Possibly the most contentious person on Earth
June 28, 2018 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Harlan Ellison, one of the greatest ever speculative fiction writers, died today at the age of 84.

Ellison's achievements were far-ranging. Winner of 8.5 Hugos, four Nebulas, five Bram Stoker Awards, two Edgar Awards, and two World Fantasy Awards, among many others, Ellison wrote some of the most notable short SF ever published: "A Boy and His Dog", "The Deathbird", "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" (made into a PC video game in 1995), "Jeffty Is Five", ""Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman", "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", "Paladin of the Lost Hour", "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore". He edited the landmark Dangerous Visions SF anthology in the late 1960s; a sequel followed, but the third volume was legendary for having never been completed despite being promised since 1973. He worked on numerous television series, including The Outer Limits, Star Trek, and Babylon 5.

Known for being abrasive and argumentative, Ellison fought and feuded with many people over the decades. He sued Hollywood studios and moguls for stealing his ideas, lambasted Gene Roddenberry for rewriting his script for the 1967 Star Trek episode "The City on the Edge of Forever", allegedly publicly assaulted writer Charles Platt in 1985, and infamously fondled Connie Willis at the 2006 Hugos.

Previously on the blue:
The story of infamously bungled SF series The Starlost

Nick Mamatas vs. Ellison

Studs Terkel moderates as Gene Wolfe, Isaac Asimov, and Harlan Ellison discuss SF

Combative Ellison (main link will need Wayback Machine)

Harlan Ellison prepares for death
posted by Palindromedary (155 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
I was just typing up an FPP for this myself, but yours is better.

As I wrote on Facebook: "None of the obits I've seen say he died by drowning in his own vitriol, so we can safely say he did not die as he lived."

posted by hanov3r at 3:00 PM on June 28, 2018 [71 favorites]

I have no mouth and I must

posted by ocschwar at 3:01 PM on June 28, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm not much of a reader of his work, but I always thought his version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" would have been a better episode.

posted by riruro at 3:02 PM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Finally it's safe to say I never really rated him very highly!
posted by thatwhichfalls at 3:03 PM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

He's filing lawsuits against the angels now, those rat bastards.
posted by Guy Smiley at 3:03 PM on June 28, 2018 [26 favorites]

That's terrible news. He was a great writer. And, for all his famous irascibility (no doubt to be detailed later in this thread), a man who did a lot of good for his field.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:05 PM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

This will always be my favorite rant of his: "Pay the Writer!"
posted by PhineasGage at 3:06 PM on June 28, 2018 [17 favorites]

posted by Thorzdad at 3:09 PM on June 28, 2018

I feel like this is one of those that needs an asterisk, so:


How much that is shitty about modern fandom culture can be traced back to the long-standing lionization of "irascible" blowhards like Ellison?
posted by tobascodagama at 3:11 PM on June 28, 2018 [49 favorites]

Cory Doctorow writes about what he learned from Ellison: I can have these two views without the need to balance them.
posted by Horkus at 3:12 PM on June 28, 2018 [15 favorites]

At long last, he has no mouth but he must scream.

Ellison was, bar none, and for better or worse, the most important author of my teen years, and even as I got older and realized shortcomings (his attitudes about women, his distaste for revising), there was always that brutal, inelegant brilliance to his work.

I have few regrets, but I do regret that Ellison will never scream at me or sue me, although I’m not putting the latter past him.
posted by maxsparber at 3:13 PM on June 28, 2018 [15 favorites]

. He was a bit of an Orson Welles of SF in that he did most of his most interesting work early in his career but that early stuff was so good. Dangerous Visions was a major influence on my taste in SciFi and got me to read a lot of literary SF afterwards.
posted by octothorpe at 3:13 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by Smart Dalek at 3:13 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]


He was a noted asshole, but I am truly thankful that he had enough wisdom to give Octavia Butler the boost she needed when she needed it.
posted by AaronTheBaron at 3:15 PM on June 28, 2018 [20 favorites]

I saw him at CWRU back in the 80s, and despite his fearsome reputation he came across as a perfectly pleasant person.
posted by lagomorphius at 3:16 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm confident the writer of his obituary gets paid.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:16 PM on June 28, 2018

Managed to avoid turning into a cranky old misogynist asshole via the one weird trick of always having been one. He will be missed but boy is that a mixed legacy.
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on June 28, 2018 [39 favorites]

I loved his nonfiction writing as much as his fiction, including the Glass Teat(s) and Hornbook
posted by Gorgik at 3:18 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was once able to supply him with a copy of one of his own books that he no longer possessed. He thanked me by autographing every one of his books that I owned, which was a hell of a lot. This was in 1986. I still have them.
posted by dobbs at 3:18 PM on June 28, 2018 [47 favorites]

I guess that means no chance at Last Dangerous Visions.

A difficult figure to be sure, but his writing was good stuff. I'm finding that the surgery of separating the art from the asshole is a difficult procedure, and the outcome varies for each of us that tries it. I seem to be able to manage it with Harlan, but can understand why others can't.

posted by nubs at 3:18 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also I believe they are supposed to burn some box of paper now and we are supposed to speculate if it’s a lost masterpiece he has denied us, or, as I strongly suspect, a bunch of blank sheets.
posted by Artw at 3:19 PM on June 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

a dogeared and sunbaked copy of Again, Dangerous Visions that i found in a free book pile someplace was my introduction to Le Guin (and what an introduction it was); for that act of anthologising alone, i have reason to be grateful.

posted by halation at 3:21 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm imagining the perfect cliche obituary political cartoon: Harlan Ellison at the Pearly Gates.

ST PETER: "Hello, little fuck." :D
posted by Guy Smiley at 3:21 PM on June 28, 2018 [18 favorites]

I guess that means no chance at Last Dangerous Visions.

Probably more chance now, literary estates usually rummage around to find anything that they can publish.
posted by octothorpe at 3:23 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

How much that is shitty about modern fandom culture can be traced back to the long-standing lionization of "irascible" blowhards like Ellison?

Harlan's stance against fan entitlement, presented Harlan style, would put that figure in the negative, IMO
posted by ocschwar at 3:24 PM on June 28, 2018 [13 favorites]

At a WorldCon, we were dickering over 50 cents on a purchase.

Ellison: I could have you killed.
Me: Thank you, Mr. Ellison, I feel like I’ve finally arrived.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:25 PM on June 28, 2018 [80 favorites]

Thanks for the stories, you asshole.
posted by corb at 3:32 PM on June 28, 2018 [23 favorites]


He sued James Cameron so he wasn't all bad.

What an impressive body of work he leaves behind.
posted by Faintdreams at 3:35 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

a dogeared and sunbaked copy of Again, Dangerous Visions that i found in a free book pile someplace was my introduction to Le Guin (and what an introduction it was); for that act of anthologising alone, i have reason to be grateful.

This is me, except the book was An Edge in My Voice, a collection of his LA Weekly columns that someone handed me in our college newspaper office in the mid 1980s. I branched out to his science fiction from there.

posted by marguerite at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Way, way back in 1996 Neil Gaiman was traveling around doing press for the novelization of Neverwhere. My boyfriend at the time and I were big Sandman fans so boyfriend's mother found a way to get us into the college radio station where she worked while Gaiman was there for an interview and arranged for us to meet him. A lot of people have a lot of opinions about Gaiman as both a writer and a person and I am inclined to agree that some of the criticism he receives is fair but I will say that he was an absolute doll to a group of blabbering and awkward teenage nerds who wanted a piece of his time.

One of the main things that stays with me about that day is that someone called into the interview and asked Gaiman if Harlan Ellison was as completely exasperating as he seemed from a distance. Gaiman responded with something along the lines (I ask you to forgive me for not remembering the precise details; it was over two decades ago) of yes. Yes, Harlan Ellison was every bit as obnoxious a human being as he was reputed to be, despite their being friends. And yes, if Harlan Ellison had ever been terrible to you then it was almost certainly not your fault, because Ellison was a jerk and only very rarely did the people to whom he was a jerk deserve his jerk behavior.

But sometime he was a jerk to targets that very much did deserve it and often he was helpful and instrumental in young writers getting their starts.

Ultimately, I am glad that Harlan Ellison was in the world. I am also just as glad, though, that his passing creates space for voices that maybe don't feel the need to be relentlessly horrible to people.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 3:37 PM on June 28, 2018 [25 favorites]

Adios, you cranky visionary bastard you.

posted by mondo dentro at 3:40 PM on June 28, 2018

When he was preparing for reading, Ellison told me that he had a copy of every edition of every book he’d ever published, and they filled an entire wall of his living room.

Me: How does that make you feel?
Ellison: What do you mean?
Me: When you are working on something, do you see your previous work as the foundation on which you are building a new thing, or do you see it as the mountain you have to cross to rate your best work ever?
Ellison: Mostly, I feel tired.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:40 PM on June 28, 2018 [29 favorites]

This one hits me particularly hard. The reasons why are hard to articulate but I've been dreading this for some time. Yes, the angry young man shtick wears thin after most of a century but, imperfect as he was (and he was very imperfect), the world is poorer for his loss.
posted by Justinian at 3:40 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Oddly, my Ellison books were the Glass Teat books (which I got into because of a revised version of the column... somewhere ... Omni? ... in the '70s), which were my introduction to looking at television (and culture in general) as a produced thing rather than simply entertainment that happened spontaneously - they seemed to be about the industry more than the programmes (which is good, because I had no idea what almost all the programmes were). It's a long time since I read them, I hope that's not an odd observation. For example, I remember very clearly him pointing out that everything that wasn't a cop show they tried to make into a copy of The Fugitive, which was an open-ended template that worked. The short-lived Planet of the Apes TV series, for example, was basically the fugitive in make-up. Anyway, from then on I watched television like that and was even more unbearable than previous.

That's how I remember it, anyway. It was forty years ago, and I'm confused at the best of times. And it's not the best of times.

The other book was the Illustrated Harlan Ellison, which I got specifically for the Steranko 3D version of Repent, Harlequin... (which was pretty bloody impressive, actually, though the story that stuck with me was Croatoan, which I remember finding terrifying even though I wasn't really sure what was going on).
posted by Grangousier at 3:40 PM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

John Scalzi at the LA Times on Harlan.
Harlan contained multitudes, in point of fact, some of those multitudes sublime, and some of them rather the opposite. To say he was complicated is not to mitigate his failings or to minimize his successes. It’s more to say that he lived his life enormously, in all directions. In noting his passing on Twitter, Harlan’s dear friend Christine Valada quoted the man: “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered.” Taken in full, he was right on all counts.
An excerpt from a longer and well worth reading rememberance.
posted by Justinian at 3:43 PM on June 28, 2018 [16 favorites]

I stumbled across the Essential Ellison (though an earlier version than this) in my teens. I didn't know much about him, but had read a couple of stories in anthologies, but decided to buy that collection. It was a weird mix, like any "selected works" partly chosen by an author, but there were some real gems in there. At least so it seemed to me at the time, but I've never gone back to them since. Though the story "Jeffty is Five" has drifted across my mind quite often since I became a father.

posted by Kattullus at 3:43 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:44 PM on June 28, 2018

Thinking of so many stories: "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," "Delusion for a Dragonslayer," "World of the Myth," "Adrift Just Off the Islets of Langerhans." Not just the stories, but who I was when I first read them.
posted by steef at 3:47 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

I love Harlan's stories/fiction. His screenplays and essays, not so much.
posted by cjorgensen at 3:49 PM on June 28, 2018

posted by spinifex23 at 3:51 PM on June 28, 2018

posted by egypturnash at 3:53 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Essential Ellison sits on my "reread often" shelves. I got it because of "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore", which I first read in Omni Magazine as a young teen.

His passing makes me sad.

posted by daq at 3:54 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by hap_hazard at 3:54 PM on June 28, 2018

To confirm ArtW's point
Managed to avoid turning into a cranky old misogynist asshole via the one weird trick of always having been one...
here's another of the Ellison quotes that has stuck with me:

"It's not my fault success has brought my unseemly arrogance and braggadocio to the surface: I was always thus tainted, but when you're poor and unsuccessful it's just vulgar ostentation to flaunt such character flaws... It is not merely the acquisition of pocket money that made me such an obnoxious snob."
posted by PhineasGage at 3:54 PM on June 28, 2018 [18 favorites]

His screenplay for I, Robot is amazing and it's a pity it was never filmed. Also, I found his essay on the dark side of SF fandom Xenogenesis to be fascinating reading. Plus, his collaboration with Jack Yrcka is great.

I hope he's mailing bricks to his enemies in the afterlife now.

posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:55 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thanks, Harlan.
posted by mwhybark at 3:57 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, I found his essay on the dark side of SF fandom Xenogenesis to be fascinating reading.

Absolutely. If I could have found a legal copy to link to, that would have been in the OP. Amazing and at times kind of horrifying, which is pretty much Ellison to a T.
posted by Palindromedary at 3:58 PM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]


I just read "I Have NO Mouth" once… That was enough.
posted by Alensin at 3:58 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Harlan Ellison meant a great deal to me as a teenager, but I couldn't stand him ten years later. I can still read his best work -- a small fraction of his output -- with pleasure, but his non-fiction writing is pompous and hectoring. Still, I’ll always have a soft spot for “I’m Looking for Kayak”; I used to have a cassette of him reading the story, and it was fantastic.
posted by holborne at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I was 14 years old I had a formative summer where me and a stack of books stayed with my grandparents. Near the top of that stack was Dangerous Visions. I thank him for that.
posted by Ashwagandha at 4:03 PM on June 28, 2018

How much that is shitty about modern fandom culture can be traced back to the long-standing lionization of "irascible" blowhards like Ellison?

YMMV but honestly I don't tend to think of Ellison as a guy many people tried to emulate? Unlike many such figures, stories about Ellison being an asshole tended to have an unavoidable cautionary side - it always seemed clear that his inclination to burn bridges placed a lot of limitations on him.
posted by atoxyl at 4:16 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

(“I’m Looking for Kadak.” Damn autocorrect. )
posted by holborne at 4:17 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you're going to be a fan of an asshole, better him than Bukowski.

posted by rhizome at 4:18 PM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

I met Ellison in 1980, maybe 1981.
He steadfastly refused to attend conventions in states that had not ratified the ERA, and Florida was one of them. He would, however gladly do stump speeches for the NOW to help get it passed.
He came to Tampa, and a bunch of us who treated the local comic book store ("The Fandom Zone") as a second home, got together and went to hear a speech about the ERA.
We were polite, we agreed with him, and after the speech cornered the hell out of him to talk about nerd stuff.
He was kind, polite - in a way that Ellison could be polite - and he and I happily talked about Lamont Cranston, Kent Allard, Walter Gibson and The Shadow for about 15 minutes.
He made me want to be a novelist, so that's what I did. Kind of.
Thank you, Uncle Harlan.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 4:19 PM on June 28, 2018 [25 favorites]

Other than Dangerous Visions which was thankfully foisted on me by a roommate in college, I remember that he sat in the window at the Booksmith bookstore on Haight street here in San Francisco and wrote something. It’s weird but a week ago I was thinking that I should reread Dangerous Visions. Maybe now I shall.

posted by njohnson23 at 4:20 PM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

posted by evilDoug at 4:20 PM on June 28, 2018

My intro to Ellison was Mefisto in Onyx when I was probably in middle school. That novella blew my mind and is one of the gateway drugs that pushed me into science fiction. Years later I started to understand his more abrasive characteristics but the impact of that first story still holds a strong place in my mind.
posted by Inkoate at 4:22 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, shoot.
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 4:28 PM on June 28, 2018

posted by Sphinx at 4:30 PM on June 28, 2018

In 93 I got a ride out from Phoenix to the Worldcon in San Francisco in the back of a pickup truck that was delivering the semi-pro fanzine ConNotations. When we got there Thursday morning I had sort a Richard Dreyfuss Close Encounters sunburn on my face. A friend of mine connected me with a bookseller who had just published one of Ellison's books. Harlan was due for an unscheduled book signing on Saturday, and the publisher needed someone to wear a sandwich board and hand out flyers. So for the next two days I walked up and down the vast lines of people who were queued up for their freebie packets and gave out flyers and also got to hear two or three thousand fans tell me their stories about him. (I got paid in books and cash, and had fun.)

The signing went more than well, and Harlan was happy. I'd heard he didn't care for tall people but he was very friendly to me, and I got to hang out with him for about an hour afterwards. I can't give any specifics, but during that hour out in the convention hall I witnessed person after person come up to him interrupting whatever story he was telling me and the people standing with him. They all left defeated. It was like standing next to the fastest gun in the west with no end to the fools ready to challenge him. He'd quickdraw on them with a quip and they'd slink off to nurse their wounded hands (and bruised egos.) It was hilarious and savage and in that hour he lived up to every story I'd heard about him and then some.

posted by Catblack at 4:30 PM on June 28, 2018 [17 favorites]

"Harlan Ellison was nowhere near as fearsome as his reputation makes him out to be. He only killed four fans, and those with his teeth." -- Convention report

posted by Tell Me No Lies at 4:31 PM on June 28, 2018 [14 favorites]

The man was a strong slug of moonshine whiskey in a world of watered-down Rolling Rock.


posted by dbiedny at 4:40 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

YMMV but honestly I don't tend to think of Ellison as a guy many people tried to emulate?

My milage varies, alright.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:40 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Gentleman Junkie and Other Stories for the Hung Up Generation was the book of his I found when I was maybe 12 or 13. I read it so many times until I was maybe 17, and not since. I can’t deny the effect it had on me. And a lot of his stuff sucked, too.

posted by kerf at 4:41 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

If he'd died 15 years ago I'd have been inclined to joke that at the end of of his funeral mourners might expect to hear a very deep bass 'Ptui!' followed by the spectacle of his coffin popping back to the surface, but now I think he probably did more good than harm, and I'm predicting a magnitude 4.8 resigned shrug.
posted by jamjam at 4:42 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I got Dangerous Visions when I joined the Science Fiction Book Club as a kid and it was by far my most favorite and subversive.
posted by jabo at 4:44 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by DaddyNewt at 4:45 PM on June 28, 2018


Regardless of his faults, I'm just glad I got to see him speak twice.

jscalzi's LA Times memorial linked above is perfect.

And besides Gentleman Junkie, the other early early Ellison that's worth digging up if you can possibly find it is Memos From Purgatory, a non-fiction account of his time infiltrating a Brooklyn street gang in the 50's, and of his overnight stint in NYC's infamous jail The Tombs.

He might not have adapted to the 21st century as well as we might have liked, but he spent most of the 20th century kicking against the pricks, and I think he deserves credit for that.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:50 PM on June 28, 2018 [10 favorites]

Yeah, I saw/met him at a couple of NY cons back in the 1970s, shortly after DV came out. He and Asimov had a running feud at the time which they acted out when ever their paths crossed in public. I can't recall the origin (someone?) and I can't recall their snarky banter when together being really mean spirited or cutting. I'm honored to be able to say I met both these gentleman during that period.

Adios Mr. Ellison.
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 4:58 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Eh, I always found him to be a little short.
posted by loquacious at 5:00 PM on June 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

In his authoritative review of Lynch's 'Dune' he claimed to have been courted to write a screenplay, which he turned down flat - '...it's just Kings of Kings with sandworms.'
posted by Jessica Savitch's Coke Spoon at 5:03 PM on June 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh, yeah, here's the origin story:

He said, "Are you Isaac Asimov?" And in his voice was awe and wonder and amazement.

I was rather pleased, but I struggled hard to retain a modest demeanor. "Yes, I am," I said.

"You're not kidding? You're really Isaac Asimov?" The words have not yet been invented that would describe the ardor and reverence with which his tongue caressed the syllables of my name.

I felt as though the least I could do would be to rest my hand upon his head and bless him, but I controlled myself. "Yes, I am," I said, and by now my smile was a fatuous thing, nauseating to behold. "Really, I am."

"Well, I think you're—" he began, still in the same tone of voice, and for a split second he paused, while I listened and the audience held its breath. The youngster's face shifted in that split second into an expression of utter contempt and he finished the sentence with supreme indifference, "—a nothing!"
posted by Insert Clever Name Here at 5:05 PM on June 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

Great guy and don’t forget his support for a victim of catfishing.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:11 PM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

In person, Harlan was the charming, reasonable, funny person you see in the Sci-FI TV series. So don't make too much of the 'contentious' part, which sold books (always Harlan's #1 mission) ... and was happy to be a thorn in the side of adversaries.
posted by Twang at 5:15 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I learned more about filmmaking just from reading his reviews than I ever did in film school.

Also, while I'm *certain* y'all will vehemently correct me on this soon, I can't bring to mind any story in which he was an asshole, in which the person he was being an asshole to didn't clearly deserve it.
posted by ook at 5:23 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Agreeing with the asterix *
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 5:29 PM on June 28, 2018

posted by Token Meme at 5:33 PM on June 28, 2018

He steadfastly refused to attend conventions in states that had not ratified the ERA,

Seriously?? Now that, more than any other story of him I’ve heard, makes me want to pick up something he’s written.
posted by greermahoney at 5:39 PM on June 28, 2018 [9 favorites]

Dangerous Visions is such a big part of what I think of as my general worldview I can't even.

posted by signal at 5:42 PM on June 28, 2018

There's a nice tribute roundup over on File 770.
posted by Palindromedary at 5:50 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

This one hits hard. Dammit.

The first pages of the introduction to Angry Candy are lined with names of people, colleagues, heroes, of Ellison's who died in that single 18 month span. They were all the people writing the fiction that he had truly believed was going to change the world, and suddenly, most of them were gone, and the world was still just like it was. I've always believed that broke something in him, that realization that the battle had ended, and he was pretty much all that was left of his group, and that they had not been victorious. If you've never read it, it's worth tracking down, not only for the introduction, but also for the stories that are markedly different from his earlier collections. Much less rage, much more resignation. Also, it was my first awareness of Jose Luis Borges, of whom Ellison wrote: "at my tip top best, I'm not fit to sweep up his shadow." Coming from an author I loved dearly, it read like a command to seek out Borges, and my life has been better for that.

I'm surprised he made it this far, and in a way I wish he'd passed earlier, so his last year wasn't seeing the triumphant victory of pretty much everything he hated and fought against coming to pass.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:56 PM on June 28, 2018 [13 favorites]

I became mildly obsessed with Ellison in my late teens and early twenties, and even bought the hardcover printing of the Omni story "Mefisto In Onyx" (which, convergence of assholes, Frank Miller did the cover illustration and wrote the introduction for). I don't still have it. I think I still have my copy of "Mind Fields".

"Watching" (especially the Star Wars review) rewrote my brain a little.

I recorded a reading of "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore", with music and sound effects and weird audio fuckery for an audio production class in art school. I still probably quote little fragments of it on a frequent basis without even realizing it.


posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:56 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed some of his stories, but then learned more about him—especially about his misogyny and the fact that he was a serial sexual assaulter—and just never felt the need to read him or listen to him ever again. He's not somebody who I looked up to. I would have liked to see him get some comeuppance, but oh well. He's gone now, and hopefully we can move forward into a world where the leaders of the SF genre aren't also its biggest missing stairs. That man was an entire missing staircase.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:00 PM on June 28, 2018 [17 favorites]

posted by strixus at 6:14 PM on June 28, 2018

He was a strange guy, a real mixed bag of a human being, better and worse than a lot of people. It's hard to know how to feel.

I would not be the person I am today without his non-fiction and sort of fiction-journalism, or at least I mean I think I owe certain of my better qualities to his work - his essays about the civil rights movement (he was in the Selma march), his anti-cop writing, his story about a woman who dies after getting an illegal abortion, his essays that touch on anti-Semitism. Those were pretty deep early political lessons for me. They're not at all perfect work and all of them contain fucked up elements (some of which were apparent to me even at the time) but they had great, great explanatory force to me as a bullied and lonely kid in a conservative suburb.

And that essay where he talks about walking out of some dePalma movie about murdering women because it was about murdering women and he felt it was exploitative and itself contributed to violence against women....There are not many men who would write that kind of essay, not even on the left, not even today.

Even at the time I could tell that the way he wrote about women was screwed up, and that there was a sort of sentimental stereotyping in big chunks of his work.

I mean, he was a strange man. He did some awful stuff and yet he also sometimes walked the walk, and in my opinion there are not that many people who do both - most people who do awful things will run their mouths about various causes but never take any risks.
posted by Frowner at 6:21 PM on June 28, 2018 [29 favorites]

Ah, Harlan. Before Punk, and before I learned about Dadaism & Surrealism, he was the introduction to provocation. Pissing off Sinatra, etc. It's too bad that Starlost was a flop, if it was hit then the litigation with Heinlien would have been hilarious.

The Deathbird is a classic, perhaps what he will be remembered for in the future.
posted by ovvl at 6:21 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

^fdisney ... Nothing? Really?
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:24 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I encountered Ellison as a teen after reading a lot of guys like Silverberg and Bradbury and Asimov. And his stories were so different. "Repent, Harlequin..." was, like, what? and yes. I remember how I felt reading "I Have No Mouth..." It was so fundamentally disquieting, sharing Ellison's imagination of an eternal hell.

I ended up reading a lot of his writing, including the Glass Teat books and his early j.d.-oriented stuff, and I almost always enjoyed his words, even when the story didn't work for me.

And fractious, frustrating and shitty as the Dangerous Visions experience sounds to have been, those books opened my eyes to a bunch of work and authors that really grabbed me. And, here, you can insert my first time through "Riders of the Purple Wage" and "Gonna Roll the Bones."

A few years after I first read his work, I went to a sci-fi con in NYC, to an extent, because I'd heard he'd be there. And sure enough, there he was, striding into the vendors' ballroom, accompanied by a tall young woman. The tallness absolute, not relative. I stammered out something about how much I enjoyed his work and asked if he'd autograph a book for me. I think I'd just bought a two-fer paperback edition of Spider Kiss and another early book, which I handed to him. He took the marker and wrote, "This is a terrible book, and I apologize," signing his name. I stammered my thanks, and off he went down the floor.

Having heard in later years how difficult he could be, I felt happy that I'd met an idol as a teen, and he'd been funny and gracious.

(That book, along with all of my Ellison books, disappeared, likely at my mother's hands when she was cleaning the apartment some time after I moved out. Which saddens me to this day.)

So, a complicated, oft-unpleasant character who wrote exactly the sort of story that blew the mind of teenage me.

I have to go with thanks and

posted by the sobsister at 6:25 PM on June 28, 2018 [7 favorites]

I’m conflicted, but I guess...

posted by tommasz at 6:28 PM on June 28, 2018

In my teens I consumed all the Ellison books I could get my hands on and both the original and subsequent Dangerous Visions. I didn't grok all of those stories back then but I damn well remembered the majority of them for a long time. And jebus, I will always carry with me "Repent Harlequin".

For a man who came of age in the late 40s/early 50s, Harlan was still the most punk rock of speculative fiction. Yes, he was a groping creeper. Certainly an unmitigated asshole. And for sure a giant pain in the ass to many in the entertainment industry. In other words, a punk who for a brief time mattered.

RIP you sonovabitch.
posted by Ber at 6:32 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by Gelatin at 6:53 PM on June 28, 2018

There goes my favorite asshole. RIP.
posted by davelog at 7:07 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

And somebody said in one of the introductions to one of his books that yes, Harlan Ellison was a character, but one day, the character would be gone, and all that would be left would be the stories and now that day is here.
So here's to you. Paladin of the Lost Hour, Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes, Mephisto in Onyx, Grail , The Whimper of Whipped Dogs, "Repent, Harlequin!", said the Ticktockman, etc. etc. etc.

Kyrie Eleison
Harlan Ellison
Kyrie Eleison

posted by dannyboybell at 7:08 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also, while I'm *certain* y'all will vehemently correct me on this soon, I can't bring to mind any story in which he was an asshole, in which the person he was being an asshole to didn't clearly deserve it.

What is it Connie Willis did again? I'd love to be reminded.

I have a great fondness for "'Repent, Harlequin!'", but I think he empowered a line of assholery in geek culture that we'd be better off without.
posted by praemunire at 7:10 PM on June 28, 2018 [15 favorites]

ok, yup, you got me.
posted by ook at 7:39 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

posted by jbenben at 7:51 PM on June 28, 2018

Read him when I was younger, hope to again when I'm in the mood for short stories and hope it holds up. He had some of the best titles.

"Repent, Harlequin!" Said the Ticktockman

The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream

Also it looks like A boy and his dog may be getting a remake, probably a few stories about that will surface.
posted by sammyo at 7:52 PM on June 28, 2018

Ellison's been threaded through my entire life, it seems.

I started reading him in elementary school, which probably explains certain subsequent mental anomalies. I can vividly recall the times when his stories flummoxed me, turned my mind sideways, scared the hell out of me, or made me laugh then.

As a teenager I terrified by music camp cabin-mates one night by reading an Ellison story to them. The one which ends with a man with a blank face.

Dangerous Visions books were how I realized that the American science fiction New Wave was a thing. They made sense of the Orbit anthologies that kept freaking me out. Also, DV and ADV were possibly how I realized that sf had history.
(I was a teenager.)

I met him the first time when a bunch of fellow University of Michigan students brought him to town. He was hilarious, rude, inspiring, eloquent over dinner and as a speaker. After his talk he claimed to have the most dangerous hot sauce he'd ever seen, so vile it came with an eyedropper. I sipped some from the little bottle, which freaked him out.

Later, as a lit prof I taught some of his stories, starting with "Shatterday", which was a fine experience.

My wife and I met Ellison against at a horror convention. We realized we each had separate stories with him, before then.

Later still, as a parent I passed on Ellison stories to my kids, in multiple media: tv, comics, books, even that computer game. They loved catching him on Babylon5.

Ah, his death yanks a strand of my being right out into the void.

posted by doctornemo at 7:56 PM on June 28, 2018 [8 favorites]

His writing was fierce and sharp. He helped other writers that he thought were deserving. As a woman, I'm aware that he was quite sexist in addition to being a real general asshole at times. Things change, we're slowly evolving. I wish I could just leave a dot, I admired his talent,.
posted by theora55 at 7:56 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m curious. Were these words Ellison’s or Roddenberry’s?

EDITH KEELER: One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energies, maybe even the atom... energies that could ultimately hurl us to other worlds in... in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will be able to find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world and the cure their diseases. They will be able to find a way give each other hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for.
posted by zooropa at 7:57 PM on June 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Freakazoid [DailyMotion link to episode] once offered Harlan Ellison (at a comic convention) to Fanboy in order to not have him as a sidekick.
posted by hippybear at 7:59 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

Apparently like many here, he made a great impression on me as a misunderstood teenager. For awhile I read no-one else.

posted by neckro23 at 8:04 PM on June 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

I met him at Worldcon in Atlanta in 86 so somewhere along the way he dropped that ERA requirement. I would disagree that the stories of his being jerky were just marketing. Still, an amazing talent. Thanks for the words, Mr Ellison, even if you were kind of a shit to us in that elevator.
posted by phearlez at 8:17 PM on June 28, 2018

Freakazoid [DailyMotion link to episode] once offered Harlan Ellison (at a comic convention) to Fanboy in order to not have him as a sidekick.

He also guest starred in the surprisingly excellent Scooby Doo Mystery Inc!
posted by jason_steakums at 8:20 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

He gets no "complicated" from me. He was a serial sexual assaulter. I read piles and piles of his work in my adolescence and adored his writing. He was a serial sexual assaulter. His written criticism was often genius. He was a serial sexual assaulter. There comes a point in a history of bad actions where you don't get to be remembered for the best of you, and that point is long in the rearview mirror for Mr. Ellison.

You all came for Orson Scott Card on his homophobia and racism, but I am left to wonder if you would have done so if you hadn't all grown up to learn to hate Ender's Game instead of adore it. I guess if you truly love the art, you'll just never ever get behind those who were assaulted by the artist?

If you still want to argue that it's "complicated," I urge you to think hard on King's quote about the White Moderate.

It's not complicated. Reconsider your amusement at the "irascible asshole" at the cost of all of the women who weren't on stage in front of a room full of witnesses when he grabbed their breasts.

And don't bring me his "apology." Read what he wrote the next few days after that.

Fuck that dude. I'm glad he's dead.
posted by tzikeh at 8:28 PM on June 28, 2018 [36 favorites]

Like a lot of other people in this thread, I was a big fan of Ellison's when I was a teenager. That fell away, both with the frequency and quality of his stories and my growing awareness of how much of Ellison's outsized reputation was the result of his cultivating a personality cult for decades. (If nothing else, look up "The Last Deadloss Visions" by Christopher Priest--the writer of The Prestige, not the comics guy--to see how Ellison treated his fellow writers when he wasn't in front of a camera, as with "Pay the Writer." Many of the people who gave Ellison their stories with his promise that The Last Dangerous Visions would give them exposure and royalties the likes of which they could scarcely imagine ended up preceding him in death with their stories continuing to collect dust in his office.) His response to this, and really to any sort of substantive criticism, came off less as feisty and more as obnoxious, well before the Connie Willis incident.

Per tzikeh above, there were plenty of people in SF willing to go, "That's just Harlan," no matter what he did or said. Hopefully, someone will come along who ignores the stories that Ellison told about himself, or manipulated other people into telling by being unexpectedly kind to them, contrary to his reputation, and listen to some of the other stories, and put those together.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:54 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

posted by motty at 9:03 PM on June 28, 2018

are you kidding? the idea that there's no overlap between people who liked or still like a few of Card's books and people who know he's a pile of garbage is made up. invented.

Yeah, I mean I still think Ender's Game is a powerful rite of passage book for pretty much any SF fan who grew up in the 80s? That's incontrovertible. It doesn't change the fact that Card's positions and many of his screeds about society are truly awful. And those screeds don't change the influence or quality of some of his novels.

Art considered separate from or not considered separate from the artist has been a complicated subject basically forever. The idea that it's solved and we know the answer is absurd; People differ wildly on the subject and we see it all the time on Metafilter. It's almost not worth listing the artists whose works are greatly admired but who were in some (or even most) respects odious people? Because it's so common?
posted by Justinian at 9:15 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

a long, long time ago I stumbled across a book of non-sci-fi short stories by a guy named Harlan Ellison. I would've been fourteen or fifteen. The only one I immediately remember is one I'll never forget. It concerned a little kid who got caught shoplifting and, for whatever reason, the shop called the cops, who decided that the little kid needed to learn a lesson he'd never forget. So they took him down to the police station, fingerprinted him, locked him in a cell (all the time telling him they were doing it for his own good, he was learning a lesson he'd never forget). Finally, he was released to his parents (with more talk about the important lesson he was learning). On leaving the police station, the narrator interjected to say, "Yes, young Johnny (or whoever) did indeed learn a lesson that he'd never forget. He learned to hate cops."

Like I said, it's stuck with me. Like little Johnny, I'll never forget it. And more to the point. I can't. So say what you will of Mr. Ellison's dubious attitudes and actions, he nevertheless indelibly affected me at a pivotal point in my life. I guess it's like Norm McDonald said of Bill Cosby. "I hate what he did, but I can't take back the laughter."
posted by philip-random at 9:29 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

He was a terrible person but also a very important writer. He has a lot of company in that; the Venn diagrams overlap heavily.
posted by Dip Flash at 9:48 PM on June 28, 2018

posted by temancl at 10:19 PM on June 28, 2018

What I'm learning over the past couple of days is that Ellison knew what was right and wrong in the abstract, and pretty bad at applying that to his own behaviour. It's hard to square the man who would stump for the Equal Rights Act instead of going to conventions, who championed marginalised writers, with the asshole who was science fiction's most well-known missing stair. And, of course, he was tremendously influential - he helped shape science fiction to the point where it started to leave him behind.

We will never see his like again, but then neither should we hope to.
posted by Merus at 10:24 PM on June 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

Use the needle.
posted by benzenedream at 10:26 PM on June 28, 2018 [3 favorites]

I spoke with Harlan Ellison by phone on six occasions. The man went out of his way to seek me out, for reasons that still perplex me. He was preternaturally concerned with what people thought about him, often perceiving earth-shattering influence in certain figures (as he seemed to see in me) that truly didn't make any sense, and he probably fought more picayune battles than he needed to. But the thing about Harlan was that he demanded the best in people. And he was willing to extend this into trivial pastures. He really cared. And maybe he had an extremely eccentric way of going about expressing this. But you can't argue with the work, which expresses his vision and his idealism and blossoms with humanism that is tinged with a defiant protest against the cruelty of humankind. But here's the thing: behind the ego and the protective erudite layers he erected to let everyone know that he was a man you did not want to fuck with, there was a man who felt very deeply for what humankind had settled for. This was what fueled his protests, his fiction, his glorious assaults against authoritarianism and bad taste. Once you got past his indefatigable vitriol, once you traversed his hazing and fought his spittle with witty jabs and proved you could inhabit this mortal coil and fight for something better, he respected you and he was capable of remarkable acts of humanism and generosity. If you were lucky enough to get past this spittle, he was actually a very sweet and very kind man who suffered from feeling too much about the world and who seemed to take it personally. And really is that so much of a crime? The beauty contained in "Jefty is Five" or "All the Lies That Are My Life" came with an insurmountable pain that he carried with him in being disappointed with what human beings had settled for. So I am inclined to forgive his grave missteps and to say this. There was no writer like Harlan Ellison. And there will NEVER be a writer like Ellison again. We are now in the business of assigning calculated cunning to any iconoclastic voice, so prepared to throw them into the dingy bathwater of unrepentant assholes, that we rarely step back and say, "Well, maybe there was a vital point. Maybe there was something here we needed to listen to." The Internet is now so content to drown out any outlier voice even as it wraps itself in the nostalgic amniotic fluid of missing someone that it did not realize it needed. That was Harlan. And it takes some sizable cojones indeed to say to the world, "I will express myself entirely on my own terms and I do not care." We'll never see the likes of that again, even though we may very well need it more than we know.
posted by ed at 11:04 PM on June 28, 2018 [22 favorites]

Adios, Cordwainer Bird.

posted by Ten Cold Hot Dogs at 2:16 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I went to a Ray Bradbury signing once while my Bradbury books were inaccessible at the time, so I desperately grabbed a VERY beat up hardcover of Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions because he had a poem in it. He saw this taped up book, gave me a wry smile and drew pictures in the book in addition to his signature. He laughed afterward and said, "I'm sure he won't mind." I thought it was a nice moment for both gentlemen.
posted by jadepearl at 3:07 AM on June 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

Finally we can assemble an anthology inspired by his works. I can't think of anything that would do more to honor him and to throw him the finger at the same time. He deserves both.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 4:44 AM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by filtergik at 4:54 AM on June 29, 2018

He was undoubtably an asshole, but he was *our* asshole. And on the occasions that his crosshairs landed on a person or institution that truly deserved it, he was relentless.

And despite all that, his writing was relentlessly human. He was a master at taking an abstract concept and finding the angle that made it relatable at an emotional level. He lived and wrote on his own terms, and loathed hypocrisy.

Also, he didn't drink, leaving more for the rest of us. I'll be toasting him this weekend, despite his views on indulgences. I hope it pisses him off.
posted by eisenkrote at 6:44 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

I met him once. A mutual acquaintance introduced us and he said, to me, "Dammit, another drooling fanboy?" I replied, "Are you someone important, or maybe interesting?"

He laughed and we got along fine.

If I had known at the time about the Connie Wills thing, I think I would have been a bit less cordial, but I hadn't heard of it at that point. (I was not one for cons outside of a specific set of them - even the one I met Clive Barker at was an outlier for me at that point.)
posted by mephron at 6:46 AM on June 29, 2018 [3 favorites]

His writing was nearly always fantastic; his behavior was all too frequently terrible. An OG "problematic fave" to the end.

posted by genehack at 6:55 AM on June 29, 2018

genius sf writer, disgusting excuse for a human being.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 7:01 AM on June 29, 2018

Thing I learned from this thread: if you write really good fiction you can get away with a lot...
posted by Pendragon at 7:02 AM on June 29, 2018 [7 favorites]

I didn't start reading science fiction until I was in my 20s. In 2006, I discovered Connie Willis -- and fell head over heels in love with To Say Nothing of the Dog. It had been recommended to me by a friend because of a shared love of Dorothy Sayers. That summer I devoured everything she had written up to that point.

The first I ever heard of Ellison was that he groped my new favorite author.

I've never felt the desire to pick up any of his work.

Nothing in this thread about his writing is making revisit that decision. What does make me reconsider is the support of Octavia Butler and the ERA amendment story. Because otherwise I would expect the work to be misogynist and I really don't need sexist pleasure reading. There are plenty of other books for me to read.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 7:09 AM on June 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

Thing I learned from this thread: if you write really good fiction you can get away with a lot...

No. But some of us are entitled to use our ability to separate an artist's work from the artist as a person.
posted by biscotti at 7:17 AM on June 29, 2018 [5 favorites]

The obituary on NPR said he was "belligerent, boorish, and brilliant." I never knew the man, so I can't speak to the second, but from what I've heard, that's not the worst summary of him.

I do know that a really easy way to get a rise out of him was to inquire about the jellybeans in "Repent Harlequin Said the Ticktock Man."

I'm glad he existed, I'm sad he's gone, but I'm glad we probably won't see the likes of him again.
posted by Hactar at 7:36 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

We literally just had a MeTa on allowing people to take breaks from focusing on the problematic in favor of being allowed to experience joy or sadness.

People are complicated. There are people who I don't want to emulate, who have caused me or others harm, who have still touched and shaped me through their work or words or deeds. I will have complicated feelings when they die, and I would like to be allowed to experience then without having to put up with someone sneering at me that I should be joyful because a bad person is gone.

It's easiest to condemn creators who have never touched you; hardest to reject people who make the things that you love. In this space,in this time, with practically every other person taking space to give Ellison's poor behavior, can we please assume that we all know that his behavior was unacceptable and wrong? Can we allow people to have space for complicated opinions without collapsing everything into a single binary judgement?
posted by sciatrix at 7:50 AM on June 29, 2018 [39 favorites]

So very sad. My first wife was a friend of Harlan's. We'd often hang out at conventions. He was an amazing man and a brilliant writer. Such a cool guy. I felt like he'd live forever.

posted by Splunge at 8:15 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

He and Asimov had a running feud at the time which they acted out when ever their paths crossed in public. I can't recall the origin (someone?) and I can't recall their snarky banter when together being really mean spirited or cutting. I'm honored to be able to say I met both these gentleman during that period.


" I was on the platform, introducing notables and addressing a word of kindly love to each as I did so. I kept my eye on Harlan all this time, however, for he was sitting right up front (where else?).

As soon as his attention wandered, I called out his name suddenly. He stood up, quite surprised and totally unprepared, and I leaned forward and said, as sweetly as I could:

"Harlan, stand on the fellow next to you, so that people can see you."

And while the audience (a much larger one this time) laughed fiendishly, I forgave Harlan and we have been good friends ever since." from here with further footnote from Ellison (because of course) just afterwards.

I don't know much about Ellison or his (mis)deeds. Even his material isn't all that familiar to me but I have truly enjoyed the stories Asimov places in the intros to many of his books/compendiums of the major players in Sci-Fi 'back in the day'. Asimov had some wit, or at least that's how he portrays himself anyway. It's a nuance that I enjoy as an artifact of times gone by. Perhaps more sexist and/or terrible times in various ways but gone-by and interesting to read about all the same.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:33 AM on June 29, 2018

Sciatrix -- that's a fair complaint and I will own that I'm contributing to the problem.

I waded into the thread hoping to hear a little bit more about the details of his work that caused people to fall in love with it and see if maybe I should revisit my decision not to read it. I was hoping for more about why people I respect love his writing in this thread in addition to the "wow, a complicated human" conversation.

I also didn't straight out ask that, so that's a thing.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 8:33 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Am I the only one bothered (after getting over the mild heart attack related to the same) by the fact that this news article mentions Asimov as tweeting in the present tense even though he died in 1992? I did an internet double-take for sure. Twitter language rules of etiquette may be beyond me but damn that was jarring.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:37 AM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thing I learned from this thread: if you write really good fiction you can get away with a lot...

Less of it than you’d think, and all early in his career. A lot of the plaudits he gets are for being a kind of revered monster, and some of the monsterous things he did are kind of silly and fun and some of them are really not.

Can you separate that from his work? Absolutely no.
Does that condem him as untouchably awful forever? Well, it seems not.
Is that good? Don’t know. Probably on balance not.

I will say this: let’s nof have any more revered monsters like that. Let’s not laud it and let the bad parts fester. When we say it was a different time let’s try and make that true.
posted by Artw at 8:49 AM on June 29, 2018 [11 favorites]

posted by tychotesla at 9:14 AM on June 29, 2018

METAFILTER: we allow people to have space for complicated opinions without collapsing everything into a single binary judgement
posted by philip-random at 9:18 AM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

posted by TheDukeOfChalfont at 11:23 AM on June 29, 2018

holborne, is this the version of "I'm Looking For Kadak" that you remember?
posted by hanov3r at 12:18 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: tweeting like it's 1992.
posted by y2karl at 12:36 PM on June 29, 2018


For all his flaws - and they were many and noteworthy - he didn't punch down; he punched out. He didn't limit is his vitriol to those below him on the chain of privilege, and he didn't expect his targets to thank him.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely a complicated person. I read a lot of his stuff (fiction and nonfiction - even his piece about being in a gang) when I was growing up, and remember reading the Dangerous Visions books for the first time. Some of it blew my mind and there are little bits that still linger.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2018

A brilliant and difficult man.

posted by Slithy_Tove at 1:24 PM on June 29, 2018

Like many on this thread, I read a lot of Ellison as a teenager. Many years later, his work still means something to me, despite his flaws as a person.

Here's a story from J. Michael Straczynski about Ellison doing something nice for someone he didn't know.

posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 1:57 PM on June 29, 2018 [4 favorites]

I’m one of those who first heard of Ellison because of his two books of TV criticism, which I like a lot more than the half-dozen works of his fiction I’ve read. (In April I finally got around to his rock and roll novel Spider Kiss, which must have made much more of an impact when it appeared almost 60 years ago; it now seems dated). When I saw him talk at a Seattle ‘science fiction fair‘ in February 1979 (tickets $1!), it seemed like the obnoxiousness was either a game he was playing, or a defense mechanism, but obviously I don’t know. Even more obviously, he didn't suffer fools – of which the world has plenty – gladly.

My friend Bill just reminded me of Harlan's classic three-word review when The Partridge Family premiered on ABC in the fall of 1970: "Mother of god!"
posted by LeLiLo at 2:05 PM on June 29, 2018 [1 favorite]

"The cDc is one of those groups...who one feels has 'underworld connections.'" - Harlan Ellison

posted by scalefree at 2:17 PM on June 29, 2018

Not unlike many in the thread, I also have "Harlan Ellison Encounter" stories, but they involve phone calls made when I was an impressionable teenager, and aside from one of the calls being answered not by Harlan but by Susan (who had, if memory serves, a nice voice), they aren't really worth mentioning.

Also: ^fdisney ... Nothing? Really?

"Nobody fucks with the Mouse."

Goodbye, Harlan, goodbye.
posted by Minus215Cee at 6:28 PM on June 29, 2018

Oh Harlan.

I read everything by you I could get my hands on when I was a kid, and even then I found it faintly embarrassing. You had verve in bucketloads, but you were never quite capable of hiding how hard you were trying either — the hipcrime vocab ("Off the varks!") was invariably a dead giveaway.

I drilled my way through the Dangerous Visions books — found me some lifelong keepers within, cringed at the curatorial voice. I devoured The Deadly Streets, which, in those days prior to my discovery of Selby, sure put some brutal English on the West Side Story/Happy Days/Grease vision of goofy white JDs in satin jackets and DAs I was being fed. If I saw you had a piece in Omni, I bought it for that alone, and when I heard you'd written an episode of Star Trek, fumed through the months it took to show up in the slow random cycle of five-afternoons-a-week syndication.

You sure didn't seem to like women very much. (Five marriages? Pretty Alice? Ellen? My word.) But then I'd hear about your advocacy of the ERA, at a time when that had teeth. And I knew, somehow, you'd marched with Dr. King. Where had I learned that? Well, never mind, it was part of the apparatus.

Is it too charitable to suggest that, like Lou Reed, you created a king-hell asshole persona to cover up your vulnerabilities, or amuse yourself, or afford yourself some plausible deniability for the obstreperous dickishness, and then disappeared into its gravity well forever? You will always be part of my foggy take on the behind-the-scenes schmoozing, rivalry and petty politics of the SF community in the years of my youngness, you will always be part of my understanding of what not to do with talent, and you will always be part of me. I will never quite shed you — leather-jacketed posturing, ridiculous pipes and all. Thanks, I guess?
posted by adamgreenfield at 1:50 AM on June 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

(Aha! I knew you'd marched on Selma 'cause, true to form, you told me so yourself. Case closed.)
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:17 AM on June 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

So, my partner's main awareness of Harlan Ellison is that he sexually assaulted Connie Willis at a convention. In public. Hundreds of people watching. NOTHING was done. Which quite frankly, made her decide not to go to science fiction conventions. After all, if a guy could get away with sexual assault with witnesses, how could she ever feel safe at a convention?

She decided to stick with gaming conventions that she knew had strong harassment policies. I eventually convinced her to work Westercon Sacramento, run by guys we knew and trusted, successful with a song harassment policy. And this year, we're going to WorldCon, run by the same people.

Ellison came into his game in a fandom where sexual harassment and assault was considered to be one of the perks of being a famous writer. Being groped or chased was justified by the sexually liberated couture of fandom, DC be anyone who objected was thought of as a prude. Many awful actions were justified by that collective attitude. It wasn't just Ellison, or just men who promoted that kind of sexism.

Ellison was an asshole because fandom not only tolerated it but promoted it, in a sort of half period, half mocking "Look what our pet asshole did today" way. In a weird way he was the pirate child for how tolerant SFF was. Well, to some people anyway. If Ellison hadn't existed, the SFF community would have had to invent him. Maybe they did.

I do think that if Ellison had been born 30 or 40 years later, he would not have been able to be a well regarded author while acting the way he did.

Go toss some jelly beans on his grave. He deserves it.
posted by happyroach at 6:16 PM on June 30, 2018 [9 favorites]

> If you're going to be a fan of an asshole, better him than Bukowski.

Bukowski's generosity to young writers and chapbook publishers was legendary. The tough crust often hides a soft center. Just don't bug the man when he's at the track.

Also .
and damn it's hard to live a full artist's life after the manic creativity of youth is gone
posted by Scram at 2:14 PM on July 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Literally watched Bukowski physically lash out at his girlfriend in The Charles Bukowski Tapes, so his soft center hid an abusive core.
posted by maxsparber at 12:13 PM on July 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Another one on the list of Role Models I Really Shouldn't Have Taken.
There were good stories he wrote, and there were good actions he took.
But it's like the scene in American Gangster when Laurie Roberts (Carla Gugino) calls out Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe): "You don't take money for one reason - to buy being dishonest about everything else." Trumpeting the high points and conveniently forgetting the damage done.
I don't have a good conclusion for this, so I'll end on trivia:
When the new Twilight Zone launched in 1985, with HE as creative consultant, the first episode started with Wes Craven directing an adaptation of HE's "Shatterday," starring Bruce Willis as a man who gets replaced by a duplicate in his own life.
Hunh: someone has a copyright-violating copy of the story, and maybe I should end on the words from the duplicate:
“It is true, Novins. That’s what’s so sad about it. That it is true and you’ve never had the guts to admit it, that you go from woman to woman without giving anything, always taking, and when you leave them—or they dump you—you’ve never learned a god damned thing. You’ve been married twice, divorced twice, you’ve been in and out of two dozen affairs and you haven’t learned that you’re one of those men who is simply no bloody good for a woman. So now you’re forty-two years old and you’re finally coming to the dim understanding that you’re going to spend all the rest of the days and nights of your life alone, because you can’t stand the company of another human being for more than a month without turning into a vicious prick.”
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 7:03 PM on July 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

In light of this thread, I went and re-read, more or less at random, “All the Birds Come Home to Roost,” which I hadn’t read in probably 25 years. HOLY SHIT. I mean, I’m accustomed to sexist and misogynistic writing, of course, but this is just...jaw-dropping. Capsule summary: our hero, an obvious stand-in for Ellison, describes a marriage that nearly ruined him. What happened? His wife was so annoying that he finds himself beating the shit out of her one night, and the effect on him (yes, that’s right, on *him*) was so devastating that he fell into a deep depression. He later has a nervous breakdown at the prospect of seeing her again.

Fuck Harlan Ellison.
posted by holborne at 5:46 PM on July 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

He also used to dine out on a story where he gets revenge on a woman by tying her up naked on her parents' floor and then just leaving her there to be discovered, if I recall the substance of the story correctly.

Sexual humiliation seem baked into a lot of his work and life stories.
posted by maxsparber at 10:26 AM on July 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

There's a scene in "A Boy and his Dog" which strongly parallels that story, maxsparber -- as I don't doubt you are aware, upon reflection.
posted by jamjam at 1:42 PM on July 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

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