Monday, July 02, 2018

Harlan Ellison 1934 - 2018

Photo from Variety.

Harlan Ellison passed away at home, in his sleep on June 27th. He was 84 years old.

The New York Times has an obituary here.

There are a lot of tributes to the famous writer -- famous for his talent as well as his temper. Here's a profile by Isaac Asimov from his autobiography:

From I. Asimov, Doubleday 1994.

"The most colorful character I ever met at science fiction conventions in 
the 1950's was Harlan Ellison, who was barely out of his teens at the 
time.  he claims he is five feet four inches tall, but it doesn't really 
matter.  In talent, energy, and courage he is eight feet tall.

He was born in 1934 and had a miserable youth.  Being always small and 
being always enormously intelligent, he found that he could easily flay 
the dimwits by whom he was surrounded.  But he could only do so in words, 
and the dimwits could use their fists.  He spent his childhood (as Woody 
Allen once said of himself) being beaten up by everyone regardless of 
race, color, or religion.

This embittered him and did not teach him to keep his mouth shut.  
Instead, as he grew older, he made it his business to learn all the 
different arts of self-defense, and the time came when it was absolutely 
dangerous for some big hulk to attach him, for Harlan would lay him out 
without trouble.  (I admire this greatly, for when I was scapegoated for 
similar reasons, I only studied the various arts of running and hiding.  
However, I must admit I was never as orally poisonous as he was, so I was 
scapegoated in minor fashion compared to his ordeal.)

Harlan uses his gifts for colorful and variegated invective on those who 
irritate him--intrusive fans, obdurate editors, callous publishers, 
offensive strangers.  Little real harm is done, but it is particularly 
hard on editors who are young women, who have not been hardened to 
auctorial peculiarities.  He can reduce them to tears in three minutes.  
The result is that many editorial staffs and many Hollywood people too 
(for Harlan is not just a science fiction writer--is is a *writer* in the 
fullest sense of the word) are reluctant to deal with him.  What's more, 
he is so colorful and his personality sticks out so far in all directions 
that many people take pleasure in saying malicious things about him.  

This is too bad, for two reasons.  In the first place, he is (in my 
opinion) one of the best writers in the world, far more skilled at the 
art than I am.  It is simply terrible that he should be constantly 
embroiled and enmeshed in matters which really have nothing to do with 
his writing and which slow him down tragically.

Second, Harlan is not the kind of person he seems to be.  He takes a 
perverse pleasure in showing the worst side of himself, but if you ignore 
that and work your way past his porcupine spines (even though it leaves 
you bleeding) you will find underneath a warm, loving guy who would give 
you the blood out of his veins if the thought that would help.

I have a fairly good gift for invective myself and I am the only person 
I know who could stand up to him on a public platform for more than half 
a minute without being eradicated.  (I think I can last as long as five 

I enjoy a public set-to with him, as I enjoy it with Lester del Rey and 
Arthur Clarke.  It's a game with us.  In private, though, there is never 
a cross word between Harlan and me, and if I tell you he is warm and 
loving, pay no mind to anything else you've heard.  I know better and I 
am right.

One last word.  Harlan has incredible charm and I have no idea how many 
tall, beautiful women he has been involved with.  He has been married 
five times altogether.  The first four marriages were brief and 
disastrous, but his fifth, with a sweet young woman named Susan, seems 
stable and Harlan seems mellowed.  I hope so.  He deserves far more in 
the way of happiness than he has had hitherto.
One of his most famous bits is this video, "Pay the Writer:"

And I had an encounter with him as well.

Oh, he was definitely one of a kind. I always thought that deep down, he was fair. I had an opportunity to call him. He was helping a friend of mine (long story) a few years ago. He answered the phone with a loud “What?????” He completely turned into a nice guy when I told him who I was, and that I was helping him help our mutual friend. His writing work, particularly his “Demon With a Glass Hand” Outer Limits episode, was deeply affecting to me.

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