Thursday, June 28, 2018

RIP Harlan Ellison (1934-2018)

Harlan Ellison passed away today. A dynamic figure known for his writing in all mediums - Fiction, Criticism, Film, Television, and comic books. Known for his irascible personality, he proudly accepted the charge of being the most contentious man on the planet. He liked to say he was a combination of Jiminy Cricket and Zorro. 

I first remember seeing Ellison making TV appearances in the 1990s on Politically Incorrect and the Syfy Channel. On youtube his interviews from the 1970s with Tom Snyder are a treasure - one of the all time great raconteurs. He ran away from home several times and worked all sorts of manual labor jobs, later earned his writing credentials by starting with the Pulp Magazines, knowing all the legends of that period including L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, and many others. Later he went on to Hollywood and wrote for television, including the greatest Star Trek episode of all time "The City on the Edge of Forever."

Ellison mastered the short story form, the stories pack the punch of a Raymond Carver or Flannery O'Connor. Listing them would take too long, "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" is one of the all time great allegories on God and artificial intelligence; "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" on urban blight; "Paladin of the Lost Hour" is an unforgettable tale of friendship; "Jeffty is Five" on the loss of childhood innocence. Those just scratch the surface of the stories. Any understanding of modern pop culture must seek out the writings of Ellison.

At the legendary Daisy Club in Los Angeles Ellison played pool with Omar Sharif, Peter Falk, Paul Newman, and Telly Savales. He took part in the March on Selma; gave hundreds of speeches in support of the Equal Rights Amendment; once punched out a writing professor at Ohio State who said he had no talent; did the same to a TV producer; almost came to blows with Frank Sinatra; wrote stories as the public watched at bookstores; traveled with the Rolling Stones; got Carl Sagan out of a scrap; could keep up with Robin Williams; stood up for his beliefs; mentored many writers; and held court at his house The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars.

Harlan will be missed. He took on stupidity, cowardice, prejudice, sexism, racism, bullies, and ignorance. Most important of all - he inspired many to think and be a better human.