Goodbye Mr. Ellison

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It is with a bit of a heavy heart that I write this piece. With so many thoughts going through my head, it is unlikely that I can write it in a short linear narrative, so I hope you will bear with me.

I just found out that Harlan Ellison died. I didn’t find out on the news, or in the newspaper.  Instead, I read it on the IMDB website and then had to go looking for confirmation.  I don’t feel like this is right.  He was a writer of great significance and I think more should have been done to celebrate his life and mourn his passing.

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I was introduced to the works of Harlan Ellison by long-haired photographer Paul Smith. He handed me a copy of Gentleman Junkie and other stories.  He had picked it up used at the Bakka Bookstore (an SF specialty store). in Toronto earlier that week.  After reading Sally In Our Alley, I was hooked.

His writing is brilliant. He has a voice that I have not seen duplicated anywhere.  He was creative in ways that I find hard to describe.  He wrote a story like a vivid picture without the need to bog you down.

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My high school math teacher….maybe it was Mr. Mukts….told me that he liked the movie A Boy and His Dog, which starred Don Johnson and was adapted from a Harlan Ellison story. I thought it interesting but didn’t find a copy of it on VHS until I was living in Japan and the video store had one for rent.  It was pretty good.

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One day while studying in London, Ontario I came across a bunch of his books used at City Lights bookstore on Richmond street.  I didn’t know about the significance of the name of the bookstore until a year or two later.

Having scoured many used bookstores in Toronto and even venturing to The Worlds Biggest Bookstore (probably just a name) I could not find any of his books.  I only found one at the university bookstore in London, and that was only by chance that happened to be browsing the small fiction area.

So, when I chanced upon six of his books at once, I jumped on them. I devoured them when I should have been reading Paradise Lost or the Pioneers.  I proudly displayed them on my dorm room bookshelf.  I told everyone how good they were and I even managed to get Rhonda, a strong reader from another dorm room, interested in them.

I have collected quite a number of books over the years. Whenever I see one, I feel obliged to buy it.  If I don’t need it, I try to inspire others to read them.

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If you have never read a Harlan Ellison book, you have to understand that introductions to his books and his stories, often updated so that you have three or four introductions to the same story, are literary works in themselves and make owning multiple editions of his books not at all strange.

These introductions were, very often, candid assessments of himself and his life. It was in these introductions that I understood what literary honesty meant.  He once (maybe more than once) joked that there was no way to blackmail him as all his secrets were written in the introductions.

He wrote about his failings in marriage and his ego. He wrote about his triumphs and failures.  He put it all in black and white for us to see.  Honesty.  When I write, I try for the same honesty, but know that I am holding back or not confronting some things because family and friends read what I write.  I don’t know what honesty means.

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Harlan Ellison will be known by many as a science fiction writer. I don’t think this is how he should be remembered.  Yes, he might have written one of the best Star Trek episodes ever,  many great Twilight Zone episodes, and inspired the Terminator series with his I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (though he should share some of that inspiration with Philip K. Dick.), but he wrote other things.  He wrote that he wanted SF to be called Speculative Fiction rather than science fiction.  Probably not a bad idea.

I think short stories are where Ellison really shined.  He could encapsulate so much into an economy of words.

I wish I could write as well as Harlan Ellison. I also wish I were as prolific.  He wrote non-fiction, fiction, screenplays, newspaper columns, movies…and who knows what else.  The idea that the writer is not confined to any single genre is an especially attractive one to me.  The idea that they writer is capable of more than one style is also appealing.  It means that the writer’s voice is so much more authentic because it is allowed to stretch.

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Harlan Ellison is somewhat legendary for being difficult to work with. I don’t know if that is true, but I have been assured that all great artists are so passionate about their work that they can’t help but come into conflict with others who don’t see it their way.  What I do know is that whenever he didn’t like how a project was going he had his name in the credits changed to Cordwainer Bird (as in flipping the bird).  I always thought that story was kind of cool.

Apparently, the Starlost, suffered this fate. Having watched some episodes on TV and the internet….well, I kind of understand.  I also wish he had had the opportunity to work on the original Doctor Who and maybe even Blake’s Seven.

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Do I have a favourite Ellison book or story? I have a few.  Certainly Shatterday and its changing of the days of the weeks is awesome.  I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is everything an SF story should be and more.  Spider Kiss (or Rockabilly) is a brilliant story that says as much about the entertainment industry today as it did originally.  I also will never watch TV the same way again after reading the Glass Teat.

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Jay Ellison            May 27 1934–June 28 2018

His words inspired me and I hope they will continue to inspire me. I can only conclude with my strong feeling that the world is not a better place without Harlan Ellison.

 

I originally called this post Approaching Oblivion as a nod to one of his books, but I don’t think it was a good title.  Goodbye sums up my feelings much better

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About Anthony

I am: equal parts rebel, romantic and shockingly average Joe. a writer trapped inside of an ESL teacher's body. an introverted attention seeker. a teacher who hopes one day to be called "Captain, my Captain." an intellectual who can do some very dumb things. a person whose Japan experience, despite being so long ago, still exerts a strong influence upon him. a lover of books, music, beer, hockey and Pizza.
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14 Responses to Goodbye Mr. Ellison

  1. leggypeggy says:

    Thank you for introducing me to a new author. I wonder if many of his books are around in Australia?

  2. Quinn says:

    I’ve never heard of Harlan Ellison so thanks for writing this, I now have a wealth of writings to catch up on!

  3. windswept007 says:

    I will try one. It is sad when your favourite author dies, you morn the books you will never read.

    • Anthony says:

      That is painfully true. When I was young, I was a big fan of James Clavell. I kept hoping for another Noble House novel. When he died, and we were left with Gai Jin, I was disappointed.
      The writer’s who have taken over for Robert B, Parker have been quite good, though.
      Sorry, I am rambling. You’ve got me thinking, though.

  4. Heide says:

    I’m so sorry to read the sad news — and also to see how deeply it has affected you, Anthony. My heart goes out to you and to his many other fans, friends, and family.

  5. Hunida says:

    I’m ashamed to admit I had never heard of Harlan Ellison before but love the little fact you included about him changing his name to Cordwainer Bird sometimes. Sounds like an awesome guy and though I’m not into Science Fiction much– I’ll have to add Shatter Day to my TBR list & check it out someday if it’s your favorite.

  6. I’m aware of his name and maybe read one of his books when I was into SF as a high schooler. But a nice write-up about more than what he’s most known for. Relieved the title was misleading; thought you were stopping blogging. Maybe update it with his name or initials?

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