Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth

Watched Dreams With Sharp Teeth this evening, which I had recorded on the DVD a few days back when it premiered on Sundance Channel. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a documentary about Harlan Ellison, and if you don’t know who Harlan Ellison is, please drown yourself now.

I liked the film, although it’s less documentary than an encomium for the man from several admirers. The film makes a couple of feints in the direction of exploring his career failures and personal shortcomings, but really only feints at them, occupying itself more with the position of “he is who he is” and letting you take him at face value or not. I think that’s fine because if you’re anywhere near observant you see where the gaps are, and where things are left unsaid, to be filled in by rumor or inference or sympathy, if you want to go that direction. It’s not a complete picture, although I don’t think the film suggests that it is.

What is there does show why so many creative people and especially writers admire him, and also why so many do not. Ellison seems very precisely a “charming little fucker” — someone fast off the blocks, very smart and both blessed and cursed to live without a filter. This can look like fearlessness (which is where the easy admiration comes in), but I suspect it’s more accurate to say it’s a personal compulsion to actively seek the truthful moment, even if doing so is not the politic or convenient or nice thing to do. I would suspect the people who are Ellison’s genuine friends admire this about him rather than his “fearlessness,” and that this admiration is well mixed with the understanding that this quality of active truth-seeking will be visited upon them as well, for better and worse. He strikes me as a friend whom one will be called upon often to forgive his trespasses. Ellison makes mention in the film that he’s someone who is great at dinner and murder to live with; I don’t doubt this is accurate. I also don’t doubt that if he is your friend, you could call him to help you bury a body. He’d bitch about his aching back the whole time, but he’d still grab a shovel.

Mind you, this is all supposition on my part. I don’t know Ellison outside his writing, which I generally admire. My only experience with him was when he showed up on a comment thread here a few years back, at which time he was kind to me and rather less so to people to whom he believed he did not owe kindness. I do know we have friends in common, and those friends prize his friendship, which matters to me when I think about him. I also have friends whose run-ins with him are, shall we say, fairly memorable. I do think I’d like to meet him one day and apprehend him for myself. Dinner would be sufficient to start.

In any event, check out the film if you have the chance.

81 thoughts on “Harlan Ellison: Dreams With Sharp Teeth

  1. I went to a book signing here in Oz yonks ago. I was a fan of Harlan’s writing but I was unaware of his reputation at this point. Harlan seemed personable enough but then he asked me a question. I made some flippant reply and then I was on the receiving end of Harlan tirade.
    Unfortunately I can’t remember the question or the answer. I think the shock blanked the memory but I will be eternally grateful to have been on the receiving end of one of Harlan’s legendary lectures let alone having witnessed one at all.

  2. I’m sorry to say I didn’t find out who Harlan Ellison was until just about a year ago, and it’s one of the biggest laments of my life that I didn’t discover him earlier. He has one of the most distinct voices I’ve ever experienced.

    I picked up “The Essential Ellison” after reading a few stories he offered for free off his website (I also understand that if you read a story of his that he hasn’t authorized, he will descend upon you like the hammer of an angry god) and loved it. I highly recommend it to anyone who hasn’t ever read any Ellison. It’s a bit pricey, but to put it lightly you get a LOT for your money.

  3. I must say I find it hard to take seriously any description of Ellison as an active truth seeker when his whole career has been punctuated by very public displays of outright lying and Munchausen syndrome taken to the level of performance art. CoughLastDangerousVisionscough.

  4. He would like you a great deal, John. You HAVE to have dinner with him. Seriously. And yes, Harlan’s the type to help you bury a body. Absolutely.

  5. I just watched the trailer from the link

    True or False with Ellison and Williams?

    Worth the purchase price right there!

  6. I was actually planning on watching part of it tonight. Ellison is one of the writers that truly inspired me in high school.

    I still read his stories all the time. Repent Harlequin probably changed the way I looked at story telling forever.

    He also probably saved me from years of watching crap shows on the TV with The Glass Teat. That alone will keep him firmly in the hero camp. No telling how many hours of my life he saved me by turning me into a critical viewer of mass media.

  7. Well, he might not grab a shovel, but he’d write the check to pay for the shovels and the van rental :)

    I was lucky enough to be at a dinner stuffed with all of the authors at windycon one year (I was there as George Alec Effinger’s guest) and somehow the convo turned to Ellison bashing. Until GAE told his Harlan stories. As far as I’m concerned, he can rant as much as he wants, he is there for his friends when they need him and he doesn’t go looking for pats on the head when he does what needs doing to help.

  8. The wife and I have been watching the film over the weekend (we need to watch in small doses). We haven’t finished it yet; but I keep waiting for Joe Straczynski to show up in the interviews. I also feel that the film-makers missed so many interesting aspects of his life, from his time in the gangs to his tour with Three Dog Night. I feel that we’re just skimming the surface of this fiercely complex man. Maybe those points will show up later …

    I have been a fan of HE since my teens. I am proud to say I have the ACE Double D413 with “The Man with Nine Lives” in my collection of Ellison’s works. Found that one at a used book store in Cancun, of all the weird places. I have such respect for his written works, especially his non-SF essays. His film and TV criticism is beyond superb. If you ever get a chance to pick-up “Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed” I highly recommend it.

    Throw-out “Catcher in the Rye” — Ellison should be required reading for senior high school.

  9. What a gifted writer but, according people I have talked to who have met the man, a major a**hole and cheapskate. On the other hand a great and gifted writer. So can I make allowances for that, yes. I just wouldn’t want to have him owe me money.

  10. I made a point to arrive really early at his talk at LAConIV so I could sit in the front row. The room was SRO when he arrived and when he got on stage he said to us in the two front rows: “You’re not my friends. Why are you sitting in those rows? Those are for my friends. Get up.” He kept haranguing till some actually folks got up!! (I didn’t.) Then he told his friends to come up and sit in those seats. Janis Ian was very classy and said she wasn’t going to take someone else’s seat and sat on the floor on stage.

    Those people who went to the trouble to arrive early to sit in those seats were fans. Not after that.

    And then he said he would only sign books if you bought his books.

    It was a small, trivial thing, but from my perspective, he was and is a fucking asshole.

  11. For many years I’ve owned Ellison’s essay collection Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed as well as both Glass Teat volumes (Pyramid 1970s mass-market edition); I also enjoy his various introductions to his own stories and story collections – sometimes more than the stories themselves.

    With respect to the “career failures” not squarely addressed by the documentary (which I haven’t seen), what I’m most curious about are the novels he’s alluded to as being in progress over the years, including Dial 9 to Get Out and Blood’s a Rover (the latter an extension of the 1969 novella “A Boy and His Dog”).

  12. I acquired my copy of the “Dreams With Sharp Teeth” DVD a few days ago. I look forward to viewing it.

    I have met Mr. Ellison on several occasions. He has never been anything other than kind to me. I have seen him be less than nice to other people, but never without reason.

  13. Ah. Okay then. Had this idea Munchausen syndrome had to do with pathological lying and telling tall tales. Evidently not. I guess Total Bullshitter will have to suffice.

  14. I sent a fan letter to him once, twenty odd years ago–certainly not the sort of thing that would require or even prompt a response.

    Got a very gracious, semi-long, typewritten note back from him a month or two later.

  15. gottacook@14: I think it’s fairly safe to assume that “Dial 9″ and “Blood’s a Rover” will, like “The Last Dangerous Visions”, but published posthumously if at all.

    This isn’t, for the record, meant as any kind of knock on Ellison: the man is 75 years old, and he’s more than earned the right to spend his time on other things — or nothing at all — rather than doggedly trying to finish projects that he happened to be interested in 20 to 40 years ago. (Hell, I look at things I wrote three years ago and mostly want to die of shame…) Plenty of once-promising books never get finished: there’s usually a good reason for it. And way too many SF fans seem to regard giving up on a literary project that they were never personally contributing to as some sort of personal affront.

  16. Thomas@16: “Munchausen Syndrome” is an actual medical term, referring to patients who fake illnesses in order to get attention from medical personnel. Failing to deliver on a contracted book, while presumably the sort of behavior that drives your editor and agent to an early grave, doesn’t qualify. :)

  17. Doctor Memory @18: No, I don’t take it as a personal affront that I likely won’t see these novels. I simply regret that I’ve never had a chance to read a novel-length SF work by Ellison.

    Of course, I might not have had such regret to begin with if he hadn’t mentioned these novels-in-progress himself over the years. Naturally every creative artist who ever lived has abandoned works, but they don’t usually publicize them, or allow them to be mentioned in the press (as, for example, a mention in Stereo Review or High Fidelity, I forget which, circa 1978, of an opera adaptation of Lolita by Leonard Bernstein), before they abandon them.

  18. I met Mr Ellison just once briefly in California few years ago. An encounter which no doubt left as shallow an impression of me on him as it did a deep one of him on me. The man has an energy about him which amazes and, to me at least, makes me appreciate his work even more.

  19. I watched the film a couple of days ago, and had much the same reaction as Scalzi, modified by having known people who knew Ellison quite a long time ago, and having met him once myself more than 30 years ago. My take on the man is that he is quite intelligent, a talented and energetic, but in some ways undisciplined writer (I think he and I would disagree on the exact definition of that term), an incredibly loyal and supportive friend, and a great and terrible enemy.

    As he says himself (in the film as well as in print and interviews), he takes _everything_ as a confrontation. And I believe he does not comprehend that when two people disagree, it is not necessarily true that one of them must be right and the other wrong.

    I think the story of his that best describes the way he treats the world (if not the way he sees it), is “A Boy and His Dog”.

  20. I had the PLEASURE of being a bodyguard for Harlan at Iguanacon in 1978 while he was signing books; once he saw that I was capable of handling the crowd in a professional manner (gently encouraging those who wanted to monopolize to move on) we spent quite a bit of time trading asides and commentary. Several years ago I had cause to inquire of him regarding a story that was being held for (that anthology we don’t mention) and I received a phone call from him when a note through third parties would have sufficed. I was sorely tempted to mention the name of the anthology (for the fireworks or the hangup) but restrained myself.
    My experience has been that he’s a friend to friends and a dick to dicks. As well as the kind of person who pushes to see if you are going to stand up for yourself. And, as he says himself in the film, a grouchy old jew, a gonif. I think you have to grow up with grouchy old jews in order to learn how to deal with them (which mostly involves just ignoring the grouchiness and saving the really good quips for later use).

  21. I’m glad you mentioned “dreams with sharp teeth” Re got it on the DVR and I watched it with great delight. Harlan may be an SOB, but it can be read ‘ swell old boy ” as easily as sonofabitch.

  22. I met Harlan a few times and he’s crusty and I certainly don’t think he speaks truthfully all the time but he’s smart, can be both funny and charming. He is really unique, for better or for worse.

  23. Maybe he was confusing ‘Munchausen Syndrome’ with ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’? 8^D

  24. My first encounter with the works of Harlan Ellison was like my first encounter with the works of Edgar Allan Poe. When I was in high school, I encountered both writers and, after the initial reaction of being disturbed by the story I had just read, I realized that I wanted to read more by these authors. I did and, although, I’m no longer an emo-teenage girl not by 25 years or so, I still enjoy reading Ellison from time to time and revisit Poe as well. Ellison is, also, one of the few authors whose introductions I’ll read on a regular basis, as well. Those provided interesting glimpses into the person.

  25. Isn’t Harlan Ellison the guy who grabbed Connie Willis’ breast on stage after presenting her with an award a few years ago (possibly a Hugo, but I don’t remember)? Or was it a different Harlan?

    Then, as is usually the case, other women spoke up about similar experiences with him. Willis was sort of stoic and classy, blowing off the entire experience publicly (although she obviously did say something to him at the time.)

    If this is that guy, then to say he’s an asshole does a rather great disservice to a neccessary and useful body part. No amount of wit or talent balances out such behavior. Obnoxious and rude are bad enough by themselves, but sexual assault/harrassment?

    I don’t think I could enjoy his work knowing that particular tidbit. It’s possible I’m confusing him with someone else, but I don’t think so.

  26. That was uncanny. Just finished reading Mr. Ellison’s posts on that previous Whatever topic and sure enough the breast-grabbing thing was mentioned… sounds to me like one of those ‘Frank Zappa ate shit on stage’ stories, and worth about as much consideration.

  27. Ellison is a whirlwind. I get the impression that he’s not only unfiltered, he runs full speed at everything he does, rarely resisting his own impulses…and he’s proud of these traits. I find his fiction writing decent, but really enjoy his critical writings much more (Glass Teat I/II, for example). It’s interesting to read his material from 40 years ago, for example, when he was the 35 year old hip-writer from LA, smoking dope and watching the Fantastic Four on a Saturday morning with his ‘old lady’. ::

    If it were revealed that there were two Harlan Ellisons running around, I don’t think anyone would be terribly surprised. On the one hand, we have someone who marched in protests for the ERA. On the other hand, we’ve got someone who grabbed Connie Willis’ boob at a convention. I have heard talk from folks like Neil Gaiman, Peter David, Isaac Asimov and JM Straczyinski what an interesting, positive creative force he is. Then I see him being lambasted by other creators I appreciate.

    The fact that I hear so many conflicting reports about the man is interesting unto itself. I see a man who’ll bankrupt himself on principle in multiple legal battles, be it with Michael Fleisher, Gary Groth or AOL. I see a guy who loses his collective shit on a regular basis with all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. Only one thing is for sure…Ellison is rarely boring.

  28. He introduced my wife’s parents, so in a way, he’s responsible for her existence, and so in a long causal chain, he’s responsible for my marriage.

    Of course, I’ve only met him twice. Seemed like a nice guy at the time. His internet arguments are entertaining house fires, for sure.

  29. I’ve met him only very briefly once, in the context of bringing him to be a guest speaker at my college.

    My understanding is that he is indeed an unfathomably loyal friend to friends and a raging asshole to enemies; the problem is that the definition of ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’ is highly idiosyncratic.

  30. He’s one of those authors that is on my all too long “must read more of” list. Unfortunately, my only experience reading his fiction is in high school when I picked up an anthology and read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”. I got blisters on my eyeballs and realized I wasn’t man enough to read any more of his writing. 20 years later, I might be up for it. We’ll see.

    However, I heard through a story Joe Straczynski told some of the best writing advice ever. From what I recall, when JMS was just starting out and struggling to make sales, he saw Harlan’s home phone number was listed. So, gathering up his courage he actually called Harlan out of the blue at his home to ask for writing advice. Harlan just said “Stop writing crap. If you don’t write crap, someone will buy it. Anything else?”

  31. ah hah! through the power of wiki, Irealize I do know hium, thanks to one of the few decent things I was forced to read in high school – “Repent Harlequine…”

  32. I’ve known Harlan for a bit more than a decade now, and when needed, he’s been one of the most supportive people I’ve encountered in this business. The only other writer I can think of who has been so squarely in my corner when dreadfully needed is Scott Card.

    Neither man is perfect, and I disagree with both on a number of issues, but, as has happened in the past, I’m glad to be there if either calls upon me.

    Best,

    Bill
    http://www.subterraneanpress.com

  33. I never have gotten why people use “oh, he’s so nice to his *friends*” as a defense. Being nice to people you like and an asshole to others makes you… an asshole.

  34. “I never have gotten why people use “oh, he’s so nice to his *friends*” as a defense. Being nice to people you like and an asshole to others makes you… an asshole.”

    Exactly.

  35. Mark Marantaon:
    That was uncanny. Just finished reading Mr. Ellison’s posts on that previous Whatever topic and sure enough the breast-grabbing thing was mentioned… sounds to me like one of those ‘Frank Zappa ate shit on stage’ stories, and worth about as much consideration.

    Oh, charming. Now we’ve moved on to denialism. Yes, Ellison did molest Connie Willis in public.

    http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/awards/scifi_awards_show_marred_by_boorish_groping_42924.asp

    He’s an asshole. I’ve thought he was an asshole since the 1980s, when I first encountered him and his stories bragging about how he assaulted and hurt people. Nothing I’ve heard or seen from him since has changed that opinion. What only made it worse is the constant indulgence of much of the old-line sf world. It’s like watching parents ignore their shrieking children running around the grocery store and throwing stuff at each other, and fondly tell you that little Jimmy and Sue are such *talented* artists! “Oh, Jimmy just pegged the stockboy! Isn’t that hilarious?”

  36. So how long did you spend running around in little circles in your office going “Wheee! Harlan Ellison posted on my blog!”

    We met him about ten years ago at a con in Madison. Both he and Neil Gaiman were there, and there were only a few hundred attendees. He seemed nice and personable, but the sign up line for Neil was five times as long, and many of Neil’s fans had no idea who Harlan Ellison was. It was a little depressing.

  37. @Mark Maranta

    I did a huge double take when I read it, too. I mean, my god, who DOES that? On stage? At an award show?

    And he’s one of those respected old-school SF guys. People like that don’t randomly grope women, right?

    But, nope. He did it. Patrick Nielsen Hayden wrote about it too, and there’s also video:

    http://pnh.livejournal.com/25131.html

  38. Harlan is a interesting guy to be sure. Some of his best rants concern his Star Trek story “City on the Edge of Forever”, I believe he even wrote an entire book about that in particular. The gist of the saga is that they screwed him over the story and then tried to make him look like the bad guy.

  39. Mr. Ellison is a brilliant writer. He is a stalwart friend to those he deems worthy.

    He is also an evil little unsocialized dweeb.

    I met him when I attended the very first Clarion Writer’s Workshop as a 17 year old fresh out of high school. He left a big impression on me. especially when he said in front of the class that I should “never write another fucking word as it was obvious I had nothing to say.”

    I met him years later at Norescon 2 where I worked the Guest Relations Desk. In the midst of his normal prima dona act there was an incident involving Mr. Ellison trying to climb up my back to get at a player from the New England Patriots whom he believed was making too much noise in the room next to him. Some people thought this was hilarious and oh so Harlan. I thought it was the act of a self centered boor.

    He has also caused deep distress to a dear friend (a fellow pro) who has been trying for 30 years to patch up a misunderstanding with him, only to be told repeatedly and I quote “Go fuck yourself.”

    And he most certainly DID grab Connie Willis’s breast. I was in the audience utterly gobsmacked by his crudity.

  40. In the MST3k classic Mitchell you see a vaguely Ellison looking fellow being booked in the background of one scene.

    Tom Servo: [gasping] They arrested Harlan Ellison.

    Joel: Good!

  41. Everyone is complex, contradictory, and inconsistent. Most people hide it. Harlan does it in public.

    He called me an asshole once, but that’s a club with a pretty large membership.

    (As in the club of people Harlan’s called an asshole, not the club of people who’ve called me an asshole. Although that latter probably has more members than I’d like to admit.)

  42. tavella @ 40 —

    “What only made it worse is the constant indulgence of much of the old-line sf world.”

    First, I don’t really know what you mean by the phase “old-line sf world” but I’m guessing most of that group is about six feet underground now. The pre-New Wave “old line” authors and editors were often a target of HE’s contempt and ire, as evidenced by many essays, rants and screeds. (See, for example, his SFWA “resignation speech”.) That was forty years or so ago.

    Second, I don’t see a lot of “indulgence” here on this thread or anywhere else for that matter. What I see is people acknowledging HE’s talent and influence on the genre, while also acknowledging his manifest character flaws. If you have anecdotal evidence of indulgence, please share.

    It is not at all the case that he’s getting a free pass. But writing the man off as an asshole ignores the other, more noble, aspects of his character and his actions. E.g., helping to found SFWA and leading the successful campaign to keep Star Trek: TOS on the air for a third season. (To name a couple of lesser-known actions.)

    As I said above, a “fiercely complex” individual, one worth a more in-depth biography than I think we received. Which was somewhat John’s point in his original post.

    P.S. Still waiting for “Working Without a Net” as well as the other works mentioned above.

  43. Wow. I hadn’t heard about the breast-grabbing incident. Harlan says it was “schtick gone awry” between him and Connie; I wonder how she’d respond to that characterization.

    I suppose that, like everyone, he has his fine qualities and his repulsive ones. And there are clearly many different takes on him: I heard an interview with him on the radio recently, and while the host clearly liked him a lot, I found his personality so grating that I don’t think I could spend 5 minutes in a room with him.

    That doesn’t mean he’s a bad person, of course. That’s about me.

    As for the boob-grabbing…I’m thinking maybe something is actually seriously wrong with Harlan. I mean neurologically, like he isn’t in full control of his behavior (even such control as he might choose to exercise). IANA neurologist or anything, so it’s wild speculation, but since I can’t wrap my mind around how anyone could think it was OK to grab someone’s breast like that, it occurs to me that maybe he didn’t think it was OK…but did it anyway, because he couldn’t help it.

  44. I saw the incident where Harlan fondled Connie. I also overheard her discussing it later. She was a fairly good sport about it, but she did swear revenge — and the way an author gets revenge is to include you in their stories. So I expect that some time in the future a character bearing a remarkable similarity to Harlan Ellison will come to a very bad end in one of her stories. Connie Willis is a very creative writer.

  45. Second, I don’t see a lot of “indulgence” here on this thread or anywhere else for that matter.

    Aside from that person who thought the groping was made up.

    I think he’s an interesting writer but a deeply flawed one, and I make no guesses as to what he’s ‘really’ like as a human being beyond ‘someone I don’t think I’d get along with.’ The documentary sounds interesting, though. I’ll have to see if Sundance is replaying it.

  46. Never met Mr. Ellison, but it seems people have a very strong opinion about him – love him or hate him. All I know is that he is one of the writers who kept me semi-sane during a very bad, not good at all time in my life.

  47. Nick from The O.C.:
    It is not at all the case that he’s getting a free pass. But writing the man off as an asshole ignores the other, more noble, aspects of his character and his actions. E.g., … leading the successful campaign to keep Star Trek: TOS on the air for a third season.

    Fascinating. I didn’t know his name was Bjo Trimble. Seriously, do not tell me that he’s running telling people he helped save Star Trek: TOS these days (or in past days.)

  48. I was also in the audience during the grabbing incident and at the time it did look like schtick gone awry to me.

    For one thing, there had been like 10 minutes of horsing around, Connie Willis playing the parental figure to Ellison’s overgrown baby, wielding a hammer to keep him in line, and he misbehaving over and over as she corrected him, even putting the entire microphone in his mouth at one point. It also gave the impression that they were friends who had done this sort of routine a million times.

    With all that I thought it was part of the rather over-extended gag, the person sitting beside me didn’t see it at all, but others saw (closer? different angle?) immediately saw it as way over the line. Looking at it on video, it’s pretty clear that the latter is true-their body language shows sudden discomfort and it looks to me that Ellison suddenly doesn’t know what to do with his hands.

    To me, the real problem seemed to come later when his apologies were beyond awkward and defensive and made the whole mess a huge embarrassment.

  49. Persia @51
    Forgive me for being unclear. My intent is not to deny that such an event occurred; my point is that it just seems to me that the whole thing is being blown a tad out of proportion.

  50. Espana Sheriffon:
    Two separate campaigns in response to two separate cancellation threats at different times.

    http://voyageur.idic.ca/Trimbles02.htm

    That would not be “leading the successful campaign to keep Star Trek: TOS on the air for a third season”, per Nick’s claim up above.

  51. tavella @ 53 —

    No, HE’s not saying it. I’m saying it. It’s historical fact not listed on Wikipedia.

    Obviously, he didn’t act alone. But his mobilization message to SFWA members was a significant part of the effort to get NBC to renew TOS for another season. This was at a time when HE was both a Hollywood insider and influential member of SFWA.

    Dismiss him as an asshole and you risk of missing the more complex essence of his personality. Fail to acknowledge his role in the history of SF, and in the world outside the genre ghetto, and you risk ignorance of the debts you might owe him.

  52. I apologize, you are correct.

    From the phrasing of your reply I got the impression you were doubting the entirety of the statement, not that you were correcting the specific season during which it took place.

    I should have been clearer, sorry.

  53. “…I suspect it’s more accurate to say it’s a personal compulsion to actively seek the truthful moment, even if doing so is not the politic or convenient or nice thing to do. ”

    I would add “even when it is not in his apparent best interest to do so.” Willingness to pay the price for one’s principles when they are unpopular is an admirable trait. Even when those principles are annoying as hell. :)

  54. Espana Sheriffon:
    To me, the real problem seemed to come later when his apologies were beyond awkward and defensive and made the whole mess a huge embarrassment.

    There were plenty of people who were unhappy and angry over the groping in the first place, but yes, the ‘apology’ was a masterpiece of egotism.

  55. Harlan Ellison is easily one of the best writers ever (and certainly one of my favorite).

    I’ve wanted to see _Dreams with Sharp Teeth_ for a really long time. This kicks it up a notch for me.

  56. Whatever explanation Mr. Ellison and Ms. Willis offer should be the final word in the matter. As for Harlan being an “asshole,” you couldn’t prove it by me. I’m not going to try and defend him to those who don’t like him, because it seems to me that minds have been made up; those opinions can’t be changed. He’s a great writer, a nice person, and an interesting character. As for those who don’t “get” him, XXXX ‘em if they can’t take a joke.

  57. I think ‘great’ is an understatement.
    I’ve read a lot of SF over the decades but I’m hard pressed to think of any author that has made me stop after a short story, carefully put the book aside and go ‘whoooooooooooooooaaaaaaah’ and pause for a few minutes before continuing. And face it, if ‘City On The Edge Of Forever’ isn’t the ultimate Star Trek episode it sure as hell is close to it. And he was awesome as that elevator on Babylon 5.

  58. (I love B5. Getting my girlfriend into it has really been great.)

    But yeah. I got that _whoooooooa_ feeling after reading many stories of his, not just a few.

    Not many other authors can really do that for me.

  59. Thanks John for mentioning ‘Dreams’. I’ve read Harlan for decades and enjoyed it a lot, even though I never had the chance to meet him. That said, I’m off to dig through my DTV guide to find the next showing. ;)

  60. I have never had the pleasure (or pain?) of meeting Mr. Ellison in person, so I have to go on the opinions of those I know who have.

    Sadly, for my own vicarious opinion-making, those opinions are WILDLY mixed. I think it’s fair to say that no matter what one thinks of Ellison the person, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone reasonably well-informed about SF who doesn’t have an opinion at all. Whether or not you think he is a great writer (or a great person), it would be hard to deny his importance to American literature in the 20th century.

    As for his writing: I love his nonfiction, and continue trying to plug the gaps in my collection. (Anyone got a spare Memos From Purgatory?) I haven’t read as much of his fiction, but that says a lot more about me than it does about him; what I have read has been powerful, dense with ideas (in the best sense of the term), and unlike so much fiction, rewards a second and even third trip to the serving table.

  61. tavella @ 53 —

    It took me a bit of effort, but I found a reference regarding Ellison’s efforts to save ST: TOS. Check out the fan history site —

    http://www.smithway.org/history/chap6a.html

    Look for references to “The Committee”.

    Yes, it actually happened and Ellison was the leader. Doesn’t make him a saint or anything, but his efforts shouldn’t be overlooked by internet revisionism.

  62. “Ellison makes mention in the film that he’s someone who is great at dinner and murder to live with; I don’t doubt this is accurate. I also don’t doubt that if he is your friend, you could call him to help you bury a body. He’d bitch about his aching back the whole time, but he’d still grab a shovel.”

    Which is a variant of what Stephen King says in his intro for Harlan’s collection Shatterday: (quasi-quote) The guy I most want in the emergency room when I’m having a heart attack, because I know he’ll ride herd on everyone to see I get the best care.

    Arguably, my wife Ulrika and I are married today because of a dinner we had with Harlan and his wife Susan. I owe him a lot, and he and I share certain characteristics that I can say, “There but for the grace of God…” That may be narcissistic on my part, but I believe in the Golden Rule enough that I’m willing to cut him a fair amount of slack. {shrug}

    Probably the biggest thing to remember with Harlan is that for about a decade or so, he was the equivalent of the Beatles in the science fiction field. There was no place he could go without generating massive amounts of commotion, and I firmly believe that much of his public persona (which is entirely different from his private self) developed to insulate his life when confronted by literally thousands. Again, thinking of the possibility of what would happen to me under similar circumstances, I’m not sure I wouldn’t do much the same. But he’s enough of a fan, and attracted enough to fannish culture, that he’s still been in public his entire lengthy professional life.

    As I said above: I treat Harlan with the consideration I would want if I was in his circumstances — both good and bad.

  63. I remember reading something by Mr. Ellison where he talked about what he did to save Star Trek. I strongly suspect it was his article “Look Back in Anger” in a TV Guide special for the 25th anniversery of Star Trek, “Star Trek: Four Generations”, Spring 1995. I don’t have it any more and can’t recall exact details. But as I recall it, there was a sneaky bit early in the article saying that since people didn’t want the truth, so he’d tell them what they wanted to hear.

  64. Nick from The O.C.:
    http://www.smithway.org/history/chap6a.html

    Look for references to “The Committee”.

    Yes, it actually happened and Ellison was the leader. Doesn’t make him a saint or anything, but his efforts shouldn’t be overlooked by internet revisionism.

    That’s the same early first season effort that Espana mentioned. Nice, (if not unself-interested — ST provided a market for sf scripts for people like Ellison and Frederic Brown) but it is most certainly not “leading the successful campaign to keep Star Trek: TOS on the air for a third season” as you said above, which was Bjo Trimble (and John Trimble) all the way. Given that it is a landmark in media fandom, and a model for fandom campaigns ever since, please keep the credit accurate.

  65. tavella:

    I know Bjo Trimble. Bjo Trimble is a friend of mine. Bjo Trimble is the adoptive mother of my wife’s maid-of-honor.

    But, from the page cited:

    “(the) show was in continual ratings problems, and in 1967 NBC cancelled the show for what would be the first of three times
    > in early 1967, a group of SF authors calling themselves “The Committee” sent out form letters to fans and other pro authors urging they write letters of praise for the series to their TV stations, media, and show’s sponsors
    — headed by Harlan Ellison; others on “The Committee” included Poul Anderson, Bradbury, Van Vogt, Phil Farmer, Richard Matheson, Ted Sturgeon, Bloch, del Rey, and Frank Herbert
    > the next year, NBC attempted to cancel the show again, and once again fandom came to its rescue
    {…}
    > Bjo published a newsletter WHERE NO FAN HAS GONE BEFORE, bring word to fandom on how the campaign was doing — in the second issue, dated March 1, 1968, she reported that over one million letters had been sent to NBC by fans of the show.”
    (emphases added)

    NBC had already cancelled the show once, and it had already been saved once. Hence, the use of the word, “again.”

    Had “The Committee” not saved the show from cancellation, Bjo would never have had the chance to mount her letter campaign. Her campaign came one full year after The Committee’s work, which appears to have saved the second season. “Amok Time,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “The Trouble with Tribbles”… all second season, and all saved through the efforts of The Committee.

    As a wise person once said, “please keep the credit accurate.”

  66. tevella @ 74 —

    You are correct in pointing out that I mistakenly attributed Ellison’s work with The Committee to the third season renewal instead of the second season renewal of ST: TOS (as Hal correctly states @ 73).

    That said, your scepticism toward Ellison and reluctance to attribute any motivations other than the baser ones to his actions is manifest. Why fight so hard to deny HE worked to save the show?

    It’s okay to dislike the man. Heck, quite a few people seem to rabidly hate him. All I’m saying is that, regardless of your feelings about him, you still need to acknowledge the historical debts all SF fans owe him.

  67. This appears to have mostly died on its own, but there was one other thing I wanted to clear up:

    Tavella: “(The work of The Committee was) not unself-interested — ST provided a market for sf scripts for people like Ellison and Frederic Brown…”

    Both Ellison and Brown wrote one episode a piece for Star Trek: “Arena” for Frederic Brown, and “The City On the Edge of Forever” for Ellison.

    Both of those episodes appeared in the first season.

    Brown doesn’t appear to have been on The Committee in the first place. If Ellison was working for his own interest, he never benefited from it.

  68. “…and if you don’t know who Harlan Ellison is, please drown yourself now.”

    Oh sure. And I’m sure you’re just kidding, etc.

    I’m a fan of sf, so I’ve heard of Ellison, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Bester, and many others; many others again I have not heard of. Re Ellison, I suspect there are about 7 billion who have no idea. I don’t think they’re demonstrably uncultured, uncouth, or unsurvivalworthy merely in virtue of that bit of non knowing Ellison, a state of unawareness that many who do know him wish they could share. Whether you’re kidding or not, it’s still an expression of animus and disdain for those lesser beings not in your particular club.

  69. David:

    “I suspect there are about 7 billion who have no idea.”

    Then the world will be a roomier place once they down themselves. Although I suspect for at least a while afterward, those of us who survive should drink bottled water.

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