An Addendum to An Addendum
Posted on July 3, 2018 Posted by John Scalzi 81 Comments
(Looks on the Internet)
Huh, seems some Harlan Ellison fans are very angry about this addendum to my piece in the Los Angeles Times about his passing. Well, fair enough; so, let me offer up some further points about it.
1. Why is it an addendum here rather than in the LA Times piece proper? Mostly because I asked what length the piece should be and was told it should be 900 words, and decided this bit was cuttable there and postable here. The piece was always intended for print as well as online, so writing to a specific length was a thing.
As someone who worked at newspapers before online versions of papers were around, writing to length is fun and a challenge I don’t usually have anymore (save for hitting a contracted length for a novel, which is a very different dynamic). Part of the challenge is self-editing, i.e., deciding what parts to keep and what parts to trim. This addendum was trimmable, but still said something I wanted to say, so I said it here. This is why the blog is here in the first place.
2. If it made you angry: That’s fine. To paraphrase another writer on a similar matter, hate to shake you up, but I write to suit myself.
3. Likewise, for those complaining that I did it to “virtue signal” or appear “woke”: lol, okay there, friend. Bear in mind I did this five years ago now — literally five years and a day ago — and I didn’t do it to for any other reason than I was sick of friends being harassed at conventions and having to put up with bullshit. I have a long history of writing things like this. And yes, as it happens, Ellison groping Connie Willis was on my mind, among many other incidents involving harassment at science fiction conventions over the years, when I made that my official convention attending policy.
And when people mewled that I was doing that to be seen as virtuous and woke, this is what I wrote:
I would be perfectly happy if women/minorities/queerfolk of all sorts feel like I fully support their right to go to a convention (and, in general, go through life) and not get harassed for it. The problem is not that I would be happy about this. The problem is the people who think being happy to be seen that way constitutes “sucking up.”
To the extent that my public opinions and personal ethics make other people happy, that’s great. To the extent they irritate or annoy other people, that’s their problem, not mine. In neither case do I have public opinions and personal ethics for those reasons. I have them for me.
4. I do think some Ellison partisans are not aware — or possibly don’t want to be aware — how significant and fundamentally damaging to Ellison’s reputation that the Connie Willis incident was to much of a generation of science fiction and fantasy writers and fans. Regardless of Ellison’s reasons, rationales or intent, it came across to a whole group of people as I get to do this, in front of thousands of people, and you have to take it. It would have been bad enough to do that to anyone, but to do it to someone as personally and professionally admired and beloved in the community as Willis gave it an extra dimension. It made the point that no woman, not even a best-selling, multiply award-winning, brilliant and beloved woman, could expect more from her male peers, publicly or privately.
But that’s not why Ellison did it! Well, I’ve heard lots of reasons why Ellison did it, but no matter why he did it, a lot of people took away something else from it.
But he apologized to Willis! As he should have, and good for him. But other people, including the literally thousands of people he did it in front of, get to decide for themselves how to feel about the incident. Lots of them are still angry about it.
But Ellison was a feminist! Sure. And also, he groped Connie Willis on stage in front of thousands of people. And that moment goes on the permanent record, along with all the other good and bad things he did over the course of a long and interesting life. People get to decide for themselves what it means, and what he means, to them.
5. Now, some of you may not like that some other people in your opinion overweight that single incident. That’s fine, and be aware there are plenty of people who don’t like that you in their opinion appear to want to dismiss it as inconsequential. For me, it was literally my first encounter with the man, so, you know what? It looms large in my memory and it colors my thoughts about him. Harlan Ellison was a brilliant, argumentative, cranky, romantic (in the Byronic sense of the word) volcano of a writer and person, and I loved much of his writing, enjoyed speaking to him, and admired much about him. And also, the very first time I saw him in the flesh, he groped someone I like and admire, personally and professionally, in front of an audience. I laughed when it happened because I thought it couldn’t possibly be serious or unplanned. I was wrong about that, and wrong to laugh.
And for better or worse, that moment — that action of Ellison’s — was a signal moment for me. Both in thinking about how men treat women, and also, how women were treated in a community I had started to call my own. It helped to define me, and who I wanted to be in relation to this community. I don’t want to overstate things here, and there were lots of other moments in terms of my own relationships with women and my community that mattered as well to get me where I am today (and I’ll be the first to note I am a work in progress). But this was one of the first, and it sticks out in my brain. And it sticks out in my perception of who Ellison was. You can like that or not, but it doesn’t change the fact.
6. So, here’s the important thing about all of the above: You don’t get to tell me how to feel about Harlan Ellison or what he meant to me. You also don’t get to tell me how to write or talk about him. Or, more accurately, you can, but I’m not obliged to listen or care. You can complain all you want about what I say and think, of course. And I happily acknowledge that your own personal thoughts on Ellison may be different than mine, and substantially so, based on your own experiences with him. I don’t pretend Harlan Ellison and I were great or even good friends; I was someone he called when he wanted to complain about things, and I was happy to be so. But I do get to take the sum of my experiences with him, and with them craft a Harlan Ellison in my brain, consistent with those experiences and my other knowledge of him.
This version is necessarily incomplete in terms of the whole of his character, but that’s the case of anyone who was not him (and note well that in general, our own versions of ourselves have massive gaps and elisions, because ego is a hell of a drug). This version of Harlan Ellison did any number of things I deeply admire, and also a number of things I don’t, and, obviously, one thing I consider very bad which sticks with me. The Harlan Ellison in my head is complicated, and I am content to let him be so.
7. Corollary to this, you don’t get to tell other people who are not me how to feel about Ellison, either. They’re going to have their own version in their head as well, and you are unlikely to change that. Speaking as someone who gets to see all sorts of fantasy versions of me out there in the world — I particularly enjoy the fantasy version of me who is a failed writer, propped up by my publisher, which is itself on the verge of imminent implosion, for byzantine reasons that would confuse even the Illuminati and the Bilderberg Group — raging against these various homunculi does little good. They scurry about anyway.
What you can do, and what I actually encourage you to do, is speak about the version of Harlan Ellison (or indeed any other person) that you know. Your testimony in this regard is almost certainly going to be more persuasive than yelling at another person about their version of Ellison. If you make a good case, what you know of the man may be incorporated into that other person’s view of them. Certainly, my version of him has been influenced by those who knew him who have written about him, both before and after his passing.
I’m glad to know about these other Ellisons I did not get to meet, and now never will, except through other people’s eyes. He’s not boring, that’s for sure.
1. Hey everyone! As I sense this thread may get contentious, please feel free to err on the side of politeness. Only you can prevent malletings!
2. If you’ve come to excuse/mitigate Ellison’s groping of Connie Willis, you’re gonna have a bad time. Also, regarding Ellison’s apology to Willis, please read my thoughts on apologies and how to perform them; it may be relevant.
3. Likewise, unremittant slagging of Ellison is unlikely to be useful here, so if you’ve come just to do that, you may consider just choosing not to.
4. On a personal note, I will note that there are some folks who feel like I didn’t say enough about Ellison’s groping incident, either in the LA Times piece or with the original addendum. One, that’s fine too; two, it’s a reminder that it’s difficult to write to make everyone happy, especially with 900 words.
Now play nice, folks. I’m looking at some of you specifically.
Thank you, John
What the Heck? Mr. Scalzi, the section trimmed from your obit piece is more about you than the rest of the piece. That you felt it could be cut shows good sense in writing to length.
It’s a fine addition to your feelings about Mr. Ellison and is the sort of thing one has a blog for. That anyone is complaining about it, or scolding you for it, is of no concern. Thank you for these memories.
The “but he apologized!” phenomenon is all the more interesting to me now that I have raised a child to age 5 & 1/2. We went through a period of time where he would just yell SORRY when he’d done something wrong and was now facing some consequence of his actions. We still have to work on the fact that an apology isn’t done when you have said words; there’s got to be an aspect of doing your part to make things right, to the extent that it’s possible. He’s not great on that but he’s improving. He’s probably a little better about understanding that sometimes people are still upset and not ready for your apology, but he struggles with getting that once (or several times) you have done something you’re going to be suspected of planning on doing it again in the future.
Which is my way of saying: people who act like an apology results in a tabula rasa, you’re being outclassed by a preschooler. Do better.
I experience moments when I think, “Ellison never did [good stuff],” and then I remember specific and notable examples. And I experience moments when I think, “Ellison never did [bad stuff],” and I remember specific examples, of which the onstage groping of Connie Willis, at an event being livestreamed to as much of the world as chose to watch because they cared about the Hugo’s, is the most notable because how the heck do you top that without committing a crime of violence.
And it’s all the real Ellison, both the good and the bad.
I was the Hugo Administrator in 2006. I was backstage during the incident (I probably had the worse view in the house of what happened), and I was the first person Connie talked to when she came offstage.
She was really upset about it. And when I spoke to her the next day, she was still really upset about it. It spoiled a lot of fun she’d been having (during a weekend of being a Worldcon GOH, which should be a highlight in anyone’s life).
I don’t know when Harlan issued his semi-apology, but the only slightly acceptable time would have been immediately after the action.
I always (as a reader) thought of Ellison as very creative, groundbreakingly innovative, difficult to like & inconsistent in the extreme. As an observer, I found him annoying, but never boring. I doubt he cared, either way. Sf is probably better for his existence.
As I was reading this piece I stopped while reading Point #3 to check whether Bubicon, my local convention — where you will be the guest of honor this year (hooray!) — had its harassment policy on its website. I was able to find it, but it took some looking — it is some ways down under the “Policies, Rules & Accessibility” link. If you feel in the position to do so, perhaps you could recommend to Bubicon that the policy have greater visibility — for instance, a dedicated link on the home page. I am writing to them to suggest this myself, but who am I? FWIW, I think your ground rules are great, and I think your discussion about Ellison and engagement with the issues of harassment are informed, insightful, and well-considered. I am trying to raise my son to be a more enlightened and respectful male than how I was raised, and your words provide splendid guidance.
Connie must be uncommonly nice. A lot of women would have knocked his sorry ass halfway into next week.
Not that I would ever recommend that a lady do such a thing. 😁
Just curious—why wasn’t he immediately ejected from the premises? Don’t science fiction conventions have bouncers? If not, why not?
2006 was a different time.
I had two encounters with Harlan Ellison over about 10 years. In the first, he was extremely kind to me at a time when I was behaving rather badly and doing something I was actually ashamed of almost as soon as it happened. In the second, he called me to complain that I had left him out of a nonfiction survey of fantasy books. I remember thinking that he was way too upset about something so minor, but he didn’t raise his voice or use bad language or say anything nasty. (It was also clear he didn’t remember the first incident). For what it’s worth, I have to say that i was very grateful for his kindness and that I respect the approach he took to criticizing my work, and I wish I’d known him better.
I’m going to hazard a wild guess that the ‘Harlan Ellison fans’ in question are overwhelmingly suddenly self-declared, mostly pseudonymous, and indulging the usual Internet rage-mobbing addiction. (I’m very much not asking for pointers, & would rather not get ’em.)
If there are any that aren’t just the usual Internet rage-mobbers, then it would be timely to advise them that it’s bad enough to have a habit of stabbing the wounded, but shivving the embedded reporters, too, is truly excessive.
Sf is probably better for his existence.
This kind of thing is so hard to evaluate, because we can look at what good was created by his presence and his work, but we can’t look at the good that was forestalled by same.
I read Cory Doctorow’s obit, which talked about how bad Ellison was as a writing instructor, calling his style a mix of “performative bullying and favorite-playing.” I’ve read some other accounts by his students — details I can’t share here, because they were told in confidence — and I’m surprised some of those people are still writers today, after Ellison so pointlessly humiliated and mocked them. There are almost certainly people who aren’t still writers today, whose accounts I haven’t read because they’re no longer part of our community. What groundbreaking works might those people have written? What might we have gotten from the people he drove away with his racist comments, sexist behavior, and flat-out physical violence?
And yet, who do we have around now — including writers of color and female writers — because Ellison randomly decided to extend them a helping hand instead of a fist?
Short of a time machine, we will never know. But I think it’s important to keep that uncertainty in mind, because we have people alive and in the field today who are both writing great work and taking actions that may drive away other people capable of great work. With them, we don’t have to accept that price, because it isn’t over and done with: we can insist that the abusive actions change, and not accept the great fiction as sufficient compensation.
When I was a young teen SF fan, almost 50 years ago, my idols were Asimov, Heinlein & Van Vogt (among others). I was so excited to go to my first con and meet Asimov. That’s when I discovered that people you admire can turn out to be gropers. I never felt the same about him again, and was very unhappy that he spoke at my high school graduation.
Needless to say, I feel the same way about Ellison.
Indeed, and I think another nuance here some Eliison partisans want to squint past is… well, the adjective “cranky” carries a hell of a lot of baggage where he is concerned. It takes precisely zero imagination to picture how Ellison would have reacted if anyone had publicly disrespected and humiliated him like that. The perpetrator would have been turned into a human porcupine of acid-dipped darts for the rest of Ellison’s life, Hell, you can easily fill the proverbial five foot shelf with Harlan Ellison going nuclear on people for years on end for much less.
It’s worth noting that in the wake of Ellison’s death, at least dozens of women of all ages came forward on social media to express things that he did to them that fall under sexual harassment/assault, and it appears to have been well known among the community that female fans, especially young and inexperienced ones, should be very wary of Ellison if they ran into him at conventions and such. So, while being the most visible, the Willis incident was not the only time he ever acted up as many people have tried to suggest, and to call him a “feminist” may be a bit of a reach. There was a great deal of the usual “Well, he was nice to *me*.” from men and women of all races, but if you believe the stories told, and I choose to do so, he was not similarly “nice” to everyone.
He surely was never boring. I’m a table top game designer. One time, many years ago now, I ended up explaining the state of the table-top industry to Harlan. Told him some of what I was working on. Harlan “got” RPGs but he still asked me a few questions about whys and wherefors. When I had explained, he said “Well that just sounds damn lazy, they could make their own stories.”
To which I said, “But then there’d be a lot more would-be science fiction writers, Harlan.”
He grabbed my arm, leaned forward, and yelled, “Heavens forfend, Luikart! Keep them in roleplaying!”
Atsiko, it’s worth noting that Ellison apparently campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and did things like staying in an RV rather than an Arizona hotel during a convention as a boycott (related to the ERA). So when people call him a feminist, they’re not just blowing smoke. He actively did things to help women, and he actively did things that hurt them.
He truly was a complicated person.
I love you, John. You write good stuff.
Thanks for sticking to your views! I heartily agree.
Pogonip wrote “Connie must be uncommonly nice. A lot of women would have knocked his sorry ass halfway into next week.”
Or she may have been too stunned to react in the moment. Imagine yourself on stage, a GOH, major figure in your field, and someone gropes you in front of the entire crowd, on camera. I don’t know about you, but my reaction would be “WTF?! Is this really happening?!” and then to try to get out of there as quickly as possible. I don’t know what I’d have done in her situation, though I know that afterwards I’d probably be wishing I’d knocked him flat.
Yup. I’ve been in a similar situation and you feel flat out helpless and don’t know what to do, much less strike back. Add in always being socialised to be conciliatory or always be the one who makes nice and doesn’t rock the boat… The idea that a woman should strike back if they are assaulted is a toxic one which lets harassers and abusers off the hook and shifts the blame and responsibility onto the woman herself.
[Post deleted because a) badly formatted and hard to read, b) I’m not a hundred percent comfortable porting an entire chunk of another site into the comment section here. Carl, if you want to repost a direct link, that would be better — JS]
Having had the exact same thing happen to me—I backhanded the guy and yelled—I beg to differ. Of course I couldn’t knock a regular-size man down, but I do believe I got his attention. As did the bouncer. 🙂. And this was NOT on a stage in front of hundreds of people. Poor Connie!
John, what was different about 2006? And do science-fiction conventions have bouncers now? I always thought ANY venue that served liquor employed large, tactful gentlemen who could talk most drunks down and toss out the rest.
I like Mark’s creative bite-the-biter-back approach, although I have to say that I would probably not think to do that if I were groped again. I’d probably respond as I always have, instinctively—a backhand and an attention-getting yell.
P. S. As long as we’re on the subject—has anyone else been groped in church? (No, the church didn’t have bouncers, but the ushers came.). I was really shocked when that happened.
John, it’s from Ellison’s archive on the Web, edited to remove ALL of the comments that on other subjects. Pretty easy to follow, and essential for a clear understanding of how things went down at the TIME. Link the actual video doesn’t hurt otherwise. Reposting now, with the hope you let the verbatim exchange from Harlan to specific comments stand, in lieu of everyone’s opinion. You can go HERE for the entire archive, lest you think anything has been deleted.
[Deleted for the second time for reasons strangely mirroring the first deletion. I thought I made it clear, Carl, that a link to the original source would suffice — JS]
Very talented, famous human being was also, sometimes, a complete asshat. Or much worse.
Won’t be the first or the last to share those traits. Thanks, Mr. S., for that reminder.
And R.I.P. Harlan.
@Pogonip – I did not mean to imply that all women would be too stunned to act. I’m just staying that’s a common reaction. Even more so in such a setting. Different people react differently. And a given person may react differently in different settings (i.e., quickly slap a stranger in a bar, be too stunned to act with an eminent colleague) or at different times in their lives (i.e., as a teen I was too cowed to say or do anything, at 60 I’m bolder.)
I probably wouldn’t be reading this if I hadn’t been exposed to HE’s work more than 40 years ago (I’d probably have kept reading mysteries and the “classics” and would likely be a starving prof in tweed jacket writing papers on the use of semicolons in Chaucer now).
People are complicated and HE was that to the nth degree. But what happened to Connie Willis was inexcusable. I’ve commented elsewhere about my fondness for HE since his death. It saddened me to find out long after the event just what HE did (I hadn’t paid much attention to Worldcon for quite a while by 2006).
I can still separate the man from the work, but it hurts to read him where it didn’t hurt before. We all have an “Imp of the Perverse” in our heads. Sadly, HE’s had too free a rein.
The joy I get from his work is still there, but it’s affected by his behavior.
You made more than the “link” clear, John by this second deletion. Thanks for confirming where you stand on all this. For the record, for those just tuning in, I posted ONLY Harlan Ellison’s own written apologies on the Willis controversy, from the time he made them, with a link to the original video of the incident, for ease of operation. No editorializing, just what Ellison wrote at the very time this all went down so your readers might draw their own conclusions, as Harlan Ellison was somewhat proficient at speaking for himself. Was hoping that Ellison’s “voice” in all this might help propel and animate this discussion. Clearly you feel differently. Personally, I think any writer, especially Ellison, deserves better from a so-called colleague. Censoring Ellison’s own words, which is the best he can do for his own defense at this point, is scandalous. Over and out (with this post screen-captured for posterity, in case you decide to delete even THIS).
Thank you. I had such mixed feelings about Ellison, because many writers I really love loved him. Somehow I had him filed under “asshole and proud of it”. Then I saw a post about how supportive he was of Octavia Butler who resurrected my love of SF at time when the well went dry. That left me wondering why I’d such a strong reaction. Now I know why. While I certainly agree with those who call Ellison complicated, to me it’s an absolute microcosm of male entitlement-not only that he did it in the first place, but that so many other writers (mostly male) choose to dismiss the incident, with “Well that’s just Harlan.” Easy to do if you know (or believe) you’ll never be in that position. As someone said on twitter recently if men spent as much time calling out male misbehavior as they do telling women “not all men” then we could really change the landscape. So thank you for including this in the record, and not dismissing or diminishing it.
Ellison was the first writer I fangirled over. I proselytized about him everywhere. I gave away his books, I collected old copies from the used store, I bought in auctions et cet. But I knew nothing about the man as a person. Somewhere in my late 20s when I had gotten more “serious” about being a fan (joined forums, went to gatherings, started writing my own fiction, interviewed folk et cet) I heard stories about him as a person. It did not take long to develop a very negative viewpoint of him. So then he became my first writer to feel conflicted over. As a woman, I despised what I kept hearing about him over and over. But his words, his writing still stirred something deep in me and fueled me to keep writing.
Ultimately, I believed the only way to enjoy his work was to dissociate it from the man whenever possible. The more I learned about him as a person, the more flaws I could find in his work but it didn’t change the fact that the man was monumentally talented and a workhorse to boot.
I don’t feel one way or the other about his death personally. I feel like another chapter of my maturation has ended but that’s what happens when you turn the corner on birthday and swing into your 50s.
Bon Mots to you Ellison, you old talented asshole.
You’re silly. And apparently didn’t read the commenting policy before posting. Bye, now.
[Deleted, unread, because Carl had already announced his flouncing — JS]
Well, my only exposure to Ellison was his Star Trek episode, which I never liked because of the plot hole big enough to fly the Enterprise through. Now I’m curious. If I were to read his work, where should I start?
I’ve stolen this before and I’ll steal it again:
“White shall not neutralize the black, nor good compensate bad in man, absolve him so: life’s business being just the terrible choice.” – Robert Browning
Harlan Ellison was huge chunks of good and vile, kind and vicious, forward-thinking and backward-acting, all mixed together in a stew of wonderfully, awfully, terrifyingly inventive writing. He made us think and curse and love and hate him in about equal measures. His echoes, good and bad, will last for ages.
So your telling me fans of a man who admitted proudly that he wrote just to provoke people are accusing you of writing just to provoke…
Ask any three folks who have read his stuff and you’ll get six different answers. I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream is considered to be a classic by many folks, as is “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Tick-Tock Man. Jeffty Is Five won the Nebula, though you may have to be a certain age for the ending to resonate. And The Whimper of Whipped Dogs won an Edgar Allan Poe Award. And if you are into TV criticism, The Glass Teat is a classic.
In general, I prefer his earlier stuff, though many speak highly of his more recent work. With Ellison, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
Upfront disclaimers and such:
1. I’ve never met Mr. Ellison, so I have absolutely no idea the kind of person he was face-to-face.
2. I’ve seen his TV work on Star Trek and the Outer Limits, multiple times, and it’s superb.
3. My personal feelings towards Mr. Ellison are very mixed: admire his authorship, despise his humanity.
I know of Mr. Ellison only by reputation, and out here, it’s not very good. I’ve got his DVD, “Dreams With Sharp Teeth,” where on Amazon Mr. Ellison is referred to as the “dark prince of American letters.” He was certainly the devil in that DVD, at least to me. In my not-so-humble opinion his best TV work as a writer for the Outer Limits (1960s version) was “Soldier” and “Demon with a Glass Hand.” (Those two, with “The Inheritors”, were my favorite top three. But I digress…)
When I saw “The Terminator” in 1984 I remember thinking of where I’d seen some of those ideas before: time traveling soldiers (future to present) battling it out in the present. But while I can point to some vague plot similarities between Cameron’s Terminator and Ellison’s Soldier/Demon, there is no way that Cameron plagiarised Ellison. Ellison’s winning his claim against Cameron is a classic example of winning the battle but loosing the war: Ellison diminished his work and his reputation by claiming that Cameron’s mediocre (at best) Terminator had anything to do with his work. It did not, and frankly, Ellison should have been soundly beat legally.
My biggest beef with the entire Terminator franchise is the idea of going far back in time half-cocked to kill your enemy, when in reality all Skynet needed to do was go back to its immediate past, with everything it knew, and tweak the loosing battles into wins. Think of the plot point in “All You Need Is Kill/Edge if Tomorrow”. Cameron couldn’t write decent science fiction if his very life depended on it, and his silly waste of time travel is just one prime example of this. If Cameron could have stolen from any story, it might have been 1982’s “Blade Runner”, where replicants were trying to kill us instead of terminators. Same idea, though: fear of the machine. In fact, if they’d put bolt’s on Arnold’s neck, they could have called it Frankenstein 1984.
Could somebody enlighten me as to why ‘virtue signalling’ seems to be a bad rap? Because there sure is a lot of ‘shithead signalling’ going on today. I think we need to counter it.
I developed a love for jazz, especially of the bebop & west coast sub-genres later in life and came to love the work of Miles Davis in those years. It was very disappointing for me to learn of his somewhat questionable personality as I learned more about the music. I struggled with this for a number of years until i finally came to an agreement with myself that I could admire and love an artist’s work while having a serious dislike for that brilliant person’s personality. I didn’t have to love the creator while loving his work, they are separate entities. We humans are really an interesting mish mash of qualities, both good and bad, intelligent both genius and downright stupid all at the same time mixed in the same flesh. I’ve been saying for many years now that I don’t know if there is a god or not….but if there is he has one hell of a sense of humor. We can consider ourselves exhibit A. Harlan could be both a great writer and still suffer from disturbing personality quirks at different points in his life, just as Miles could.
Pogonip: I recommend three collections: “Top of the Volcano,” “The Essential Ellison: A 50-Year Retrospective,” and “Deathbird Stories.”
I read the White Wolf anthologies until they (and White Wolf) went away, and I actually liked his essays more than his fiction. They came from a place of love and spleen, and I was young then and more of an anger junkie than I try to be now.
Many writers I admire are (were) seriously flawed individuals. At times it becomes hard to separate how I feel about the artistic beauty of their work, and their seriously shitty behavior as a human being.
You can acknowledge both truths. One has to do so.
Edward Abbey wrote some of the most beautiful words ever written about the west. He was, by all accounts, a misogynistic asshole.
Ernest Hemingway’s another example.
For that matter-
Thomas Jefferson wrote much of the Declaration of Independence. He was a slave owner.
The list is endless.
Likewise, for those complaining that I did it to “virtue signal” or appear “woke”
For all Americans within the Trump / Media bubble, this is the Voice of the Mysterons:
John is a (now) rich (once poor), cis-white dude who is fairly right wing (believes in money and hierarchy to a limited degree, but agrees taxes are good and hasn’t set up a LLC in Panama or Delaware to avoid tax) who in any sane society would be classed as: “Moderate Conservative with Progressive Social Leanings because he’s fairly grounded, man most likely to serve on the local Council when retired“. In Finland, he’d be known as “Oh, John, yas, his wife feels embarrassed for him every-time she goes out, that dress sense” with a sad shake of the head and a tut.
I mean: he’s kinda *the* poster-Man for:
a) Hard work and Smart Wife who supports the sucker in the dressing-robe leads to success, randomly, bet she played professional poker a few times (she’s in real estate, ’nuff said)
b) You don’t have to live in *insert major USA city here* to be a success or well known or materially wealthy and *you can live in the boonies and not feel ashamed*
c) Kids are important: family is important: pets are important: people are important: fans are important
d) Mexico is not the Moon, they’re people too, which is somewhat radical these days.
e) He’s Caucasian, yo. Dude thinks burritos are spicy foods. Don’t be expecting the impossible.
f) Self-awareness about stuff and actually listening / amplifying voices who might not share advantages.
What John is not:
a) A radical Punk Lesbian Trans* Activist with tattoos all over and a wrap sheet with prison time for burning down the local private prison records agency
b) Young enough to have lived the precarious millennial experience, although Athena seems to be edumacating him
d) The current Conservative / Republican Cis-Caucasian Male Role Model
*CLUTCHES PEARLS: BUT Y’ALL DON’T YOU SEE, HIS WIFE IS TALLER THAN HIM, I TELL YOU, I TELL YOU, THAT’S JUST NOT NATURAL!*
No, really: reality check. John is like what your progressive Conservative / Republican elements would have looked like if you’d not all taken massive doses of Media Crack-Cocaine. He’s also old enough to remember the bad old world when the internet didn’t exist.
Here’s a serious question: USA Americans don’t seem to “do” the emotion know as ‘disappointed shamed (on behalf of subject) and pity with mild social enforcement that this was not ok‘, but jump straight to ‘outraged anger and vengeance’. Harlan deserved the first for his antics: he clearly still lived in a world where “it’s a prank, bro!” came with an acceptance that personal space (particularly women’s) could be infringed upon. But, looking at the rest of the field (*cough* MeToo *cough*), he was certainly on the lighter shade of grey.
I mean, he was a Man bred and raised in America – it’s what you expect from them, isn’t it?
Peoples: you have moderate Conservatives like John in America: you don’t vote for them. Don’t get shocked when the wilder elements are the ones most lauded, eh?
 That anyone is aware of: please don’t Milk-shake-Duck your fans on Tax, the implosion would be Biblical. If it turned out you had major share holdings in Arms Companies, I think the internet would break.
 WHERE’S THE DAMN DOG, JOHN, WHERE’S THE PUPPER? THAT LAWN NEEDS TO BE POOPED UPON AND/OR DUG UP FOR RABBITS. HAVE YOU NOT SEEN LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE?!
 The Sauna. Speedoes are a no-go. It’s naked and birch branch all the way John, don’t be coy.
 Those ‘Arming Medusa’ Memes. :chef kiss: Seen on this blog first though ^^
 Mary Sue? Ooooh… he’s gonna crack one day and do it.
 This is the depressing bit: he kinda should be, given in most European countries, he fits that 95%.
 Look: the dude has a huge lawn with nary a single swimming pool, rock-garden, fountain or even (*GASP*) a mini-basketball court setup… and he doesn’t enjoy mowing it or own a 1200hp bespoke rider lawn-mower. He’s practically SWISS or a MONK
 When your President is getting dragged with major shade by JK Rowling, you kinda know shit is well weird. And yes, your society is deeply broken. Please fix it.
 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a ‘new radical young voice' for the Democratic Party. Only in America: everywhere else she’s bog-standard Middle road Left. Why don’t you elect people like John as Republicans? (This is a rhetorical question)
Cthulhu, that was a) actually reasonably easy to follow and b) generally accurate re: me (Krissy is in insurance, not real estate, although she once was in real estate, so).
I… I don’t know that to think about this!
I… I don’t know that to think about this!
2018 is getting weirder by the day, mon ami.
Japan’s lovable psychic World Cup octopus got chopped up and eaten SBnation, 2nd July 2018
Belgium come from two down to knock out Japan in the World Cup’s last-16 Guardian, 3rd July 2018
We’re just saying: don’t kill the little squids, bad mojo, bad mojo.
This is a bit late but the relevant thread is closed. We have a black and white cat named Smudge – excellent name for an excellent kitten!
I’d forgotten Ellison’s Outer Limits episodes! I’ll watch them again.
All of us—you, me, John, Harlan Ellison—are seriously flawed human beings.
That reminds me. Whatever happened to that person who used to write in as “Floored by Scalzi’s awesomeness”? (Certainly better than writing in as “Floored by Pogonip’s backhand.” 😁 )
All kittens, and thus all kitten names, are excellent. 🐱. This is an immutable law of nature.
I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here, but as an aspiring writer myself, I kind of wonder if it’s healthy for your blood pressure or your career to engage with these sorts of people. They certainly don’t seem to have the maturity to realize their favorite authors can do despicable things nor are they likely to be swayed by any argument.
I’m engaging on my terms (which I understand may be frustrating for some of them).
As well you should, seeing as I heard such stories out of Harlan’s own mouth at that Dragon*Con panel. If he felt contemptuous of a person, he apparently saw nothing wrong with being a complete asshole to them. Ellison was also a classic example of a small man who learned to avoid being the victim of bullies by being absolutely vicious in a fight with people who bullied him. (Or whom he thought were trying to bully him…)
Heading to bed soon, so comments off for the night. Back up tomorrow!
Update: Comments back on!
Whatever else one wants to say about 2006 and all that it’s high on the list of people comprehensively fouling their own nest in one ill-advised move. It also goes to show that the sporadic high-profile acts of charity generally don’t make up for your default character flaws. That the genre for too long excused such flaws as a misguided expression of “friendship” towards its personalities created a swamp we’re still trying to drain; this is speaking as an on-and-off con runner.
@ Dana: As used by shitheads, “virtue signaling” is a claim that nobody actually believes [good thing X], and the only reason for someone to say it is that they’re trying to curry brownie points with the people who do believe it. Yes, that’s an internal contradiction, but shitheads aren’t very smart.
My (female) friend got into a physical altercation with Harlan Ellison at a con in the 80’s. He also allegedly broke a producer’s pelvis with the Seaview model when the producers altered his script for Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Harlan Ellison was an incredible writer who change Sci-fi but he was also an asshole.
Jack: “Sf is probably better for his existence.”
The thing about time and knowledge is we will never know. Fans of Harlan can prognosticate the infinite timelines without Harlan and argue that the world would be less without him. Haters of Harlan can prognosticate the infinite timeline and talk about all the *possible* writers and fans who were turned away from SF because of some bad experience with Harlan, and argue that the world is decidedly worse off because of Harlan.
But we are not Time Lords and we cannot actually see the alternative timelines. We have to guess and that guessing will always be informed by our biases.
We will -never- -know- if the world was better or worse off with Harlan in it the way he was. We live and breath a world of incomplete information. We can talk about what Harlan did and didn’t do. We can talk about all the different people he encouraged and discouraged. But then we have no absolute measures to assign weights to those events.
Human minds have a built-in “fairness detector”, but everything fed into it is weighted by bias. How much does groping Willis “weigh”? How much does a novel by Harlan weigh, morally speaking? At least for those, we’re talking about actual events that happened. The “weight” for each event will be subjectively created by each person based on their personal biases, but the events can be recounted as fact.
On the other hand, how much does the “nobel prize winning woman author who never went into writing because Harlan groped her as a teen? weigh? Now we’re talking about a timeline that never happened. Sure, Harlan groped a young woman, that happened. But we don’t know if she would have become a nobel prize winning author or not. I’ve heard some people talk about Harlan and say that if you factor in all the people he turned -away- from SF, and all the potential lost there, that far outweighs the positive contributions Harlan made. i.e. get rid of Harlan and an utter paradise of award winning authors would have sprung up in his absence, far better in writing skill, and respectful of everyone. But that’s so far down into the whattabout-ism that its meaningless.
The problem with an obituary, or just talking about someone after they die, is the easy way out is to just write about which way your moral scales tipped with regard to the person who died. “Harlan sucked, and here are all the reasons why” or “Harlan was awesome and here are all the reasons why”. There is easy way out is to simply talk about the person solely as if -your- moral scale about -them- is somehow fully informed about all events, about their moral weighting, about all other possible timelines, and about their weights as well.
But we actually live in a world of incomplete information. We make judgements based mostly on our own personal biases. We might put so much weight to one event that it overwhelms all history. Fans don’t want to talk about Harlan’s harassing behavior because his work is just so awesome. Others can’t even acknowledge he wrote some great SF because he was a serial harasser. Both sides want to tip other people’s scales to match their own. And no no one wants to look at all the weighting and scaling they did to take some event and put it on some moral scale. Never mind showing your work, the answer is “Harlan was a jerk” or “Harlan was great”.
And that’s what “Sf is probably better for his existence.” does. It gives an answer without showing the work. And the most important bit of the work is how you take events and give them moral weights and how you weigh things that only happened on other timelines.
Life is mostly about muddling through with incomplete information and we rely on personal biases to fill in the gaps.
This actually points to a fundamental problem with “City on the Edge of Forever”: Harlan removes all incomplete information around pacifism. If Joan Collins’ character lives and pursues peace, the Nazis win and the world as we know it ceases to exist.
That’s really fucking convenient.
It’s also the exact same approach taken by hawks. Every time hawks want to start a war and doves oppose them, the hawks will say that if we allow the doves to run the show, the world as we know it will end. Vietnam was the absolute dumbest war we’ve been in, for the dumbest reasons. But when anti-war protesters took to the streets, the hawks said the peace activists were helping communists, helping our enemies win the war, bringing about the end of the world as we know it. The hawks act as if they -know- the future and all possible forks in the timelines, all possible outcomes in the multiverse. The hawks act as if they are completely informed about the present and all possible futures, and the doves are therefore objectively wrong. But its just incomplete information being filled in by personal biases.
Harlan indulged in this nonsense in City on the Edge of Forever. If the pacifist lives, we all die. We were told a story where this was known with absolute certainty. And then used to justify the death of a peace activist.
What if people naturally acknowledged their limited information and their personal biases, rather than using their biases at an unconscious level to convince themselves they’re fully informed? It’s a singularity. It’s so alien from what the world is like today that I don’t think we could even imagine what it would look like.
It would look something much more like Scalzi’s obit on Harlan. “This is what I saw. This is the conversation that we had. This is the phone call we did. This is what happened. I won’t put a moral weight to this. That’s a personal and subjective thing. But this happened. It isn’t everything that happened. And it isn’t all the possibilities in all the multiverse and muti-timelines weighted with complete information. In a world of incomplete information and subjective moral weighting, I can tell you that this happened.”
Harlan’s “City” indulged the pretense of complete information, hid the subjective weighting, and presented us a choice made with absolute knowledge that doesn’t exist in our normal lives. And then it just so happened that the choice reinforced the standard pro-war propaganda: Peace activists will destroy the world.
Living in a world being aware of our incomplete information and aware of the subjective weightings we add to make decisions is hard, is complex, and is the only way we have forward. Harlan’s “City” indulged the notion of absolute knowledge without any subjective bias, and is the easy way out that’s also caused some of the worst tragedies in human history.
If you go deep enough, war is, invariably, subjective biases presented as absolute knowledge and accepted as such, to the point that something is so wrong in the world that the only way to set it right is to kill someone else. And Harlan’s “City” did exactly all those things.
Dear Greg (4 July, 1:55),
1) Wow. Very long response to one short paragraph.
2) My post seems to have touched one of your nerves. I, personally, think you’re overgeneralizing or projecting a little bit.
3) Please don’t lecture me about how to write my own opinions. That’s Scalzi’s job.
Greg, you’re repeating yourself and also you’re probably writing more than anyone wants to read. Concision and staying on topic rather than going back to your previous soapbox are your friends.
Harlan indulged in this nonsense in City on the Edge of Forever. If the pacifist lives, we all die. We were told a story where this was known with absolute certainty. And then used to justify the death of a peace activist.
I’ll quote myself from the other Ellison thread:
“The character Ellison originally created was supposed to be a new age philosophy type person; 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.”
Over on a Facebook page called “The Harlan Ellison Facebook Fanclub”, which I was a member of until today, a group of “Harlan-loving” puppies (yes, apparently the two are not exclusive) are planning to bomb _your_ Facebook page and are looking for your home phone number. I shudder to think what’s on Reddit now.
Oh, they’re also going after Connie Willis, just because.
Official ruling: Let’s not revisit the “City on the Edge of Forever” in this thread. One, it’s not on point; two, it was addressed in a previous thread; three, it’s tiresome.
Move on, please.
Those silly people have gotten themselves worked up into quite a tizzy, haven’t they. They might also be disappointed to learn that these days I don’t pick up the phone if I don’t know the person calling. Caller ID is a thing.
Frankly, I really appreciate that you posted both: he did a lot to revolutionize the field and inspire creators I particularly admire, and he was also capable of doing some nasty stuff. Ignoring either half feels dishonest to his legacy and impact, and I’m glad you found a way to acknowledge his many facets.
“Tizzy”. That’s a good word. I need to use it more.
Also, of course, Ellison fans deciding to newly victimize Connie Willis in order to defend Ellison from accusations of victimizing Connie Willis is… an interesting tactic that I’m sure is going to benefit them and the long-term reputation of Harlan Ellison.
Ah, the old problem of separating the work from its creator. Richard Wagner was a vile antisemite, but Tristan und Isolde is a magnificent work of art. Albert Einstein was truly awful to his wives, and (apparently, at least early on) had stereotypical and ugly views of Chinese and Japanese. Caravaggio and Ben Jonson were murderers.
I don’t have to forgive their behaviors or beliefs, but as long as those don’t show in the works, I can continue to honor the works.
Sometimes it gets hard. When I first saw this predella by Uccello, I marveled at its beauty. And then I looked closer, and I’ll never see Uccello the same way again.
Never had the pleasure/misery to meet Mr. Ellison, so know him through his writing only. My two favorite authors are both gone now (Ray Bradbury, who wrote with pixie dust, and Harlan Ellison, who wrote with razor blades). I think I’ve read just about everything of HE’s that was published, and that has taught me two things about him:
1) Fantastic, angry writer! He once said that if a writer wasn’t angry, they weren’t good writers. I disagree, because there are many notably good, cheerful writers (please see Connie Willis).
2) All that anger makes for an awfully temperamental (and often, inhumane) human being. And so it apparently was.
Will miss his prose, but am not surprised at all the bad behavior we’ve heard about.
RIP Angry Man, get some rest. Better days ahead.
They also claim to not know what “puppies” are, and that Connie Willis didn’t do enough to accept Harlan’s apology. Those nasty wimmen, ya know. But when you can see their dog droppings …
Well, enough of them. I have more fun things to do today, like reinstall operating systems. Happy Fourth, all.
Indeed, and I think there’s a specific nuance here that often lets lost in a lot of cases when women are talking about men creeping on them at conventions, panels, readings etc. They’re not entirely, or even primarily, social occasions but work. Don’t know about anyone else, bur there’s been many a time at work when I’ve bit my tongue hard in ways I never would anywhere else, because… well… a rep for having a “bad attitude” or “not being a team player” isn’t something I really needed. And I’m under no delusions that women on the job get that multiplied by a thousand. A man has a screaming fit at co-workers — he’s “passionate”. A woman raises an eyerbrow — she’s a castrating shrew.
Sorry to see you go.
I was late to the argument, but I feel much the same way you did (regarding two male putzes, who I’m charitably assuming were temporarily insane from grief, going through pretzel like contortions to blame the victim without having the balls to just come out and blame the victim directly) and ‘liked’ your posts.
Yesterday afternoon, I attempted to put my opinions into words however I’m such a slow writer, I still had a page to go before it was time to leave to see Jethro Tull (great show!), and by the time I got back there were a couple of pleas for some sort of civility and the main two acting like assholes, who started and pilled-on in that cesspool of a thread, had pretty much shut-up, so it looks like my three hours worth of deathless prose (one page – yeah, I’m a turtle), will go unposted.
Fine by me.
I do note they haven’t had the guts to post their bullshit here, to have their asses assiduously sliced and diced by Scalzi. Whatever. Too bad, might have been a learning experience.
Final thought: HE was not the reason that both my girls took Karate from an early age (now Black Belt and Blue Belt), but the sort of shit HE pulled on Connie Willis sure was.
Thanks for the followup, Mr. Scalzi, and thanks for the confirmation about Connie’s immediate reaction John L. And also thanksCarl, for the link to the original messages on Harlan’s website. Harlan’s attempts to justify his treatment of Connie by citing the Nebulas was one of my triggers on the whole thing as I cited in the original post here.
[Deleted because per point 3 of my first comment, we’re not here for mere slagging of Ellison. Greg, it was already amply clear your opinion of the man, this was just more of the same, and you’re clearly spun up. Why don’t you take the rest of this thread off – JS]
Yes, I am aware of many things he did to help women, both as a group and individually. For me, though, calling someone a “feminist”, especially a man, requires more than complexity, especially on the scale at which Mr. Ellison apparently carried out serious harassment of women. That’s my personal opinion only, of course, and not necessarily widely subscribed to.
As for complexity, I often find that “complexity” does a lot to cover over “self-centered” and “ruled by whim”, which appears from various positive and negative descriptions of him to apply quite thoroughly. That is, he helped when it suited him for whatever personal reason, but had no compunction to stand on principle when it suited him otherwise, as apparently it did when he wanted to force his attentions on various women.
I wrote a big long thread on twitter on him that goes into more depth. “I have no mouth…” was a seminal story for me, for example. But my final takeaway from Harlan’s life is that we should continue to support brilliant work in SF from all comers, while trying to do better in the future as regards pushing back against bad behavior from “luminaries” and no-names alike, whether it’s an always-on type of deal, or a sometimes yes, sometimes no situation as with Harlan and many like him.
Jonathan Stephens –
Yes, I know the discussion is still going on. Facebook notifies me of any update even though I have unsubscribed from the group and indicated I don’t want to read more about all that. But unless there’s a simple way to block that too I guess I just accept those notifications as spam.
As for the two putzes (and I thought there were more, but guys with “edgy” names put me off as much as guys with fedoras now, so maybe it just looked like more) and their attitude on Willis if she did not accept the apology (or did it doesn’t really matter) – well, I think John has said more than enough over the years about how one behaves in a situation like that – you move on, you don’t bother the person again (or have your “friends” do that), you don’t do it to anyone else, and if the person wants you out of your life you get out and stay out. And all that is not just if you’re Harlan and is true no matter what happened between him and Willis.
John, thank you for this. Well said, and ‘nuff said, absolutely.
I already told my personal Ellison stories in response to your first post, benign and uncomfortable both. I did have a lively conversation with my son a few days later—the other person in my family who was a significant Ellison fan (which led to some musings about why it was my son, and not my daughters, who embraced that particular fandom…). We talked about our mixed feelings and what his work meant to us. My son’s disillusionments with Ellison were numerous (though he hadn’t heard about the Willis incident, which upset him a lot when I mentioned it, of course). But he noted that one aspect of Ellison’s work he was always grateful for were Harlan’s loving paeans to Los Angeles. When my son moved to L.A. more than a decade ago, he got a lot of flack from friends, family, coworkers who all thought LA was some sort of hell. He ended up really loving it, despite the challenges. He credits Ellison’s love letters to and about the city with helping him explain to others why he, too, loves that place. And I know what he means, even though I’ve never lived there.
Oh, yeah, and my son also expressed appreciation for Ellison for his contribution to “our weird family Passover seder traditions” which often included reading aloud to one another during the dinner or at the end when everyone was pleasantly tipsy. Reading choices were not necessarily topical to the holiday, and I had something of a reputation for reading “Prince Myshkin and Hold the Relish.” So there’s that.
Of all the dozens of writers I read in my adolescence, both inside the genre and out, Harlan’s voice was the most validating. His words, particularly in his introductions and essays, told me that I was not the only weird kid in the room.
Society tends to isolate people who don’t fit the mold, and that has the effect of weakening one’s ability to find a place in the world, to get along. Harlan told us, in a way no other writer did or could, that We Are Not Alone, and more than that, he challenged us to get off our self-depreciating asses and go out into the world and face it. To be a force for good instead of using the outsider’s excuse of “oh well, I don’t fit in, anyway.”
To me, this adds a poignant dimension to mourning his loss. But then again, he did tell us that at some point he would be gone, and that we would have to take up the burden ourselves (if I’m interpreting his “quiet lies the locusts tells” metaphor correctly).
And if there is any time in the history of humankind that we need to rise up and take on the burden of saving humanity, it’s now.
For those asking what to read by Ellison: although he is famous for his nasty, sharp, emotionally charged fiction, he also wrote some very good fluff. His Ellison Wonderland collection is quite delightful, with nothing nastier than a space fart joke.
Cthulu – was good to read your take as well! (I feel like it’s been a while?)
Also, it seemed a good balance between what seems like your viewpoint (I’ve always enjoyed your response to anyone calling Our Host a socialist.)