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Werthead

RIP Harlan Ellison

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A polarising figure, it has to be said, but in his day one of the best scriptwriters and SFF editors the field has ever produced, with some very fine short fiction to his name.

He could also be a massive arsehole, once nearly got into a fight with Frank Sinatra, groped a fellow SF author at a public event and sued absolutely everyone who ever came up with an idea even remotely like one of his.

He certainly won't be forgotten, and I don't think we'll see his like again in the field.

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I don’t like Frank Sinatra so that makes me like him more. I’ve never read any of his work but ive somehow read loads about I Have No Mouth and find it thouroughly horrifying so thanks for that I guess. 

I’ll definitely read it one day though. And his other work. 

 

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Ellison came off pretty well in the Sinatra encounter, even refusing to explain he was a scriptwriter and didn't back down until his friends dragged him out. But he was pretty cool in that moment.

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Personally, I find his short fiction more important than his work as an editor, although Dangerous Visions is of course a landmark, and certainly more important than his screenwriting (though, again, "The City on the Edge of Forever" is the pinnacle of Star Trek, as "Demon with a Glass Hand" is the pinnacle of Outer Limits, and "Paladin of the Lost Hour" is arguably the pinnacle of the Twilight Zone revival). His television criticism should also not be forgotten.  The Glass Teat is a great collection of his television reviews.


There was a verve, a raw energy, to his writing. So many great stories, and so many great titles to go with them. "Jeffty is Five." "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktock man". "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream". "The Beast Who Shouted Love at the Heart of the World." "A Boy and His Dog." And so on, and so on. He was an amazing writer.

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"A Boy and His Dog" also directly inspired Fallout, which I think completely escaped Ellison as he never sued anyone over it (even when Bethesda lent on the movie imagery in the trailer for Fallout 3).

He also co-wrote the video game I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream in 1995, despite not owning a PC. He wrote all the dialogue for the game on a typewriter and then voiced some of the game characters.

A complicated figure. After 45 years, I know that Christopher Priest still has Ellison apologists coming up to him at events and threatening to punch his lights out after spilling the beans on The Last Dangerous Visions. A little disingenuous as well, since Ellison benefited from the publicity from that set-to, apparently once telling someone at a party that he was like Michelangelo "doodling on the Sistine Chapel ceiling whilst an impotent Pope - or Priest! - rails impotently from below."

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7 hours ago, The Marquis de Leech said:

Silly question - with Ellison gone, what is the legal situation with Last Dangerous Visions?

Ellison I think has been quoted as having stated that stories would be returned to the writers or their estates if he did not survive to publish the book. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen. 

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First Dozois, now Ellison, seems like the giants of old sf are suddenly leaving quickly.

He seems like a very interesting figure in his time, should check out some interview/documentaries on him.

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The title of the article in which Ellison takes on Sinatra is "Frank Sinatra has a cold." I read it well before I knew who Ellison was. 

Dangerous Visions and Again Dangerous Visions introduced me to Ellison and totally blew my 15 year old mind. Reading Ellison as a teenager still gives me bad dreams even 50 years later. I Have No Mouth.... still haunts me. 

Fuck!! I will miss him. 

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Him and Polansky were the first ones that made me wonder if talent was a pass for being an ass. It seems to be.

 

I guess I mourn the writer in him, but that writer died long ago.

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Posted (edited)
47 minutes ago, Errant Bard said:

Him and Polansky were the first ones that made me wonder if talent was a pass for being an ass. It seems to be.

Not to be that guy, but I'd hardly say the two are comparable. One is an ass, the other drugged and raped a 13 year old girl.

Edited by Let's Get Kraken

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Ellison received a Nebula for short story in 2011. His rate of output of new writing certainly slowed, especially as illness increasingly dogged him (including a stroke), but the fires were still there.

That said, genuine talent is rare. People will put up with a lot if you have it.

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4 hours ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

Not to be that guy, but I'd hardly say the two are comparable. One is an ass, the other drugged and raped a 13 year old girl.

The two are indeed not comparable, but Ellison did publicly grope Connie Willis live on stage at the Hugo Awards in 2006, and there are numerous stories about his violent temper, which at least twice got him into physical altercations with authors. He also repeatedly threatened other writers, including Christopher Priest and J.G. Ballard, with physical violence, to their faces and through proxies. He certainly did do some amoral and illegal shit.

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5 hours ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

Not to be that guy, but I'd hardly say the two are comparable. One is an ass, the other drugged and raped a 13 year old girl.

Not just an ass. He sexually assaulted someone in front of hundreds of people and then tried to pretend it didn't happen. 

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Posted (edited)

Given that we learn of Ellison allegedly threatening Ballard from an amused anecdote Ballard provided in the course of reviewing one of Ellison's books almost a decade after the event, I'm not sure I would take it as given that Ellison actually made a threat (Ellison's own account of their interaction in Rio is so sedate as to be boring; usually he lavished people with the details of his righteous outrage and the results thereof). For that matter, Ellison denied making any serious threat (except of the legal variety) against Priest, though given his typical approach to disagreement he was no doubt throwing about a lot of invective to emphasize that he was upset. He was a hyperbolic guy.

What's the second fight he had with an author? Platt, I know of, but Platt wasn't exactly an innocent victim.

I was there at the Anaheim Worldcon, watching in the audience, but I recently rewatched the Willis incident and I'm still struck by the complete contradiction between the infamous thing Ellison did, and the very civil thing he did mere moments before when he offered up his arm to Willis so she could wipe her hands after she dislodged the microphone from his mouth. I think a lot more malice has been read into things than actually existed at that particular moment in either of their minds. Ellison certainly did a very bad job of dealing with the fallout of his absurdly rude behavior in an appropriate way afterwards, turning it into just another example of the aggrieved Harlan show, but no surprise from someone who made enough enemies for them to form a club, went through five marriages, etc., which all rather indicates that he really was an enormous, entitled jerk a good part of the time.

Edited by Switzeran

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2 hours ago, Werthead said:

The two are indeed not comparable, but Ellison did publicly grope Connie Willis live on stage at the Hugo Awards in 2006, and there are numerous stories about his violent temper, which at least twice got him into physical altercations with authors. He also repeatedly threatened other writers, including Christopher Priest and J.G. Ballard, with physical violence, to their faces and through proxies. He certainly did do some amoral and illegal shit.

Did he really mail a dead gopher to his publisher?

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Posted (edited)
10 minutes ago, Let's Get Kraken said:

Did he really mail a dead gopher to his publisher?

According to Ellison, the answer was yes and no.

He did not mail a dead gopher to his publisher. He mailed a dead gopher to the comptroller of his publisher. This was after a series of bricks mailed to him did not change his mind about the issue Ellison had with the publisher related to their refusal to revert the rights to a book he wrote back to him after they refused to rectify a violation of his contract, and (again, according to Ellison) after Sandor, the Lithuanian mob hitman, had a conversation with the comptroller in which he allegedly revealed intimate details of  the schedules, addresses, and even schools of the comptroller's family.

A lot of Harlan's stories were not unvarnished. I can buy that he really did send bricks and a gopher, but I suspect Sandor the Lithuanian hitman was a colorful invention.

Edited by Switzeran

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Posted (edited)

First thing that comes to mind when I think of Ellison is this quote.

“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.”

Fits our current political climate just about perfectly. RIP

Edited by Suttree

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