Waiting for the Ellison phone call
January 29, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Then Ellison himself left some notes. They were bombastic, and far more articulate than the comments from the fans. One read, in part, “Goodbye Bradbury. Goodbye Lieber. Goodbye Aeschylus. Goodbye Pliny the Elder…” and continued at length. By the time he got describing me as a “manque, a poetaster, a no-price for whom the internet is a last chance slave market where, for free, he can bleat to his shrunken little heart's delight” my wife Olivia, who had been reading along over my shoulder, said to me, “Wow, I see what you mean. He really is a great writer! No wonder you like him so much.” -- Nick Mamatas on the importance of Harlan Ellison and why he still likes him. posted by MartinWisse (33 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
(Hat tip to Frimble, who mailed me the article.)
posted by MartinWisse at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2014

Excellent. Thanks, Martin.

Ellison is brilliant, insufferable, an asshole, wonderfully kind, stuck in the past, and always looking to the future. I hope that he, like Martin Silenus in Hyperion (who always strikes me as Ellison with the numbers filed off), lives for centuries but if he does not his loss is gonna hit me really hard. Maybe even harder than Banks which is tough to do.
posted by Justinian at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2014 [5 favorites]

I wish Mr. Mamatas the best but I can't help feeling like this is written from the perspective of an abused family member. Whether or not it takes two to tango, you can't insult someone by calling them a "poetaster" unless they know what the hell you are talking about.

Plus it always makes me think of Jacques Bravo.
just to establish my limited sci fi bona fides
which rhymes if you want it to

posted by yerfatma at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Whenever I see the term "poetaster" I think of the Poe Toaster.
posted by graymouser at 1:01 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

I sometimes wonder if Ellison actually does get more shit -- of the undeserved variety -- than other artists of his calibre, or if it's simply that he does not shrug anything off, ever. You could criticize that but in a way, it's a quality that's a gift to the rest of us: you hear about the shit people try to pull with him and he'll go through exactly how he feels about it with you and the steps he took to correct it and how that worked out, and you learn something about the world, before that thing happens to you and you're unprepared.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:04 PM on January 29, 2014 [4 favorites]

Poetaster. There's a word I've not heard in a long time. A long time.
posted by edheil at 1:13 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apart from my own, very minor, previously mentioned brush with Ellison, my favorite Ellison story is the one - and I swear someone linked to it here, but I can't find it now - about the guy whose female friend was having a deeply loving long-distance relationship with some cowboy firefighter who died, and then his best friend comes into her life and is living with her etc. etc.

Anyway, the friends realize this woman totally invented the dead beloved and has been exploiting the other woman and decide they have to do something about it, but who's going to be the one to tell her the horrible truth. The writer of the piece knows Ellison. so Ellison demands the victim come over to his house and, while her friends are packing this woman's stuff and throwing her out of the house, Harlan Ellison is explaining what's happened to her.

Of all people.
posted by Naberius at 1:15 PM on January 29, 2014 [8 favorites]

Harlan Ellison's "City on the Edge of Forever" concept is brilliant but I think the final version of this Star Trek TV episode is more touching than his early draft that he was so mad about having been altered. The Kirk vs. McCoy drama over Edith Keeler is such a heart-wrenching moment of their friendship, whereas the Ellison version asks you instead to care about some guest star criminal.

The dispute over the episode has always been depicted as a fight over whether Gene Roddenberry's vision of the Enterprise included room for a drug dealer turning the ship into Los Pollos Hermanos. But I think it is about more than that. #trekthoughts
posted by steinsaltz at 1:16 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

For a long time it was widely said that the original The City on the Edge of Forever script had never been published -- but in fact it had been published without fanfare in a little-noted paperback called "Six Science Fiction Plays" in the mid-70s. So for a long time I was the only person I knew who had read it. Ellison has since published an entire book about the story; it's a fun read and of course includes the script. My take is that Roddenberry was an unbelievable prick as the drama played out but the script itself really wasn't a good fit for Star Trek in all sorts of ways.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:22 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

steinsaltz: "whether Gene Roddenberry's vision of the Enterprise included room for a drug dealer turning the ship into Los Pollos Hermanos"

I would watch this series.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:25 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would not like to meet the soul who wouldn't.
posted by yerfatma at 1:41 PM on January 29, 2014

Naberius, is this the story?
posted by RakDaddy at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ah! Here it is. I knew it was posted on here. The tale of Harlan Ellison setting screenwriter Josh Olson's friend straight about the man she thought she'd loved.

And now I can't figure out why on earth I couldn't turn it up before.
posted by Naberius at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2014


Why yes, RakDaddy. Yes, it is.
posted by Naberius at 1:45 PM on January 29, 2014

I remember reading that, too. Truth, stranger than fiction, etc.
posted by RakDaddy at 1:46 PM on January 29, 2014

I'm glad that Ellison is reprinting his early works through the Edgeworks Abbey imprint, but the prices (understandably, since it's small press) are too high for me. $43 for a paperback.
posted by Kevin Street at 2:02 PM on January 29, 2014

Without going into too much detail, I've been at the end of Ellison's lawyers' mails on a couple occasions, and they are clear, punctual and fast. Obviously he must have gone through a bunch to find these guys, and they do their job well. If something in your wake has the words "Harlan Ellison", Harlan Ellison or his people are going to know about it.

The question remains if he will leave behind an organization capable of keeping that up. If anyone could do it, it's going to be Zombie Harlan Ellison.
posted by jscott at 2:05 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

Call me when he finishes The Last Dangerous Visions.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:40 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Poetaster. There's a word I've not heard in a long time. A long time." posted by edheil at 4:13 PM

Not since my rec.arts.poetry days.
posted by surplus at 2:45 PM on January 29, 2014

I played the voicemail for Olivia when I got home and she said that even her young high school students had heard of Ellison, thanks to "I Have No Mouth, But I Want To Scream" (sic) which according to the kids is "one of the best videogames of all time." And that was hysterical.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:32 PM on January 29, 2014

I long ago concluded that if fandom didn't have Ellison, they would have had to invent him. It's a symbiotic relationship; the fans like Ellison, and Ellison happily growls and snaps at them. Ellison gets the money and attention, and the fans get the "No shit, then Harlan did..."stories. Everybody wins.

What's sad is when an author tries to be an Ellison, and runs up into the fact that there's already a Ellison, and they end up as just another crank writer.
posted by happyroach at 3:38 PM on January 29, 2014

I don't know... I mean, I know not every Harlan Ellison article has to be about Connie Willis, but half a sentence on Connie Willis? And the other half of that sentence describing the reaction to him dropping a stealth N-bomb on K Tempest Bradford as "screeching in righteous disapproval"? This is not how we talk about the actions when we wish to communicate respect.

I don't know. I get that Ellison has a huge body of work, and has had considerable success, and is a powerful figure in sci-fi. And he kinda-sorta apologised for both of those. But.

posted by running order squabble fest at 3:51 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a copy of "The Essential Ellison: A 50 Year Retrospective", and it is one of my most prized possessions.
posted by daq at 3:54 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Isn't Ellison also the star of the following Con story?

Guy gets into an elevator with a statuesque woman, and asks her "What would you say to a little fuck?"
Her reply "Go away, little fuck."

I heard the story at a pool party at the Damon Knight - Kate Wilhelm home in Eugene OR, so if it's not true, at least the various SF-related people all guffawed as if it was likely.
posted by Dreidl at 3:57 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

running order squabble fest,
If it helps, you can read Harlan's direct apology to Tempest on her own blog here.

It is quite a read.

Also, a lot of people really do not know where Harlan Ellison comes from, and I highly suggest people read up on his early life before he became a writer, and some of the things he was a part of during the Civil Rights movement, as well as his time writing about street gangs in New York.

His fiction and non-fantasy/sci-fi stuff is also excellent and heart wrenching to read ("Neither Your Jenny Nor Mine").
posted by daq at 4:00 PM on January 29, 2014

Yeah, I've read it, daq. Like I say, he kinda-sorta apologizes; at no point does he actually say I'm sorry. The closest he gets is:
if any part of my reply to your various blogs here’n'there was over the line, consider this a gentlemanly apologia*
Bradford chose to read that as an apology, and to accept it, which is to her credit, but she also made clear that she was in no small way motivated to do so because she didn't want to get into a prolonged, damaging fight with Ellison.

And, you know, actions have consequences, especially if you have fans who will pick up the cudgels on your behalf. As Bradford notes, these fans were still convinced that defending Ellison was the right thing to do - whether or not he believed he had acknowledged fault and apologized, they apparently didn't:
ETA: for the defenders of Harlan’s honor who, strangely, started showing up en masse last night: Harlan APOLOGIZED. He apologized! It’s over. Go home! I’m not letting your increasingly bizzare attempts to defend/explain/make better what he did and what he said out of moderation because they are not helpful or appreciated. Plus, they are negated by the fact that he apologized. I accepted, I’m moving on. Why can’t you? Seriously.
If you have a gang of emotionally needy fans who will believe they are doing the Lord's work by haranguing women on your behalf, it's good, I think to think about that before you say you want to "beee-atch slap" someone.

Like I say, but. Tremendous body of work. Creditable activism for writers' right to be paid. Giant figure in sci-fi fandom. Championed Octavia Butler. Promoted the ERA. All good things. But. Sometimes people can feel ambivalence not because they do not know things, but because they do. And that's OK.

*"Apologia" doesn't mean "apology", exactly, but I think it's reasonable to assume that Ellison is using it to mean "apology" - he seems to favor unusual variant and loan words (vigerish, scaphism) even when they may not have exactly the appropriate meaning.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:03 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Michael Crichton wrote the foreword to Approaching Oblivion. It's basically just about how Harlan Ellison is a giant dick who publicly called Crichton out for not being a real science-fiction writer and took numerous unprovoked shots at Crichton's career for pretty much no reason, but whatever, dude is talented. I have no idea why they asked Crichton to write that foreword.
posted by deathpanels at 5:05 PM on January 29, 2014

I read lots of Ellison when I was young. My reading life since has been happier without him.
posted by sneebler at 5:58 PM on January 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

This comment that I wrote just over three years ago seems to apply here. The author of the essay in the first link, while obviously being an admirer of Ellison's, and hand-waving away the incidents with Willis and Bradford, mentions near the end that he dared to write less than favorably about the Ellison documentary, which earned him a bunch of how-dare-he comments from Ellison and his fans, and the essay itself the phone call in which Ellison nitpicks and tries to inflate his reputation. Same as it ever was...
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:53 PM on January 29, 2014

Is it hand-waving so much as glossing over what he assumes his readers already know about?
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:01 PM on January 29, 2014

Alan Moore holds the current crown for grumpiest and most fan-hating nerd icon.
posted by benzenedream at 8:56 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are few things sadder than the aging enfant terrible.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:28 AM on January 30, 2014

In case you overlooked the embedded link, Mamatas's essay on writing term papers for money is kind of interesting, as is the follow-up interview he did with On the Media.
posted by frankchess at 7:12 PM on January 30, 2014

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