Harlan Ellison: Something Thereabouts

Let me start off by saying this isn't a eulogy. This isn't a weeping monologue about how great a man Ellison was or any of those shitty kinds of postmortem, self-aggrandizing spiel that authors, editors, writers, and readers tend to do when a master dies; no sir, this is not one of those kinds of posts. I don't have to talk on and on about the greatness, the achievement, and the high art this man created in his 84 years; the work itself says all that needs to be said. One look at Glowworm, or "Repent, Harlequin," Said the Tictockman, or A Boy and His Dog, or I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream or his editing in Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions, or his teleplays for Star Trek, the Outer Limits, the Twilight Zone---any of these will show you, without a doubt, the genius and the art of this man. And that's how we should all remember him. As an artist forever at the forefront of his craft, never taking bullshit, denying all idiots and users, a man of logic and thought, humor and anger. A man who lived solely by his ethics and his ideals. That was how I knew him, and now bare with me as I collect my thoughts.

When I found out Ellison died it was early in the morning. I was drinking coffee looking at my phone like the brainwashed idiot I've become these days and read it in a news report from Variety.com and it read, "Harlan Ellison, the sci-fi writer who contributed to 'Star Trek,' 'Babylon 5,' dies at 84." And I was looking at it, and my mother was sitting right next to me, and I just was staring at it with my mouth locked shut, my eyes wide and my mind racing. There were so many emotions going through my head. First off was, "Those fucking idiots! Harlan Ellison has died and they call him a 'sci-fi' writer? Great job on that one, Variety." And then, "Jesus Christ, I mean, Jesus Fucking-Christ, Harlan Ellison just died. I will never meet Harlan Ellison." Because you see, like the fawning little halfwit that I am, I have a list---a list?---yes that's right, a list of all the people I'd like to meet before my heart decides it's done schlepping my ass around and I fall dead on my face. And Harlan Ellison was at the top of that list.

I had wanted to meet him for years, ever since I saw his old commentaries on Sci-fi Buzz, on the Sci-fi Channel back in the day. I loved his wit, his ferocity, his anger at times. I loved the way he spoke and how he was totally unafraid to speak his mind. For a kid who grew up a whiney, moody little bitch of a child as yours truly, that kind of personality was very appealing. Those quick little commentaries taught me a lot about being a man and being a writer in this field. That you have to know what it is that you're doing, that you have to understand the business and how it works so that you can be paid for what you do like a human being. He taught me to never be lied to in this business and never to accept less than my work deserved. And that, folks, is only half of it.

At one point in my life---and still to this day---I was a big fan of Mad Max and Fallout and all those good old dead-world stories that just filled my imagination. And so, looking into these works for my own edification one day, I found out that a lot of them were based on or inspired by Harlan Ellison's A Boy and His Dog, so one day when I was younger than today, I went off to find that story. I eventually did in a book called They Came From Outer Space, an anthology of short stories that became the basis for science fiction movies edited by the eminent director of such classics as Chopping Mall, Jim Wynorski Then I tracked more of his work down and read "Repent, Harlequin," Said the Tictockman, and that story just set me off, I loved it. His prose, his style, his boundless imagination, the rhythm in which he writes, the great beauty of his words amazed and intimidated me. What a writer, I thought and knew that he was not some idiot writing about robots and aliens and monsters just as devices for entertainment but he was an artist. He was truly an artist. I think he is one of the greatest writers of this and any century and I think his work should be treated that way.

Which brings me to my point here.

It is a real shame that no one reads him. It really is. I feel it the same way when someone doesn't read Shakespeare, "Lord what fools these mortals be!" I feel it in my gut. I wish more people would take the time, and the money, and read him and appreciate his work. His art. But, unfortunately, his books are considerably hard to find. Don't even try looking for his work on Amazon, you won't find it. Maybe you'd find it in your local library, maybe. Probably not. Maybe just I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, but not much else.

"But Seth," I hear you saying from your thrones of ignorance, "there's that anthology of his, you know the one, edited by Richard Delap, Gil Lamont, and the amazingly skilled Australian writer Terry Dowling." And I say, "oh you mean that massive, beautiful book, The Essential Ellison: a Fifty-Year Retrospective? Right! Tell me, when was the last time you saw that at B&N? Or Amazon? or Abe's Books? Or a secondhand bookstore? Folks, it is a great shame how we treat our artists in this country. It is a great shame that James Patterson, and L. Ron Hubbard and Stephanie Myers and Tom Clancy and the ungodly idiocy of J.D. Salinger---the man could not write a novel, folks, he was a fine short story writer but as a novelist he is worthless---that all these schmucks get endless reprints and endless books and millions of dollars for what amounts to crap. To artistic anal effluence.

All the while great people who have done so much for the field are being forgotten, because no one has a sense of time, it's always gimme gimme gimme, now-now-now, they act as if the world began this morning and will end tonight. They don't care about A.E. Van Vogt, or Kate Wilhelm or Jack Vance or Philip Jose Farmer or C. J Cherryh even. And yes folks, now Harlan Ellison will be counted among those discounted few. Those greats of the field, those masters of the craft which no one will remember. People will say of him that he was a science-fiction writer. That he wrote some plays for t.v. and a few movies. That he wrote A Boy and His Dog and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, and that he was an editor, maybe. But no one will read him except a few. No one will see the beauty of his work and say he was good. No one will keep his mind alive on their own. And that's a real shame.

I leave you today with a quote from I believe, I'm not entirely sure so you will forgive me if I err, Stephen King's Danse Macabre by Harlan himself.

"My work is foursquare for chaos. I spend my life personally, and my work professionally, keeping the soup boiling. Gadfly is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado. I see myself as a combination of Zorro and Jiminy Cricket. My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time some denigrater or critic with umbrage will say of my work, 'He only wrote that to shock.' I smile and nod. Precisely.”


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