From the “What Does This Mean” File

I had a dream last night in which I was reading a quote from Harlan Ellison, in which he said “John Scalzi is everything that is wrong with science fiction today.”

I find this interesting because a) I don’t have a hate-on for Ellison, and indeed I just recently purchased a collection of his and a reprint of Dangerous Visions, so I don’t have fantasies of feuding with the man, and b) I seriously doubt Ellison has any idea who I am, or if he did — and he had a negative opinion of my work — that what I write would create that level of vitriolic response in him. I imagine I’d rate, at worst, a dismissive “crap!” before moving on. Basically, if I were to go a-feudin’ in science fiction, he would not be my first choice of partner, nor, I suspect, would I be his. It’s just not a good fit, you know?

Of course, having written this, eventually someone somewhere will misread it, and eventually it will go down in the annals of science fiction that Harlan Ellison and I had some sort of bitter encounter that ended in a comic book-style civil war in science fiction, with everyone choosing sides and Worldcons being turned into desperate battlegrounds between our factions, ending with, oh, I don’t know, a slap fight between Harlan and me on the stage of the Hugos. So for the record: Didn’t happen, folks. Unlikely to happen, too. I think we both have better things to do.

53 Comments on “From the “What Does This Mean” File”

  1. Harlan Ellison is one of those “characters” that tends to evoke emotions in people. Hell, he even admits to doing whatever he can to get a massive rise out of people, just to see what sort of situations he can generate.

    That, and he is so easy to lambast (when, oh, when will “The Last Dangerous Visions” come out?; his various interactions with women, etc, etc…) makes him an easy target. And one that’s well deserved.

    And, quite frankly, he has become a nobody these days with no cred except what sort of bull hocky storms he can generate.

    Interesting dream, tho. Who was on Harlan’s side, might I ask?

  2. It was just a quote on a piece of paper, along with other quotes which I did not read. I think the context was a group of quotes about a book I had written.

  3. That’s so f*cking awesome. I think I love you even more for having that dream.

    I’d send him a bouquet of roses or choclates or wine or pajamas or something just for having that dream.

    “Thank you for not knowing who I am but putting the blame on my shouders in my dreams. Hearts, John.”

  4. John,

    You are forgetting something important. Harlan would say something like that just to be an ass, and stir things up, because he could.

    History shows us that whenever presented with a choice to be gracious, or an ass, he has nearly always chosen to be an ass; because it’s more fun, and he’s perverse in that way.

  5. See, autopilot. I looked up at someone elses post, and thought it was my own writing, misspelling your name. I should quit while I’m ahead. It’s way too early for me to be awake on a sunday morning.

  6. Chris:

    “Harlan would say something like that just to be an ass, and stir things up, because he could.”

    Eh. I also know from personal anecdotes from people who know him that he can be gracious as well. So I’m not in a wild rush to pre-emptively slam him.

  7. Of course, having written this, eventually someone somewhere will misread it, and eventually it will go down in the annals of science fiction that Harlan Ellison and I had some sort of bitter encounter

    Of course, I don’t see why you should be different than anybody else in science fiction. Hell, the Penny Arcade boys had a bitter encounter with him, and they’re not even in the genre.


  8. So how long have you and Ellison been at each other’s throats?

    Just figured I’d get the ball rolling.

  9. What sort of weapons will be provided for your army. Are we talking Nerf grenade launchers or paint ball type stuff.

    Hell, I hear there’s a ready made Table of Organization in TSD for your fighting hordes.

    BTW, I’ve always been a big fan of having this type of fight completely in my own head. If you have it in real life, the other dude has a nasty habit of ignoring the script you gave him.

  10. You can try spinning it any way you want, my friend, but the hard truth is, I attended that Worldcon, I witnessed first-hand the bitch slap fight between you and Ellison, and I know for a fact you’re trying to rewrite history to gloss over that little skirmish. And make you look like the better man for “dismissing it” as fiction.

    This will not stand.

    Love and kisses,

    p.s. The first time I typed that up, I wrote “birch sap” instead of “bitch slap.” What could that mean?

  11. What I like is that when he stepped up to you at WorldCon, Krissy first clotheslined him without knocking a hair out of place (granted she had to kneel to do it). She caught him right at the throat and knocked his birch ass right back about three feet. While Ellison was lying there choking on his Adam’s Apple, Krissy stepped up to him and placed a stilleto’d heel on his stain blue sweater and said, “You’re what’s wrong with science fiction today, you little f*ck.”

    Ellison pissed his pants and nearly drowned on his tears.

    True story.

  12. Standard gremlin stuff, Scalzi. You just finished something you stuck your neck out on, waiting for the axe. Since none came in real life your gremlins had to supply one in your dreams. That said, I know which side I’d saddle-up for. Although Harlan has been good to one of my friends, I know others that have seen the flip side of the coin.

    Nathan, “the other dude has a nasty habit of ignoring the script you gave him.” I really hate it when that happens. The ambush is set, lines of fire designated, and the little bastard goes a different way. It makes my soufflé fall, it really does.

    That Neil Guy, birch sap? It means you’re confused as to what to put on your pancakes. Try the maple stuff. Or you’re low on Birch Beer, which is a crime in and of itself.

  13. Steve Buchheit: “It means you’re confused as to what to put on your pancakes. Try the maple stuff.” Whoa! Settle down there, Steve. We’ve already got a major rift in the Scifi (or is that specfic) Community, what with Ellison obviously firing the first shot by intruding into our esteemed host’s dreamspace. Now is the time to rally the Ghost Brigades, let’s not divide the Scalzi camp into Maple or Birch. I put birch syrup on everything from pancakes to cornbread. It’s pretty common here in South Central Alaska, but I respect those of you in the lower 48 who actually like that thin tasteless maple stuff.

  14. “John Scalzi is everything that is wrong with science fiction today.” – Harlan Ellison

    John, if you let this stand, then the terrorists win. You need someone to organize the fight, I understand one D. Rumsfeld is looking for a job… (I mean as long as this is all a joke anyway, I’m just saying).

  15. Jim Wright, well, I live right down the road from Chardon, Ohio. NE Ohio is second (I’m pretty sure) in the production of Maple Syrup and related Maple Products. So I’m fighting for the hometown as it were. As for thin, I think you’ve only been sampling the fake stuff. We make all kinds of syrup here, from light amber (strangely enough the “preferred brand”) to “can I cut you a slice of syrup to go with those pancakes.” It depends on the warm/cold cycles and how wet the winter was and the age of the individual stand of trees.

    As a side note, I used to get headaches eating pancakes and waffles. I used to not like them. That is until I used real maple syrup, not the fake kind in comely shaped bottles. Now I like pancake breakfasts.

    But, yes, I agree. We must all unite, the birch and maple camps, to stop the rampage of the Ellison. His powers have grown so great that he no longer has to actually write scathing letters to the editor, from his secluded home and sacred place he can now reach directly into the minds of his intended targets and place images. Obviously this must be stopped.

  16. “Clearly, I have created a monster.”

    It’s not you, Man, it’s Ellison, Ellison! Everybody knows that this is just the kind of underhanded double-plus ungoodness he’s capable of. Clearly he’s threatened by your brilliance. I’d suspect this entire situation can be traced back to the those early reviews that compared you to Heinlein. Everybody knows that you haven’t arrived as a true writer of scifi until you are compared to RAH (either as the “new Heinlein” or as in “this guy sure ain’t no Heinlein”). Nobody says “a new Ellison” and it’s just KILLING him, man. He knows he can’t face you mano-a-mano, so he’s IN UR HEADZ SCREWING WITH UR DREAMZ!

  17. Steve Buchheit, yep, I grew up in western Michigan and also lived for a number of years in Maine so I spent many a spring pulling the collection cart around from maple tree to maple tree and emptying buckets into the big kettle. Or splitting wood and stoking the fires. I miss it, love the smell of wood smoke and boiling maple sap on a cold spring day. I’m not big on maple syrup, but, Man, I love maple sugar candy. Here in Alaska birch syrup tastes like tangy molasses and is just as thick. Maybe we should send some of each to Ellison, music to sooth the savage breast and all that….

  18. You realize, of course, now that the Ellison quote is online that it will now “be real.”

    I don’t think Harlan punches anyone out anymore, and since you’re not a woman, Harlan will keep his hands off you.

  19. “While Ellison was lying there choking on his Adam’s Apple, Krissy stepped up to him and placed a stilleto’d heel on his stain blue sweater and said, “You’re what’s wrong with science fiction today, you little f*ck.”

    Ellison pissed his pants and nearly drowned on his tears.”

    And since Krissy has taken care of him, he’ll know to keep his hands off the women too.

  20. You realize, of course, now that the Ellison quote is online that it will now “be real.”

    Well, of course it’s real. It’s on teh Internets! You couldn’t put something on teh Internets if it wasn’t true, could you? ;-)

  21. Mr. Scalzi:

    I smile gently at your post.

    And that would have been that, save for the ongoing off-the-leash behavior of fools who have found their stunted-ego venue on the internet.

    I take it as interesting that not one of the witlings who denigrate me … has ever met me.
    And like “Laurie Mann” and “Lisa,” who continue to promulgate the myth that I “put my hands on a woman” (meaning of course, that imbecile meanspirited WorldCon misinterpretation of a shtick-gone-awry between Connie Willis and me), I suggest to any Joanna-Come-Lately who needs to voice an ignorant opinion (“Hell hath no fury like that of the uninvolved,” has averred the Great American Philosopher Tony Isabella) as to my status re womankind … pardon my presumption in suggesting something evenhanded, fair-minded and rational … but before you commit yourself to looking and sounding as if you’re seven years old and no smarter than a Popsicle stick, you might just check out my credentials over the past 37 years … probably twice as long as you’ve been intellectually alive … the both of you combined … or ask any of the executives at the National Organization for Women to give you a rough estimate — closest hundred will suffice — of the actual hours I spent in unratified states, pleading for enactment of the ERA, a cause which I suspect is about as much on your radar as the study of pore-patterns in early New England stone walls.

    I am a polite person. Ask those who know me, not web-lice who think that standing up for one’s rights instead of whining about who done them wrong, and you can’t fight City Hall, is “making an ass of oneself by causing a stir.”

    I stir, Mr. Scalzi. That’s my job. As it is the job of any passionate writer. “It is a journalist’s job to afflict the comfortable.” I’m sure you know that famous quotation, and who wrote it, and …

    Yes, I do indeed know who you are; and though I have never read your work and thus have NO OPINION of any kind about it, there are MANY writers whose work I’ve never gotten around to reading — Hawthorne once, for instance and, in fear&trembling, never again — and I am sorry to have slipped into your dreamscape so negatively.

    Herewith my GET OUTTA JAIL FREE card to bring me into your nightmare tonight, and cast me as a very polite, good-natured, smiling White Knight who saves you from the depredations of the Sanhedrin of Dickwads who chitter endlessly on the web.

    Oh, and by the way: I was born, and am from, Ohio. And I miss good Chardon, Ohio maple syrup. When I was back in the state about two years ago, I spoke near Charon, and stocked up on half a dozen bottles of the best. It’s all gone now, and I ask your correspondent, Mr. Steve Buchheit, though he may despise me without cause, and from a great distance, if he goes to my website and contacts my webmaster, and leaves a phone number, I will call him, ask him how much it would cost for him to post me another half dozen bottles of The Very Best, and I will send him in advance payment either a check–he can wait till it clears–or a US Postal Money Order.

    You see, Mr. Scalzi, Good can come from Evil, just as Evil can proceed from Good.

    It’s been n ice chatting with you. Next time we are in the same room, do introduce yourself. I’ll do my absolute best not to be the mythical creature your respondents have cobbled up.


    Yr. Pal, Harlan Ellison

  22. Harlan Ellison:

    “I am sorry to have slipped into your dreamscape so negatively.”

    No worries, of course. One is not responsible for what one does in the dreams of others. As noted, as I have no personal grudge against you, I was a little puzzled by it myself. Likewise no worries about not having read my work. I imagine your “to be read” pile is impressive.

    Also, thank you for being an object example of The Law of Internet Invocation; good to see it still works. You are indeed welcome here anytime you choose to drop by.

    “I was born, and am from, Ohio.”

    And I was born, and am from, California. Thus is the carefully-managed Ohio/California science fiction writer balance maintained.

    “Next time we are in the same room, do introduce yourself.”

    Will do, and look forward to it.

  23. Scalzi,

    You’ve been sucked in by what I call “The polite thought-out response”. This CAN! NOT! STAND!

    Nerf Grenade-Launchers at 30 paces. With BrainPal aiming assist.

    And Steve, better start milkin’ those trees.

    And Off topic, if I may. I discovered tonight that my copy of the Hobbit is a first printing collector’s edition. (copyright 1966, but published 1973). It’s leatherbound in a slipcase.

    Anyone know about value here.

    Please email me if you know anything (so as not to take up any more valuable Sclazi-space).

  24. John:

    Admit it. This whole post _ nay, the whole dream _ was just so you could say “Look! Harlan Ellison posted here!”, wasn’t it?

  25. Dear Mr. Ellison,

    I, sir, do not despise you. Having never met you I can only go by what others have said. You’ve been good to one of my friends, and you ripped another apart. Alas, the later is dead now, so I can only go by memory of what she said about you. The former purchased a book with your bookplate in it which, as I remember the story, you said had been removed from your library without your permission long ago. He feels your exchange was most satisfactory and holds you in good memory.

    My posts above were meant as humor to John’s dream. I’m sorry you didn’t take it as such. As for “saddling-up,” I know John more than I know you, which isn’t very much in either case. Shouldn’t we support our “friends?”

    As for the very best, Richards Maple in Chardon sells that from their website, which is their store and their website (which relocates to the same address as the store). There’s no need for me to middle-man.

    I will also send such to your website.

    Steve Buchheit

  26. Harlan Ellison has popped up in my dreams more than once, presumably because I wish my life had been more like his was, and is. Anyway, in one dream I asked him whether the author he depicts in “Working for the Little People” was Ray Bradbury, and he admitted it, and whether his wife was the former Susan Dooley, which he also admitted. I don’t know whether the former is true, but the latter is not (as an eventual Google search disclosed). Plainly, my psychic abilities are not up to snuff.

  27. “Actually, I happen to have Harlan Ellison right here…”

    or to use the latest meme:

    >jonscalzi: WHERE R U HRLN?
    >hell1son: IM IN UR HED
    >hell1son: PANNING UR NOVEL

  28. John,

    One simplistic way of understanding Jungian interpretation of dreams – is that every character in my dream is a part of me, interacting with another part of me. Following this thread of interpretation, the Harlan Ellison within you is not satisfied with the quality and nature of the science fiction you are writing. Beyond that we would have to start understanding personal and collective symbol languages.


  29. Think nothing of it, Mr. Ellison. I’m always happy to hook people up with the real thing when it comes to Maple Syrup. I also sent the same info to your overworked webmaster.

    As for my name, I no longer notice it being mangled in an honest way. I’ve had that problem all my life.

    As I’m finding out, there are more “once removed connections” between you and I. At least two of my friends told me to say “hi, but he probably won’t remember me.”

  30. I am so pleased that my typo has lead Harlan Ellison to become reacquainted with his beloved maple syrup. God Bless Teh Internets!

    Woo hoo! I have now personally impacted the life of one of my favorite writers!

    And last night, I had pancakes with delicious (admittedly Vermont) maple syrup on them, spurred on by this here thread.

    Guess I need to actually check out birch syrup next…after getting some Ohio maple first…

  31. You see people, be careful what you write, because you never know who will actually read it. Oh, and also, be nice to each other. No need to go all ad hominem on each other, especially based on hearsay.

    I liked that Jungian interpretation of John’s dream, by the way. What if it is like this. Harlan Ellison is a scifi icon. He represents the scifi archetype. John Scalzi is going to be a scifi icon. John has realized this, perhaps consciously, perhaps unconsciously, and now a bit of worry has creeped in. I mean, I imagine that when I start winning Hugos and such, I’ll be a little worried to keep up such fine quality work. This is just a normal manifestation of anxiety regarding success.

  32. Wow, a sarcastic aside “critiqued” by its inspiration!

    Well, I wasn’t lying about the physical bit, but I may have misremembered. Could have sworn there were boastful stories of fistfights, but I haven’t been reading much Ellison in the last 20 years so I may have confused something.

    On the other point, the cameras don’t lie.

    Unlike the week after LACon, I have a job now so I don’t have any interest in participating in the eternal conflict known as Harlan Ellison, I’ll stop now.

  33. Dang. I miss the coolest stuff.

    How cool is it that Harlan Ellsion showed up here? Pretty cool, if he happens to be your favorite writer. Yay for plant sugar!

  34. Female dogs are not easily boiled down for their sugars, however.

    Hey, he didn’t say it was easy.

  35. Holy Shit! Just looked back at this post and saw that Harlan Ellison HIMSELF posted a reply, how the hell did I miss that? The Harlan Ellison wikipedia article says that Mr. Ellison doesn’t like the internet and doesn’t even own a computer – and yet, here he is! How could teh interweebs be wrong? My God! That means all the other rumors floating around about Mr. Ellison might not be true either! What’s the world coming to?

    Seriously, Mr. Ellison if you’re still tracking this post, I was just being a smart ass above, I hope I didn’t cause you pain. If so, I sincerely apologize. I found John Scalzi’s original post, the one that started this whole thread, hysterically funny for personal reasons. Mostly having to do with my wife being pissed at me for over a week for something she once dreamed I did (or didn’t do). We still joke about 15 years later. If you email your address to me, I will send you a pint of genuine Alaskan Birch syrup at my expensive to make up for it.

    Though I don’t know you personally, I have enormous respect for your work, and I’ll tell you something else – “For I have no mouth and I must scream” still gives me freaking nightmares. That is one scary ass story, the only other story that ever affected me that way was Bradbury’s “The City.” Again my apologies.

  36. Dear authours,
    Woah! This is better than I could have asked for. I found this page quite by accident while searching for “teh interweebs” and trying to find some sort of explanation or definition thereof.

    I got this instead and I thank yous’.

    While I know”the Harlan” only by graphic novels and such references, I really dig that mostly all you responders enjoy such intensity of thought and wordage… this has been much fun and again, I thank alla yous’.

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