RIP, Harlan Ellison
Posted on June 28, 2018 Posted by John Scalzi 54 Comments
I have a piece on his passing over at the Los Angeles Times site.
I should note an addendum here: I was in the audience at the 2006 Hugos when Harlan groped Connie Willis, and laughed because I thought it was a set piece between them. I later learned it was not and was embarrassed I had laughed. I have a pretty good idea why Harlan did it and why he thought it was harmless, but he was wrong to have done it and deserved the anger sent his way for it. I liked talking to him and admired his work immensely, and appreciated the complicated human he was. I just wish the first time I had seen him in person, he hadn’t have humiliated a colleague, a woman and a great writer. It stays with me even now.
Harlan was one of my favorite writers for years, and your blog posts–especially the political ones– often really remind me of his writing. But like you I’ve been very conflicted about my fandom since I heard of his assault on Ms Willis.
De mortui nihil nisi bonum, John, BUT I have to agree with your addendum. I was in the audience that night, too, and I cannot forget it or bring myself to read anything by him since. It was the first thing I thought of when I read he had died.
Here’s my Harlan story, which ties into the Hugo incident.
As the Charman of the 2006 Nebulas, I (and Nadine) handled several calls from Harlan leading up to the Nebula Weekend. Like you, his groping of Connie at the Hugos later that year left me with a sour taste, especially when during his attempts to “Apologize” he partly blamed how he was treated at the Nebulas as part of why he did what he did to Connie at the Hugos.
During the Friday night reception, we did a tribute to Harlan with multiple people speaking, and he was seated on a chair in front of the podium to prevent him from seeing who was going to be speaking due largely because Peter David was flying in and arriving during the reception to surprise Harlan. He complained post-Hugos that how he was seated like that at the Nebulas was part of why he mis-treated Connie. I’ve always felt bad that how we handled that at the Nebulas may have contributed to the Hugo incident.
I saw my first Harlan Live Show at the Detroit Worldcon in 1959. Several students from my High School attended. Host committee members were careful to warn the girls about Harlan (and also about Dr. Asimov.) Neither of them changed much over the years.
Those we admire are human, and inevitably have feet of clay. Some are more obtrusive, some less so.
I often wonder whether, if I met some of the individuals from history whose life narratives engage me for their courage or integrity or wisdom or artistry, etc., I would also be repelled by the reality that they were also products of their culture. Which is inevitably more misogynistic, more homophobic, more racist, etc., by the quality of its time.
There is something to be acknowledged in that sad bloated weasel Weinstein’s whimper of “but it was normal back when!”
The admiration I have for FDR’s visionary leadership must be tainted by awareness of his exploitation of Lucy Mercer Rutherford. The appreciation I have for the brilliance of Mozart’s music must be tainted by awarness of his casual acceptance of, and employment in operatic libretti, of racist tropes.
The further back in history, the easier it is to brush aside, if not forgive, those feet of clay.
The struggle of today, towards the end of homophobia, the end of racism, the end of patriarchal misogyny, makes those flaws loom larger in the calculation of who is, or isn’t admirable.
So I can admire Ellison’s body of work, and acknowledge my debt to him in entertainment and creative stimulation. I would probably have enjoyed being part of some conversations with him, as audience if not interlocutor.
But he too was a product of his time and culture.
I have a friend who to this day calls him Harlan Fucking Ellison because when she was growing up in fandom, she (and other teen and pre-teen) girls were always having to fend off his advances.
The only surprise about his groping Connie Willis on-stage was that he did it with so many witnesses. He was a serial harasser and always had a reason or excuse that deflected anger if you didn’t see the pattern.
I am glad he’s gone on behalf of the people he made feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in fandom as anything other than objects. I can admire his genius and talent, but very much wish it came without such a high human cost for others to suffer.
> He had **arrogated** to himself the privilege to call …
Not every day I learn a new word. Thanks!
My condolences to Mr. Ellison’s family and friends.
I did things ‘back in the day’ that humble and shame me now. Who needs forgiveness must forgive.
Harlan Ellison will be remembered as a giant in the field, ‘feet of clay’ notwithstanding.
I wish I had gotten the chance to meet him. He was a profound influence on me. At least we still have John Scalzi
As I said on Twitter, he did both wonderful and horrible things, and moving forward we should work harder to reward the former and discourage the latter.
‘Cause I’ve heard some really nasty shit.
His first Ouija board communication:
“Last Dangerous Visions will be out in 2019! And it will be great!”
I once read that he quipped, “The only thing on television that won’t rot your brain is Doctor Who.”
@Lee Whiteside – I’m sure if he hadn’t had that excuse, he’d have come up with another. Don’t blame yourself. A decent person who respected women wouldn’t have done that, no matter how annoyed he was at something that had happened earlier.
Since the early 1970s, Harlan occupied a unique position in my mental literary landscape. But even as a teenage virgin, I could tell he was a guy with some serious issues regarding women. Partly generational, but a lot of it just him.
People are complicated, and god knows Ellison was. He was strongly, violently anti-sexist earlier than most male writers, while at the same time obliviously swinish. People have heads among the stars, held down by feet of clay.
My girlfriend thinks I’m a good writer, and said a piece I did was really “intense”. I told her, in terms of both talent and intensity, I’m a birthday candle, and Ellison was an acetylene torch.
He will not be replaced. But we can all try to be more fearless.
Wow. Ellison was a formative author for me. The first thing I ever read by him was The Glass Teat; it was reputed to be banned at the time (I was never certain that was true!), and I was living near a university—though not a student myself—where my then-partner got hold of a seriously ragged paperback copy that was being passed around among the students.
That pretty much hooked me, and over the next decade or so, I read everything he had published. When I did finally go to college, a desperately poor single mom of two toddlers, I scraped together the money to buy myself a (gasp!) new copy of An Edge In My Voice when it came out. I really loved his essays; Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed was another favorite. I became pretty disillusioned about him as a person (and consequently, distanced more and more from his work) over the years, especially his rampant sexism and unfortunate racist overtones, too. (My son, a longtime fan, got fed up with him after several of his ill-informed rants about rap/hip hop.)
Harlan led me to my other biggest fandom: the artwork of Leo & Diane Dillon, which frequently graced his books as well as many others. My (now ex) husband and I ended up with a pretty massive collection of both Ellison and Dillon works. We met the Dillons more than once (even visiting at their home in Brooklyn!), where among other things, we got to hear some…let’s say *boisterous* stories about Harlan.
I met Harlan a few times, too, and ended up on the receiving end of one of his infamous rants at one point. The in-person meetings were pretty much at readings of various types; the last time I saw him was more than a decade ago at BayCon in San Francisco, where he read “Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish” (one of my top 3 read-aloud pieces, and one I’ve “performed” many times)—a real treat! I met his wife Susan that time; she’s a quite lovely person (and yeah, I wondered at her apparent herculean patience with Harlan). The first time I met him was at a reading at (the now long-gone, sniffle) Cody’s Books in Berkeley. My youngest daughter was an infant at the time; the place was packed. During the reading, she began fussing, so like any polite person, I got up and carried her out of the room (I could still hear, the store was broadcasting the talk over speakers, yay!). Afterwards as I was getting some books signed, Harlan made a point of thanking me for that action, commenting about how annoying he found it when parents refused to budge with fussy kids. Anna was calm and alert by then, and he started trying to amuse her, making faces and funny noises and finally putting his glasses on upside-down and doing his Donald Duck impression. She was…unimpressed. Wouldn’t even crack a smile. He said she was the toughest audience he’d ever had. (She’s still a tough room. Also, she rocks.)
Years later, my then husband and I were fortunate enough to stumble across an original piece of Dillon art—the illustration for Philip Jose Farmer’s story “Riders of the Purple Wage” from Dangerous Visions. Farmer sent it to us with a little handwritten note about it; the Dillons authenticated it and added their own note about the creation of it. It was tiny, so we got the idea to frame it together with the comments from artists and author..and then thought, ‘hey, what about Ellison, the editor of the anthology?’
Yeah, we should have stopped at thinking, heh.
But…we called, and talked with Susan, asking if Harlan might be willing to jot down a sentence or two, telling her the whole story. She asked him, he said “sure” (which, to be honest, surprised us; we’d expected to be turned down), she called us back to let us know, and so we waited. Months. Finally, not wanting to keep the piece stored anymore, we figured we’d just go ahead without Ellison’s contribution, but I thought I’d call first just to be sure something wasn’t on the way. Unfortunately, Susan wasn’t around that day, so I left a message…which got to Harlan first, it seemed. I came home a couple days later to a 20-minute or so profanity-laced (of course!) rant on my answering machine about what nagging, annoying, useless cretins my husband and I were and how dare we even ask a question and…well, like that. So I typeset on fancy paper a short quote from Ellison’s DV introduction to the story, and that’s what went in the frame with everything else. He probably would have yelled at me for that, too. I kept that tape for years, but seem to have misplaced it a couple of moves ago, sadly.
Oh, and yes: I picked up my parenthetical asides habit from Harlan. Ah, well.
Nicely done L.A. Times remembrance. I have no Ellison stories although I did see him close-up (I was a teenage twerp & too shy to say anything) at the January 1975 Star Trek convention at the Americana Hotel in NYC, when he affected shoulder-length hair and a pipe.
My first exposure to his work, 5 years earlier, had been rather powerful: my first SFBC selection, his collection The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. Over time I grew to like his essays, criticism, story introductions, etc., better than his fiction. It’ll be interesting to see whether and how his work endures.
I was lucky enough to catch a couple panels with him at the 2004 (I think) Dragon*Con. Harlan Ellison struck me as an absolutely wonderful storyteller and an major-league jerk when he wasn’t telling stories. (He told his version of the story of him getting in a fight with Frank Sinatra and the Ratpack at the Harlan Ellison panel–great raconteur) He also had a domineering personality that really intimidated other panelists–I made a mental note to myself that if I was ever arranging seating for a Con panel, put Harlan Ellison on the *end*, so he gets to comment last. Otherwise, once he issues his proclamation on whatever, all the other panelists just tend to be struck dumb and not have the nerve to comment further, because “OMG, It’s HARLAN ELLISON!” I kind of wish Ellison and John Ringo had been on the same panel, that might have been interesting, because I can’t see Ringo being struck dumb by the mere presence of The Ellison.
I’m not surprised he’s gone; he was old and not in the best of health when I saw him 14 years ago. R.I.P. Mr. Ellison.
I would love to be able to tell you that your experience with Harlan was an anomaly, but it wasn’t anything close. I know stories from his friends of ways in which he was kind and generous beyond all measure to them, and I have no reason to think they aren’t true, but the only Harlan I ever saw was a vicious lying piece of shit.
Those ways in which he was a horrid man have nothing to do with the mores of the times. It was not about sexism or racism, it was about him being deliberately cruel and lying for the purpose of self-aggrandizement and self-martyrdom. That has NEVER been acceptable behavior.
I will cite one example of which I have firsthand knowledge, from 30+ years ago. It is the matter that Harlan wrote up as the punchline in “Xenogenesis,” which was originally published in Analog, the “50 short years of Harlan Ellison” T-shirt incident. For those who are unfamiliar with the incident, Harlan — guest of honor at the Portland Westercon in 1984 — used his podium time to excoriate the monstrously insensitive artist who had perpetrated that cruel T-shirt.
I knew that artist, and he was vastly hurt and betrayed by that speech. Why? Because he was a nice and considerate guy, and when he thought up that idea for a T-shirt, he realized that it might very well not seem funny to Harlan. He asked Harlan, ahead of time, if it would be all right with him to make that T-shirt, whether he would find it funny or cruel. Harlan told him it was fine and to go ahead. And so he did, with Harlan’s blessing.
And then Harlan, with malice aforethought, stabbed him in the back, lied to the world to make that poor fellow out to be a villain for the purpose of his own aggrandizement.
That is the kind of shit Harlan would pull. it was by no means the first incident I knew of. It would by no means prove to be the last. It is one of which I have firsthand knowledge.
Harlan was a great writer but I will not miss him one bit.
– pax \ Ctein
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Ack…I realize my meandering reminiscence may have come off sounding like I thought one or more of my experiences were anomalous (though I noted “one of his infamous rants” and thought that conveyed the fact that they were both frequent and reviled, I suppose it was a bit of a weak aside). And I hope you noticed that my last interaction was anything but nice. But make no mistake: I *know* Ellison was frequently a raging asshole in everyday life. I said as much in a piece I wrote about him on Quora, in response to someone who was upset that a long-admired artist had been a jerk to him. And I know his jerkishness was often directed in specific and personal ways to those in his life. (While I was euphemistic regarding the stories the Dillons told us, and won’t repeat them here, suffice to say Diane ended by saying they never, ever agreed to stay at Harlan’s home again…and the Dillons were about as close and personal friends as Harlan had, not to mention two of the most genuinely nice people I’ve ever known.)
Since my personal interactions with him were few, it remains for me (just a personal thing, not negating your assessment at all) that his attitudes towards women and cultures he deemed “lesser” (I call racism; some might disagree) became the most troubling. I did feel horribly for those I knew he had treated especially badly, e.g. around the DV3 fiasco. I’m quite clear that I’d never have wanted to try to be his friend. That’s more stress than I could take in six lifetimes.
Still, there will remain some struggle for me, as there are works of his that I still find compelling and memorable. I haven’t bought a book of his in…probably nearly 20 years, and chances are I won’t again. But I suspect I’ll read a few of his stories one more time before I kick it, too.
He lived a long damn time. I’m not inclined to think of his death as a tragedy.
Lee Whiteside wrote:
He complained post-Hugos that how he was seated like that at the Nebulas was part of why he mis-treated Connie. I’ve always felt bad that how we handled that at the Nebulas may have contributed to the Hugo incident.
Not only NO, but Hell NO.
There’s simply not enough NO in the world for that.
Ellison’s actions were a result of Ellison’s conscious decision to act that way. He simply chose to deflect the blame onto you because he could get away with it, like he excused all his other actions and blamed his victims for making him do what he did.
Again, NO. Assign the blame where it belongs.
There are far too many genuinely nice talented authors and artists in the world we could be supporting to waste any more time on a complete asshole, no matter how talented he was. Let him sink into the obscurity he should have earned while he was alive.
“Unfortunately, our website is currently unavailable in most European countries. We are engaged on the issue and committed to looking at options that support our full range of digital offerings to the EU market. We continue to identify technical compliance solutions that will provide all readers with our award-winning journalism.” — Los Angeles Times
For what it’s worth, no other major newspaper that I have looked at has this problem.
The opposite of ‘reasoning’ is ‘rationalizing’ and sadly, too many people excell at the latter rather than at the former. (And too many don’t know the difference.)
I also can’t read your piece, Scalzi, because of the LA Times difficulties with EU privacy legislation. Any chance you will copy it onto your blog at some point, please?
Add me to the list of those who can’t read it. Maybe you or Athena could re-post it to the blog? And @Doug – it isn’t just that news site with the problem. I’ve seen others. Maybe they could ask CNN about it since the latter seems to have worked it out..
Once a book is finished, it should stand on its own legs and be completely dissociated from its writer; just like that after the partition a child gets separated from its mother by cutting the umbilical cord. Sadly enough, very often a literary creation isn’t judged on its merits but on the degree its writer is socially valuated.
For EU-based folks (and others) having trouble with that news website’s privacy-wall, I’ve had some good results with using the Wayback Archive.
I heard him speak back in college days (WAY back!) during a class on SF in film, and was one of the lucky ones at Torcon I to see the first public showing of “A Boy and his Dog”. Sexist, cantankerous, vengeful when he felt wronged (look up the “dead gopher sent from LA to an editor in NYC via 4th class mail” incident), in recent years a self-proclaimed “crotchety old Jew”, but his writing will live on right alongside the stories of his personal life. He was also one of the best at narrating his own stories, not an easy task as Neil Gaiman would no doubt attest. I’ll miss his stories, both on paper and on recordings.
At this point all you can say in regards to Harlan is that great people are great in spite of their faults…but some things you never really live down and the Connie Willis mess is one of them.
Part of the problem with the field is that in the name of the inclusion of the misfit it became a happy hunting ground for a lot of people to indulge their dubious behavior…we’re still dealing with that dead weight and will be for awhile.
I never understood the Connie Willis incident. Within days of it happening Harlan stated on his website that he’d sent her a letter of apology but received no reply. Then he started claiming it never happened! That the video made it look like that’s what he’d done but he hadn’t really. But I know someone who was in the audience that night and he saw it live in 3-D, not just on the video you can find on line. Harlan was many things. The last time I saw him in public was 3 years ago where he was doing signings at the Glendale book show. He got in a public argument with his wife and she walked out and took a taxi home. He stayed at the show long after it ended, still signing books.
In 1982 my English class was offered free entry to a local science fiction convention but only I and one other student accepted. I’d never heard of the guest of honor so I bought Gentleman Junkie and was blown away: 16-year-old me hadn’t known fiction could be so _angry_. For two days I got to hear him speak formally and informally including a reading of words he wrote just that morning which were to be a short story about how Jesus made the first vampire – still looking for the rest of that one. He told me “you look like you read Ursula K. LeGuin and _understand_ her” which at the time I didn’t. Spent the rest of high school and undergrad tracking down everything he’d written and loved the energy, anger and fierce iconoclasm doused with whimsy. As I aged away from my own anger I started taking a different view of his and the Willis event was deeply disappointing on many levels but his work will always remain central to who I am.
Talented writer, lousy human being.
I didn’t like much of what he wrote (special hatred for A Boy & His Dog), and the only con I ever attended was the one at which he was inappropriate but he recognized Octavia Butler’s talent and encouraged and championed her. For that he may have a RIP from me.
John, that was a thoughtful, honest and well-written eulogy for a complicated man. You brought out the fragile humanity underneath all of his writing and actions.
I remember meeting Harlan at the 2006 World Con in Los Angeles (where those very Hugos were given that you mention above). He seemed like a great guy and gave me some really great advice for my writing when I asked him to sign a couple of copies of his books that I brought with me. I remember reading during that time in one of the con reports about his inappropriate action toward Connie. I have to admit, it was times like those where he got a little too blunt with his thoughts and feelings and so it was called for when people spoke out against that. But I think he really was a good person at heart. And so I still say may he R.I.P.
cryptomathecian wrote: “Once a book is finished, it should stand on its own legs and be completely dissociated from its writer”
I disagree. As long as the writer is receiving royalties, I can’t dissociate the book because I will not give my money to hateful people. Once they’re dead and can no longer profit from the writing, it’s a different story (sometimes).
There’s an unfortunate American to English translation difference in the LA Times eulogy around “fanny”, but it’s a great piece.
Never met him, but it sounds like his reputation is fully earned in all respects.
Also, from above – I believe these days are firmly drawing to a middle, or even reversing previous gains:
“The struggle of today, towards the end of homophobia, the end of racism, the end of patriarchal misogyny, makes those flaws loom larger in the calculation of who is, or isn’t admirable.”
MLK organized bus boycots in 1955. By 1963, he gave his “I have a dream” speech in washington. In 1964, he won the nobel peace prize for standing up to racism through nonviolent means. In 1965, he marched ftom Selma. In 1966, he went to chicago to oppose segregated housing. Everything King did, he based it in love and peace and nonviolence. King was the foremost American pacifist in the late 1960’s.
“City on Edge of Forever” was first aired in 1967. In it, Joan Collins founded a pacifist movement, causing the United States to delay its entrance into World War II and allowing Nazi Germany time to develop nuclear weapons, with which theybused to conquer the world. Collins was supposed to die in a car accident, but McCoy saved her, causing the divergent timeline that Kirk and Spock had to fix.
Their solution? Let the pacifist die.
City on the Edge of Forever is considered a great Star Trek episode. And I appreciated the dilemma that Kirk faced in either allowing Collins character to be killed or let nazis win. It was one of the episodes that didnt have any easy answer. And yet….
Either Harlan was specifically thinking about MLK and the potential “damage” he could do to the nation (in which case Harlan was a raging racist and City is his “birth of a nation” story) or Harlan was NOT thinking of King when he showed the leader of a national pacifist movement bringing about the destruction of the world as we know it, and/or Harlan simply didnt care or consider how that might reflect on the -current- national leader of a pacifist movement (in which case Harlan was just flabbergastingly reckless with peoples lives)
MLK was feared to be helping the commies win the cold war. Collins character was retconned as helping the nazis win ww2.
MLK was assasinated one year after City was aired. A year after the moral of the Star Trek story was “let the pacifist die, save the world”, someone decided the best way to “save” the world was to kill the pacifist MLK.
I get it. Harlan wanted a complicated dillemma with no easy answer. And Star Trek was a world of easy answers. There is no scarcity. There is no hunger. There is no poverty. And the dillemmas on the show happen when Kirk goes to some NON human world, some unenlightened world, and usually ends up fixing the world by the end of of the episode. World is ruled by a cruel computer that is broken? Kirk fights computer and wins, freeing the world.
Harlan wanted something harder than that. Harlan wanted to bring scarcity into the Star Trek world of abundance. Which is bad enough. In a world without poverty, hunger, in a world of equality, in a world where anyone is allowed to reach for the stars if they qant, Harlan wanted to dial it back. Find a way to introduce scarcity back into the world of abundance. And he did it by time traveling, sending Bones back in time where he saves a life, that ends up bringing about the destruction of the world. And because Kirk snd Spock cant be bothered to come up with any other solution, due to a scarcity of time, they stop Bones from saving the person, reverting the timeline.
Harlan could have picked anyone to alter history. Joan Collins could have been anyone. And a butterfly effect over hundreds of years could have stopped the enterprise from existing. But in a time when MLK is using pacifism to stand up to racism at the nationsl level, Harlan chose to make Joan Collins leader of a national pacifist movement that allows Nazis to take over the world. Want to save the world? Kill the pacifist. A year after the episode aired, someone made that same calculus and killed MLK.
Fuck city on the edge of tomorrow for its shitty moral laziness, and fuck harlan ellison for writing it.
I met Harlan Ellison once.
I was a teenager who was beyond excited to even be attending a con where he would be. His stories and (especially) the Dangerous Visions books had been so very important to me over the last couple years.
When I got to the con, I was warned. “Don’t get within arms length of Harlan.” And “don’t go into a room where he is unless you are holding hands with someone bigger and more badass than he is”. I had trouble believing the warnings, as they warred in my mind with my image of him I had gained through his work and through his support for the ERA (which was a thing in those days).
Then I met him. He groped me. Then he laughed in my face when I flushed with shame and embarrassment and humiliation.
I’ve been mourning since the 70s. Mourning the man he could have been, but wasn’t. Mourning the SFF con community that could have been mine had it not been for (multiple) famous men like him. Mourning the innocence I lost the day I met a man I deeply admired and found out that all I was to him was a pair of walking boobs he could grope.
“But he too was a product of his time and culture.”
But that is focusing one’s attention on the mice in the room while ignoring the elephants stomping about.
Harlan’s lesser swine-ish behavior might be most charitably attributed to that, if one chooses to ignore the fact that a great many men did not behave as Harlan did.
But it was never acceptable during Harlan’s’s “time” to publicly and openly grab women’s breasts. Doing so on stage, before a large audience, without the woman’s foreknowledge nor consent was so far from tolerable behavior at any point post-World War II (Harlan did not die especially old — he was born in 1934) that it is almost unfathomable.
It was never considered acceptable behavior to be an aggressive, abusive asshole. It was never considered acceptable behavior to viciously and intentionally slander people for your own self-aggrandizement.
Those are not products of Harlan’s time. Those are products of Harlan regularly being a horrible jerk.
– pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
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I read everything of Ellison’s I could find during the ’70s and he was one of my favorite writers for many years. Back in 2006 I didn’t even know what Worldcon was so I missed the Connie Willis incident. Hearing about it now is a bit off-putting to say the least, but it doesn’t change my loving his writing all those years ago.
Nice piece of yours in the LA Times.
I was just a poor dumb shit living in Wyoming during all this time, and didn’t know Harlan at all of course, but even as just a reader one’s relationship with Mr. Ellison becomes complicated. He was a favorite of mine for years…it was some dearth years, regarding his stuff being in print and available, followed by some glut years. I ate up everything I could find. But eventually tired of the ego behind the writing that was so meaningful for so long. He sort of wore out his welcome inside my head. I guess about 30 years ago he wore it out.
But that can’t erase how formative of a writer/thinker he was in my life, both as an example, and later as a counter-example.
Shatterday. For God’s sake, Shatterday. Who can forget?
I won’t miss him, but I mourn the days when I would have.
sorcharei, I’m really sorry he did that to you. This week, I mourn all of the people – some of them who no doubt would have been valued community members and/or incredible writers – lost to the SF community due to the missing stairs our community not just ignored, but embraced. May we work to stop doing so.
That’s a nice remembrance.
Here’s Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov and Gene Wolfe being interviewed by Studs Terkel and Calvin Trillin.
re. Greg and ‘City on the Edge…’ You missed the point completely. Pacifism was huge in the 60’s (Vietnam war at 6, Star Trek at 8:30) Then, as now, a lot of people considered pacifism an unalloyed good. Ellison knew better. Too many still don’t. Blaming Ellison for MLK’s assassination? Doubt the assassin ever watched Star Trek…
Dana, soooooo… what youre saying is, is that the problem in the 60’s wasnt rampant racism and segregation and jim crow, wasnt a stupid war being gought for stupid reasons killing tens of thousands americans and millions of vietnamese civilians , the problem in the 60s was that “people considered pacifism an unalloyed good.”
Oh my god, so glad wise Harlan was able to see deep into the ugly truth and see the violence and death narurally inherent in the pacifist system.
Racism killed half a million americans in the civil war and enslaved maybe 20 million people over centuries.
But PACIFISISM?!?! Oh man, 20 million is a drop in the bucket compared to the damage that pacifism could do. I mean, wise Harlan showed us exactly what could happen, right? Pacifists could delay our entry into some war, and OH MY GOD NAZIS RULE THE WORLD, thats like BILLIONS!!!!!
To really drive home the point, Harlan should have Spock play a historical video showing Ghandi going all Colonel Kurtz on us, talking about watching a snail crawl across a razor blade, ending with “the horror, the horror…” and then pan back to him sitting on a pile of skulls.
Because thsts exactly literally totally what pacifism can do: destroy the world. And while HISTORICALLY SPEAKING what pacifism ACTUALLY did was peacefully win India its independence and peacefully advance america closer towards racial equality, the PROBLEM with pacifism is that it could potentially murder millions even BILLIONS.
And THANK GOD Harlan Ellison was wise enough to see that the horror of the 60s wasnt a stupid war in Vietnam killing millions based on nothing but out of control fear, and that the horror wasnt systemic racism that killed half a million and enslaved tens of millions over centuries.
No wise Harlan saw the the real problem of the 60s was that PEOPLE CONSIDERED PACIFISM AN UNALLOYED GOOD AND THEY NEEDED TO BE SHOWN THE TRUTH! PACIFISM LETS THE NAZIS WIN! AND DO YOU WANT NAZIS TO WIN THE WAR?? NO???? THEN YOU HAVE TO LET THE PACIFIST LEADER DIE.
WANT TO SAVE THE WORLD? LET THE PACIFIST LEADER DIE. ITS JUST SIMPLE AND OBVIOUS MATH. IF EVEN ONE PERSON THINKS PACIFISMNIS AN UNALLOYED GOOD, SPACE NAZIS MIGHT RULE EARTH. WE MUST TELL THE WORLD!!!
Ah, what a brave man, a good man, Harlan was for speaking truth to pacifism power. God only knows where the world would be if the City on the Edge of Tomorrow hadnt shown people that pacifists could have let nazis rule the world. Hell, we might be ruled by the north vietnamese right now. Black Panthers might have started purging white people. And all of it avoided because Harlan warned us of the dangers of pacifism.
We dodged a bullet right there. Imagine the horror this nation might have faced if MLK lived a long life. He would be going on 90 right now. Probably would have given america over to china, russia, and iran, all at the same time, because he was just that gullible, and his followers thought pacifism was an unalloyed good. Thankfully Harlan showed us the ugly truth behind pacifism.
The truth is:Harlan marched with Dr. King at Selma.
Chris, then why did Harlan write a story where pacifism destroys the world as we know it and let nazis rule the planet?
Youre saying he wasnt racist, just terribly terribly reckless with his “save the world, kill the pacifist” idea?
By the time he wrote that story, mlk was being called a communist. He was accused of helping the communists win by tearing america apart. Did Harlan not know? Or did he simply not care when he had Joan Collins pacifist help the Nazis win?
Was Harlison going for a “cool” gotcha story and really didnt care who got thrown under the bus? Collins charcter could have been anyone or anything. A man who steered Patton away from the military at a young age. A woman who married FDR and kept him out of politics. Anything could have delayed our entry into the war and let the nazis win. It could have been some insignigicant thing that rippled through history. It didnt even have to affect ww2. Maybe collins stopped hitler from being horn, and the future is so radically different and far more advanced that the enterprise doesnt exist. The time travel paradox could have been caused by an infinite number of things.
Harlan chose “pacifism allows nazis to win the war” as his choice.
So apparently, according to you, he was just recklessly indifferent to the moral of his story.
Folks say he was a jerk in lots of other ways, so i guess it fits.
He also said that they wouldn’t have made it out of Alabama alive if it wasn’t for Malcolm X. Ellison hung out with cats like Charles Mingus, Ornette Coleman, Eric Dolphy. He was no racist.
Great. Not a racist. Just using the same argument that racists used against MLK: Pacifists like King will destroy the world. They may have to be put to death to save the world.
Harlan was channeling his inner Ozymandias, world class asshole.
At the risk of stating the idiotically obvious, Harlan was a complex person.
I once sat between him and Norman Spinrad at a LASFS get-together where he and Spinrad tried to tear new orifices into each other over the screen play adaptation of “Bug Jack Barron”, the argument partly or largely due to Ellison renaming it ‘Power” (If my memory isn’t failing me). Spinrad sat a row behind me and Ellison had the podium and I felt caught between two high energy lasers as they were almost literally screaming at each other.
But at that same gathering, Harlan told the tale of the time he was arrested in Paris for trying to assassinate the President of France. He didn’t and it wasn’t him but he spun this into a hysterical story had had nearly everyone weeping with laughter.
I’ve watched him be endlessly patient with a monstrous line of autograph seekers at a Worldcon and I was there when he groped Connie Willis.
He was a great person but I fear he became far to full of himself and started believing his own press releases and felt his opinions where the dictates of the universe and to disagree with him was to argue with gravity.
But all of that pales to how he wrote. It does not excuse the wrongs he did, but oh how he wrote.
Ellison’s historical inspiration for the main pacifist character was Aimee Semple McPherson, “a historically prominent evangelist of the 1920s and ’30s.” He further wrote:
“Edith Keeler is a humanitarian whose philosophy is one of kindness and compassion. It is stated in the script that she develops, over the next few years, a coherent identifiable philosophy that many people in that post-World War I, semi-Isolationist society found appealing. It is set forth in the teleplay that her philosophy catches on — something like Scientology without the phony scams — and it is sufficiently appealing that it produces a tone in the body politic that briefly keeps America out of the war against Hitler. A brief period that permits the development of the first Atomic Bomb not by America, but by the Third Reich, and that leads to Germany winning World War II.” (Quotes are from The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay)
Sure doesn’t sound like he had MLK in mind.
As a followup, discovered while I was looking this up: the character Ellison originally created was supposed to be a new age philosophy type person (thus the reference to Scientology in the quote above); it was Roddenberry who altered the script to make her a peace activist. So any implications of that come from Roddenberry, not Ellison. (I found it in Weil, Harlan Ellison: The Edge of Forever, 114-115.
A very nicer bit of calm scholarship.
I wonder if it will be sufficient to shut down the “I MUST WRITE IN CAPS AND REPEAT MYSELF THREE TIMES BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL SO STOOOOOPID…” rant.
Can’t hurt to try, I suppose.
Thanks for the research.
pax / Ctein