Friday, June 29, 2018

Good bye, angry man

I used to say that Harlan Ellison’s fans and haters said the same things about him, that he was a powder keg of a human being, ready to explode at anything that offended him. As I have grown older, the many anecdotes about his life have gradually been supplanted by his writing.

Not counting the City On The Edge of Forever (which I first remember seeing via a film projector on a big screen at an elementary school carnival), my earliest exposure to Harlan Ellison was finding Dangerous Visions sometime in middle school. 

That book was like an explosion in my brain. The first time I sat down with it at the library, I didn’t even read the actual stories. I just went from introduction to introduction, reading Ellison’s colorful commentary about the different authors. I was so struck by his voice, by how crass and warm and just so full of life those introductions were.

Dangerous Visions was a landmark work. I feel safe saying it changed science fiction and that speculative fiction in books and TV and movies and video games would not be the same without it. We all live in a post Dangerous Visions world.

The other Ellison work I cannot get out of my head after learning about his death is All The Lies That Are My Life, a novella which is in Shatterday but I read in college as a slender chapbook. It’s biography of a fictional idealized version and/or caricature of Ellison from the viewpoint of what I still believe is a fictional version of Robert Silverberg. So it’s a fictional autobiography disguised as a fictional biography. It says a lot about friendship and fame and the walls and personas we build.

He also kills himself in that story. Now that he is actually dead, it kind of makes my head spin.

Some people feel Harlan Ellison was a big jerk and a creep and I’m sure there is some truth to that. I am sure he was a hypocrite (since we all are) However, he also wrote so well and deeply about pain and loss and sorrow and bitterness and love. He railed against an unfair and unjust world. I think he wanted the world to learn how to be a better place.

The man could write and that writing had impact. I’m glad he was and is a part of my reading and I’m sad he’s gone.

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