11 PM on January 2, 2011


Somehow the author of this piece fails to mention that a core story element of The Terminator is also found in "I Have No Mouth...": that of the nuclear defense computer system becoming sentient and deciding to turn on humanity.

As octothorpe notes, that dog won't hunt. Colussus was published before IHNMAIMS, and had been a film long, long before Cameron came up with Terminator. And the idea of sentient(-ish) war machines turning on their creators is older than that; Saberhagen was publishing Berserker stories as early as 1963.

I haven't seen the relevant Limits episodes in ages and ages, but the things that I recall from them were -- like the idea of a supercomputer becoming sentient and turning on humanity -- just well-worn tropes by the time the Terminator was made in the early 80s, and that were only Ellison's in the eye of his ridiculous ego.

Let me put it another way: I'm very, very confident that if I went back in time and reduced Harlan Ellison to dissociated atoms in 1940, when I stepped back to 2011 there would still have been a Terminator.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:16 PM on January 2, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've always found Harlan Ellison to be unbearable--one of the few authors whose books I've actually been tempted to destroy rather than give to Goodwill. And high on his own supply, good lord.


I feel the same way about heinlein. That said, I've only read Starship Troopers and Stranger In A Strange Land.


Try reading The Number of the Beast. Then you'll be tempted to hunt me down and destroy me for making the suggestion.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:53 PM on January 2, 2011 [10 favorites]


Ellison has always been and always will be a hard-nose about principle, and that's why I love him. If you shoot straight with him, he'll deal with you decently. If you fuck him, watch out: he will fuck you and you will feel it. He will win. Always has, always will.

I got no problem with Ellison suing Cameron and Hemdale.
WTF are you talking about? Whether or not you think Ellison is a "straight shooter" is irrelevant to whether he owns the fucking idea of a soldier going back in time. The problem is the idea of some random psycho who you've never dealt with deciding to sue you over some paranoid bullshit.
posted by delmoi at 7:03 PM on January 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Then read Double Star, and you'll be willing to roll double or nothing.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:04 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Am I the only one who read this in the voice of Harry Plinkett?
posted by clarknova at 7:11 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


See, Edith Keeler did not die but was stuck in a transporter loop then phased into Falcon Crest thus positing the original premise. again.
posted by clavdivs at 7:18 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: you're a lightweight. thsmchnekllsfascists: read I Will Fear No Evil.
posted by Leon at 7:20 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


You lot are sadists.
posted by Artw at 7:25 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


The idea of your sentient-ish creation turning on you goes back rather further than Science Fiction itself.
posted by localroger at 7:28 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


What are the running odds that he turns up here, in this thread?

Better than you might think. I once wrote up a piece on projects that had gotten lost in development hell for the Sci-Fi Channel's web site and, solely because my editor wanted to have a book in there alongside all the movies, included Last Dangerous Visions.

Turned in my piece and went off to spend Christmas with the family. Got back to find an angry message from Ellison on my voice mail. Did I call him back? Hell no. I called my editor and apparently his wife called (they'd both known him for years) and basically said, "leave the kid alone, Harlan. You know damn well he didn't say anything that wasn't true." That was the last I heard of it.
posted by Naberius at 7:44 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


See also The Flood story from the Bible. God is mad that his creation has turned on him! So he kills everyone except this one guy, who is allowed to survive and repopulate the earth with the agreement that he only do so according to what God would want.

(OMG KIND OF LIKE IN "I Have No Mouth..."!!! I WONDER IF HARLAN ELLISON HAS HEARD OF THIS STORY??)
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 PM on January 2, 2011


Wait, so Ray Bradbury is a cranky old asshole, too? Huh. I had no idea. In my head, he's a jovial and avuncular guy who putters around his book-filled house in an old sweater cooing over his cats and serving hot chocolate to visitors.

You know what? Don't tell me. It's a harmless illusion I'd prefer to continue to harbor.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 7:58 PM on January 2, 2011 [6 favorites]


Dick's The Skull, published in 1952, features a man sent back to the past to assassinate the leader of a religious movement. He's sent back to change the past to change the future (though if I remember correctly it's a loop, where the person being sent back is the leader he is sent back to assassinate). The idea is common and claiming it as one's own or that another has copied it from source C even though similar stories have been told before in Source A, L, and Y, but let's pretend that's not so, is simply terribly damaging and contrary to the art of fiction itself.

Also, as stated earlier: Second Variety.
posted by juiceCake at 8:15 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: you're a lightweight. thsmchnekllsfascists: read I Will Fear No Evil.

Or, if you happen to be from New Zealand, Friday.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:17 PM on January 2, 2011


I wish someone could be sued for how every god damned discussion of Harlan Ellison on the internet is exactly fucking the same. After watching the kind of shit that went down with, for instance, Robert Anton Wilson or Thomas Disch, I sure the fuck don't blame him for trying to subsidize his old age (and the future of his wide Susan, who will very probably long outlive him) any way he possibly can.

Anyway, reading the actual source material it seems much more likely to me that Ellison is just taking the piss when he says

A friend said “oh gee, you should sell it, they sold Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter.” And I said, “yeah, Cormac McCarthy who ripped off my story “A Boy and His Dog” to do “The Road.”

Though they do both involve a post-apocalyptic world with rampant cannibalism. And psychic dogs. No wait, The Road didn't have any psychic dogs, which is why it sucked.
posted by nanojath at 8:23 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


If it makes you all feel better, you could go read "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," where Ol' Blue Eyes gives Harlan the full on Frank because he doesn't like his shoes. (or something)
posted by Trochanter at 8:23 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Harlan Ellison will not die, instead he will live until the last breath passed through the last lips and then only then, when there is is no one left to yell at, will he know the true weight of hell.
posted by The Whelk at 8:36 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I never got the Harlan Ellison story/Terminator connection other than some general concepts such as chases through time travel that are found in many science fiction stories.

That is why I was surprised when James Cameron mentioned in a Starlog interview that he "took a couple of Outer Limits segments" for the idea for Terminator. A lawsuit and settlement was pretty much guaranteed at that point.
posted by eye of newt at 8:53 PM on January 2, 2011


The idea that Harlan Ellison might legitimately believe that Cormac McCarthy needs to rip off story ideas from him of all people is the real wtf.

Harlan, you talentless old goat, go read Blood Meridian.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:55 PM on January 2, 2011


Black Swan is basically just a trippy retelling of All About Eve.

Actually, I think Black Swan is just Piano Teacher smushed with Repulsion. However, the writers aren't running around saying they ripped off Polanski and Haneke/Jelinek. Instead, they've got a paper trail of previous drafts that lead from a similar but different story to the one they ended up shooting. And when they're interviewed, they acknowledge those films (and others) as influences.

Nothing is original. Nobody cares.

I don't agree. I care.

There's a difference, I think, between being inspired by something--being moved by something and riffing on another's idea--and consciously taking someone else's work and pretending you're not.

Unless Ellison was pitching a film version of "I Have No Mouth..." around Hollywood at the exact same time and can prove that Cameron & Co. saw the script and stole the idea directly (which would be hard considering The Terminator != an adaptation of "I Have No Mouth..."), he wouldn't have a leg to stand on.

He doesn't need to have been pitching anything. Cameron was on record both with a reporter and one-to-one with one of Ellison's friends, on set during shooting Terminator, bragging about taking multiple Ellison stories to make Terminator. That's the difference between something like this and something like Black Swan. Cameron didn't say, "I was inspired by Ellison's stories"--he said, "I took some Ellison stories" (or something to that effect). Why do you think Hemdale forked over the cash without so much as a "wtf?"?

The problem is the idea of some random psycho who you've never dealt with deciding to sue you over some paranoid bullshit.

Ellison didn't pull the thing out of his ass after seeing the film. He approached the ProdCo before the film was even complete--right after he'd been told by two separate sources that Cameron had said what he said.

Y'all are acting like Ellison is the first person to go after a production company for ripping off a story. If an author has proof that the filmmaker has done it, why shouldn't s/he sue?

What do you think about Joe Frank and Joseph Minion's script for After Hours? There's a reason these writers are getting financial recompense. It's not just "the studio doesn't want a costly court case". It's because there's evidence to support the claims.
posted by dobbs at 9:11 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Black Swan is basically just a trippy retelling of All About Eve.

It started life as an All-About-Eve thing and then moved to ballet and got mixed into the director's desire to remake Perfect Blue and pretty much sits in the triangle between What Ever Happened To Baby Jane, The Red Shoes, and ..I dunno Susprisa

posted by The Whelk at 9:13 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


Ray Bradbury is a nice person. Trust me.
posted by clavdivs at 9:14 PM on January 2, 2011


Ray Bradbury once made out with a friend's boss for like an hour cause it was the 70s.

trust me.
posted by The Whelk at 9:23 PM on January 2, 2011


No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of æsthetic, not merely historical, criticism. The necessity that he shall conform, that he shall cohere, is not one-sided; what happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which is modified by the introduction of the new (the really new) work of art among them. The existing order is complete before the new work arrives; for order to persist after the supervention of novelty, the whole existing order must be, if ever so slightly, altered; and so the relations, proportions, values of each work of art toward the whole are readjusted; and this is conformity between the old and the new. Whoever has approved this idea of order, of the form of European, of English literature, will not find it preposterous that the past should be altered by the present as much as the present is directed by the past. And the poet who is aware of this will be aware of great difficulties and responsibilities.

Tradition and the Individual Talent, by T.S. Eliot (who also said, "Mediocre writers borrow; Great writers steal.")
posted by alms at 9:23 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Y'all are acting like Ellison is the first person to go after a production company for ripping off a story.

No one's doing anything of the sort.
posted by juiceCake at 9:31 PM on January 2, 2011


oh, an ex spent an afternoon with him in NYC, nice man. trust me.
posted by clavdivs at 9:34 PM on January 2, 2011


wait, that was jules verne and it was Paris. Libertines.
posted by clavdivs at 9:37 PM on January 2, 2011


infini: "I'd like to take another gander at the concept of influence vs steal - how does one draw the line? The blog post in the FPP articulates the influences well, I can't argue with that, but it made me think about how ideas spread and influence and whether its more important that they be anonymous in their spread or that they be credited? Does the crediting hold the spread of the idea back? Does putting it out in the public domain move it faster? What then becomes more important to the thinking writer's egoic satisfaction? Influencing change or being known to have had the concept?"

I don't think it's possible to give proper credit for every inspiration. Each of us has read or seen or heard hundreds, or even thousands of stories. And sometimes really good ideas seep into our heads and become so integral to our thinking that they're effectively invisible. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants (a phrase I first encountered in the work of Isaac Asimov, though Wikipedia says that the originator was a 12th century writer named Bernard of Chartres), because that's how progress works over the generations.

I think the best approach is for the writer to be aware of his or her influences, but only for the purpose of personalizing and maybe even exceeding them. Don't just copy other people. Think the ideas through and make them your own.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:40 PM on January 2, 2011


see, we gotta reverse this thing about harlan. Baseline: all of us are real only some of us are human. Some stryofoam and pancake will help for starters, storyboard needs that sex-less spoof hoo-ha qua 'Left hand of Darkness' meets 'Enemy Mine'... still... needs more moun.
posted by clavdivs at 9:46 PM on January 2, 2011


Every artist is a cannibal
Every poet is a thief
All kill their inspiration
And sing about their grief.

posted by hippybear at 9:52 PM on January 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can guarantee you Cormac McCarthy has never read Dhalgren.
posted by Football Bat at 10:05 PM on January 2, 2011


>Astro Zombie: you're a lightweight. thsmchnekllsfascists: read I Will Fear No Evil.

Heeey now I Will Fear No Evil was the most important of any of Heinlein's books to me ever!

of course that's probably because i was like a ten-year-old boy and nowhere near the point of figuring out that i would be much happier as a woman.
posted by egypturnash at 10:08 PM on January 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


heh
posted by clavdivs at 10:30 PM on January 2, 2011


The only way to really reconcile all the different views of Harlan Ellison is to look at him as having accomplished two great bodies of work. The first is his fiction, and particularly his short stories, which form the bulk of his fiction writing and have deservedly garnered him many awards. (He's also written quite a lot for television, although the only thing that I know that I've seen of his was, of course, "The City on the Edge of Forever.") This has generally decreased in quantity and quality in his later years, although the earlier work holds up well, and can still be something of a revelation to readers unfamiliar with his work (probably quite a few of those, as his work isn't always in print).

The other great work is his public persona, which he has assiduously cultivated both directly, via telling stories about himself both in print and at comics conventions, and indirectly, through his large (but shrinking) personality cult, including relationships with many other people in science fiction and the other arts. He used to be very good at this as well, in particular through his friendships, but this too has been diminished, in part because of his recent mania for filing lawsuits at just about anyone and everyone who offends him, and in part because the internet makes it harder to suppress negative opinions about him. Plus, of course, grabbing Connie Willis' boob on stage.

Where the two of those collide is where Ellison seems to feel that his work might possibly be less than perfect, and if it is what he sees as perfect, then no one else gets to mess with it in the slightest. An example of the former would be The Last Dangerous Visions, where he promised several times, over the course of decades, that the collection was on the verge of being released, only to have the release date pushed back yet again; Christopher Priest, who wrote The Last Deadloss Visions, later published as The Book on the Edge of Forever, theorized that it was because, the longer it took to release it, the less it was on the bleeding edge of SF, let alone superior to the two previous volumes in the series, thus the more stories by the current hot authors that had to be added, the more forewords to be written, the longer it took, ad infinitum. In other words, just like Duke Nukem Forever and Chinese Democracy, even though those projects actually spanned much less time than TLDV and the latter was eventually released (the former is promised a release date, now that George Broussard is no longer involved).

An example of the latter would be, of course, "The City on the Edge of Forever", which Ellison delivered much later than promised, and which he was insistent was perfect as is, Gene Roddenberry's opinion to the contrary. The book that he published with his version of the story (several years after Roddenberry died) wasn't the only time that he complained about someone changing a script of his, although he was always happy to take that TV money. Ditto about complaining about his publishers, which may be why there's so little of his work in print.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:36 PM on January 2, 2011 [5 favorites]


Cameron didn't say, "I was inspired by Ellison's stories"--he said, "I took some Ellison stories" (or something to that effect).

Those sloppy words don't make it true, though. He could have stood up before the world and God and sworn on whatever he holds most dear that he took the Outer Limits stories...

And it still wouldn't be true, because the Terminator just doesn't have very much in it from them apart from some very vague similarities and, reading again, a similar opening to Soldier. Either Cameron was just being a fuckhead at the time, or when he rips off other stories he does so very badly by inserting vast new plot elements into them (ie, the loop paradox that's the core of T1 and T2) that are simply absent from the originals.

I dunno. It really seems to me like an underlying complaint that has very little merit when you look at the works, and that almost certainly wouldn't have gone anywhere... except Cameron said some dumb things that would be damning to a jury. Even though they couldn't, looking at the movie and episodes, be true things.

I'd have more sympathy for Ellison if I'd ever seen him interviewed or on any media and not found him a revoltingly pugnacious jerk. And I'd have more sympathy for his claims if the stories that were supposed to be ripped off were really original in the sense that they wouldn't have existed without Ellison, or that Ellison did them way before "their time."* But Soldier, Demon With a Glass Hand, and IHNMAIMS are well into the realm of stories that are -- at the level of blunt plot synopsis -- just about inevitable given the existence of science fiction, that explore well-trodden ground, and that were told about the same time that other writers were exploring similar ideas.

If anything, in project after project since Terminator, Cameron has proven he doesn't have an original idea in his head. He's great at combining ideas from other places but it's foolish of him to deny they're other peoples' ideas.

The Abyss, Strange Days. I wouldn't go remotely so far as to claim they're particularly original; they're well into the land of the tried-and-true tropes. But I don't think you could claim that they're mashups of other things.

*I mean, The Shockwave Rider is original like that; it's astonishing to see that written in the early 70s. But the relevant Ellison pieces just aren't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:18 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


I tried to explain that since the tape was meaningless but merely representative it did not matter. He insisted it did.

To be fair, the tape wasn't meaningless, but you are right, margins don't change the meaning.
posted by CarlRossi at 12:07 AM on January 3, 2011


Single link LOLLISON filter

(Excellent title, by the way)
posted by logopetria at 1:56 AM on January 3, 2011


I already knew about the Dangerous Visions fiasco but I think it was back in the early days of Starship Sofa when they did author profiles and they covered Harlan Ellison including the anecdote of him mailing a ton of bricks postage due and a dead gopher to some guy he had a grudge against and even going so far to get some other guy to threaten him person that I realised Harlan wasn't just a crank but an out and out nutcase.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:27 AM on January 3, 2011


Humanoid robots, eh?

I give you Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's The Future Eve. Originally published in 1886, the novel is known for popularizing the term "android".

French text
posted by Wolof at 4:52 AM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


You know what? Ellison isn't all that great.

It's like when you read about some author or another from a decade ago, and you hear he or she is supposed to be the hottest at the time, and you realize that you have never heard of him or her, and the prose is stilted and the ideas a little behind the curve.

That's Ellison, even a decade forward. Yes, he wrote a couple of decent short stories. Some even great ones. But his novels, let's be frank, suck.

At the very least, he is no where as good as he says he is. Not by a long shot.

And the unintended humour in someone who wrote a book about a musician trading his soul for success complaining people stealing from him is just too rich. Ellison's stories are chock-a-block full of the most hackneyed tropes he has gleefully ripped off from the entire history of writing.

Which is sort of the way it works; one steals from everyone and maybe -- maybe -- adds a few bits of their own brilliance.

But you don't get to lord it over the rest of us if you have already traded in on that brilliance.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:23 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ellison has always been and always will be a hard-nose about principle, and that's why I love him. If you shoot straight with him, he'll deal with you decently. If you fuck him, watch out: he will fuck you and you will feel it. He will win. Always has, always will.

I think that's a myth that Ellison has traded on for a long time: the grumpy but principled old coot, a sort of literary "epic beard man".

Except that he also gropes a woman for teasing him (see emjaybee's link, above). That's not principle. You don't grab a woman's breast because you're "hard-nosed about principle". The man on that video looks like someone who wants the privilege of clowning like a child, but who also wants to have the last word.

Look at the sheer volume of negative stories about Ellison, from people who have no good reason to attack him. He comes across as a guy who can dish it out, but can't take it: a touchy, egotistical, hypersensitive and mean-spirited bully.

I don't think that the "Dr. Gregory House" archetype should blind people to genuinely nasty behaviour.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:54 AM on January 3, 2011 [4 favorites]


Thanks everybody who contributed to my list of books to avoid like the plague!

Also, why the hate-on for The Road?
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 6:58 AM on January 3, 2011


The relationship between Ellison and fandom and the larger SF community is one that fascinates me, because I decided a long time ago, that if the SF community didn't have Ellsion, they would have had to invent him. He's a writer, admittedly a very talented writer, whose non-literary fame has eclipsed his actual work. He exists so fans of various sorts can tell "No shit, there I was, and Ellison..." stories, or to make comments about the cranky old man. He's like a mangy old bear that a zoo keeps around solely because when the tourists poke it with sticks, it snarls so well.

When Ellison passes, it will be another sign of the slow death of science fiction. We have nobody to replace him; the current crop of writers, are either too bigoted or too insane, or both (hello Orson Scott Card) to make a decent bear in the cage. The SF community will not realize what they had until they lose Ellison.
posted by happyroach at 7:33 AM on January 3, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'd have more sympathy for his claims if the stories that were supposed to be ripped off were really original in the sense that they wouldn't have existed without Ellison, or that Ellison did them way before "their time."*

*I mean, The Shockwave Rider is original like that; it's astonishing to see that written in the early 70s. But the relevant Ellison pieces just aren't.


I'm confused. Are you saying that John Brunner's The Shockwave Rider was inspired by Ellison's writing?
posted by hippybear at 8:26 AM on January 3, 2011


No, I'm saying that The Shockwave Rider is really original SF, at the level of a blunt plot synopsis, in a way that Soldier or Demon With a Glass Hand or IHNMAIMS aren't.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Yes, he wrote a couple of decent short stories. Some even great ones. But his novels, let's be frank, suck.

At the very least, he is no where as good as he says he is. Not by a long shot.


This is what I came here to say. And since people get upset when other people say bad things in obit threads, I'll take this opportunity to say what I would otherwise say on that occasion: Fuck that fucker. A few good stories don't excuse the rest of his bullshit. And I say that as an Ezra Pound fan.
posted by languagehat at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2011


Also, why the hate-on for The Road?

Punctuated dialogue.
posted by Artw at 10:46 AM on January 3, 2011


If you fuck him, watch out: he will fuck you and you will feel it. He will win. Always has, always will.

Funny, his lawyers ending up backing off Christopher Priest pretty quick.

But the description of the behaviour you're lauding isn't a "principled straight shooter"; it's that of a sociopath.
posted by rodgerd at 10:52 AM on January 3, 2011


A good story may not excuse bullshit. But bullshit does not make an accomplishment any less good. He has written some brilliant stories, and I hope anyone considering reading him will do so, with an unbiased approach.
posted by asfuller at 10:58 AM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


Humanoid robots, eh?

E.T.A. Hoffmann, not counting the Golem.

Also, why the hate-on for The Road?

I hate it. I found it to be a disappointment. A generic knock-off of a classic sci-fi scenario by a talented writer.
posted by ovvl at 8:22 PM on January 3, 2011 [1 favorite]


^AstroZombie, Leon, egypturnash: you are not doing right by thsmchnekllsfascists. "Farnham's Freehold" is Heinlein's most amazing novel.

The stories about Ellison are *always* like this. Even in his own stories of himself where he's trying for scrappy underdog, he comes off cranky and hot-headed. For every Sturgeon, there's gotta be an Ellison, I figure.
posted by gingerest at 8:29 PM on January 3, 2011 [2 favorites]


The Abyss, Strange Days. I wouldn't go remotely so far as to claim they're particularly original; they're well into the land of the tried-and-true tropes. But I don't think you could claim that they're mashups of other things.

Strange Days was a William Gibson mashup!
posted by tricked by a toothless cobra at 9:18 PM on January 3, 2011


"Farnham's Freehold" is Heinlein's most amazing novel.

I am something of a fanboy, but by the love of whatever you hold holy, I can recommend it only if you want a truly... unique experience.
posted by rodgerd at 1:36 AM on January 4, 2011


Rodger-dodger you old codger, I am a Heinlein fangirl from way back (despite having no tendencies towards libertarianism nor survivalism)(nor free-love-ism)(and I can't differentiate a second derivative, not even on paper) and that suggestion was made hoping I was not the only person ever to have read that, er, special book.
posted by gingerest at 2:04 AM on January 4, 2011


(re: Cameron and Ellison) Those sloppy words don't make it true, though.

No; but what arcane stupidity virus could invade a man's brain in order to make him falsely claim to have stolen from Harlan Ellison? I mean, he's Harlan Ellison, for God's sake. He sues people for misspelling his name. "I took some Ellison stories" is high on the list of phrases all sane men should eschew.
posted by steambadger at 7:25 AM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


No; but what arcane stupidity virus could invade a man's brain in order to make him falsely claim to have stolen from Harlan Ellison?

Guessing, mostly just 'cuz it was the early 80s:

Cocaine is a hell of a drug.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:52 PM on January 4, 2011


Only the first three minutes of The Terminator resemble Ellison's stories.
posted by PolarHermit at 1:24 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Only the first three minutes of The Terminator resemble Ellison's stories.

And that's a bit cheaty - isn't Kyles future war all in flashback?

I do kind of wonder what Cameron actually said. I suspect it was the Starlog thing more than anything that made the lawyers jumpy.
posted by Artw at 3:02 PM on January 4, 2011


I'd love to see a source other than Ellison saying that Cameron told a reporter he mashed up Ellison stories. Like maybe the article itself.
posted by kafziel at 3:11 PM on January 4, 2011


Naberius: "What are the running odds that he turns up here, in this thread?

Turned in my piece and went off to spend Christmas with the family. Got back to find an angry message from Ellison on my voice mail. Did I call him back? Hell no. I called my editor and apparently his wife called (they'd both known him for years) and basically said, "leave the kid alone, Harlan. You know damn well he didn't say anything that wasn't true." That was the last I heard of it.
"

I always hear this stuff about Harlan going off on people about TLDV. But what exactly is his explanation? From what I've heard, everything Chris Priest put in The Last Deadloss Visions was accurate. Harlan has, many times, said it was thisclose to finishing. Does he deny this? What is his pretext for not publishing all these years?
posted by Chrysostom at 5:28 AM on January 5, 2011


Only the first three minutes of The Terminator resemble Ellison's stories.

And that's a bit cheaty - isn't Kyles future war all in flashback?


At 108 minutes, 3 minutes is just less than 3% of the movie.

What's always bugged me about Ellison is that he's talented, revered, and admired but it's as if he thinks he's protecting his legacy by resorting to "Everyone who wrote anything ever has stolen from me!" when clearly they haven't.

Besides, the fracas with the Penny Arcade guys was much funnier.
posted by PolarHermit at 8:58 PM on January 6, 2011


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