Thursday, June 13, 2013

Discuss: Harlan Ellison


david_b said...

Hmmm, let me start the day with this.

He's a shmuck. An intelligent, engaging, controversial, bombastic, talented, stimulating, condescending shmuck.

The Sci-Fi literary community needed someone like him, and arguably needs more of 'em.

I liked watching him on the 1976 Snyder show with the Trek cast, both condescending the medium of which he operates (Hollywood/television script writing...), berates it for limiting his ideas, yet intuitively he challenges the industry to change for betterment.

He may be a smuck, but I like him, wishing more in the industry were like him. Would certainly liven things up at parties.

I always liked his fiercely-worded Foreword praise of Doctor Who in the old Terrance Dicks novelizations. He callously insulted both SW and Trek fans alike, calling the good Doctor 'his hero'.

Again, I recognize him as a successful, yet polarizing figure in the world of literary fiction. Ok, still a shmuck.

Rip Jagger said...

Ah good old Harlan Ellison.

Ellison was hot as a pistol when I was first dabbling in science fiction, and his books were at once fascinating and confusing to a new reader unaccustomed to the truly bizarre as opposed to the merely weird. But I have always liked the punch and power of Harlan's prose.

I first learned of him in the Avengers and Hulk when he plotted a couple of tales which crossed over. As I recollect Roy Thomas used a lot of Ellison's titles in the script for the Hulk story which among other things introduced the Hulk's love Jarella. I made it a small mission to track down and read as many of the titles as I could find. I don't at this point remember if I succeeded, but surely by this time I've read most of them.

One collection of Harlan's early non-fiction "The Glass Teat" really sharpened my understanding of pop culture and of the main portal I had into it, television. Ellison's critiques were sharp and insightful.

I bought a "new" Ellison story just a few weeks ago, the recent reprint from Hard Case Crime of his debut novel "Web of the City" and its sitting in the stack waiting its turn.

Harlan is an old man these days, but from the stories I keep running across he hasn't lost any of his pugnacious intensity. That's a hopeful sign for all of us who are migrating in the same inevitable direction.

Go Harlan!

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Hmmm, I think I would be better equipped to comment in the fall, since one of my summer reading projects (one of many - I may have bitten off more than I can possibly hope to chew) is to get through several books of Ellison's short stories which I purchased rather cheaply over the past few months.

Otherwise, I know Ellison, a comics reader himself, influenced quite a few of the comics writers of the '70s and '80s (and also scripted a few himself). And then there's also his role as a critic and general argumentative, er, fellow (I'll take the high road and avoid david_b's colorful vocabulary).
I only read his (in)famous Comics Journal interview the first time a few years back, and I have to say, I understand why he's either loved or hated. Personally, I found much of what he said in that interview and later commentary on our favorite hobby quite interesting - I agreed with some of it, but in other cases I thought he was way out of line.
Generally, though, I have a pretty positive opinion of Ellison - like david_b said, the sci-fi, and also comics and general literary community probably needs more like him. And if nothing else, I like the various episodes of favorite TV shows (e.g. Star Trek, Outer Limits, Twilight Zone) that he's written.

Edo Bosnar said...

Rip, we were posting at the same time, but I just have to say that one of those Ellison books I have is that new edition of Web of the City! (Not to sidetrack, but man I love those Hard Case Crime books.)

david_b said...

He's also endearing when he gets on a rant, as shown occasionally on the youtube segment I listed..

He's certainly a visionary. I like visionaries in ALL walks of life: Science, architecture, literature, you name it... Those who see life as it is and charts out how it could be better.

Shmucky-ness aside, he's a well-respected giant in the industry and he very well should be.

david_b said...

But Edo..., I meant 'shmuck' in only 'the finest way possible', of course.

Seriously, I gauge my likeability of folks on whether I can see myself on a very long road trip somewhere cross-country, and whether we can get through it without killing each other.

Oh, we'd verbally tangle over many things, but it would be such an awesome ride. Harlan would be a stitch...

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, david_b, thanks for the link to that video, but geez, 5 parts? Like I don't have enough stuff to distract me all day when I should be working...

William Preston said...

A friend in high school turned me on to Ellison's work, and I bought I HAVE NO MOUTH and loved aspects of it . . . at the same time feeling that the place the stories came from wasn't a good place, wasn't a place from which I could learn anything especially true about the world. (Prior to that, most of the short SF I'd read was from Bradbury, Niven, and Clark.)

I did buy several more Ellison books in high school, concluding with the collection SHATTERDAY. I thought some of those stories were terrific, though now I noticed a streak of sentiment rather than the streak of bile.

At some point in college, in a dark place myself, I was reading some Ellison short fiction and realized there wasn't a place for it in my life, and I gave away his books. I'm sure I wouldn't feel that way now, but I understand why I felt that way then.

The documentary/interview film with Ellison, DREAMS WITH SHARP TEETH, is a lot of fun.

Anonymous said...

I haven't read much of his fiction, but he seems to be rather annoying at times (he'll probably sue me now). I read an article he did in Playboy years ago about comics and how they weren't just for kids anymore (this was around 1990), so I knew he was a comics fan from way back.

As for his comic work, I loved Daredevil #208 (with the house full of deadly traps) and I still have a paperback book that collects those Hulk stories that Rip mentioned.

Ellison voiced himself on an episode of "Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc." a couple years ago; in a later episode, Velma mentioned that Ellison was unavailable to help them because he was "attending a misanthropes convention". It's funny cause it's true!

Mike W.

Humanbelly said...

He was quite the hot, happenin' writer when I was in college (very early 80's). His "Dangerous Visions" anthology (IIRC) was part of a Fantasy & SF literature course I took-- the professor had a passing correspondance relationship w/ him. I also was in a premiere of a dramatization of "Repent, Ticktockman. . . " around that time. Both professors had unpleasant run-ins w/ the man at some point.

It's been quite a long time since I've read any of his work, but that's mostly because there was a consistent undercurrent in his writing style that really put me off. I couldn't put it into words at the time, but I realized later on that I always felt like his writing was terribly self-conscious, and that he never failed to be impressed w/ how clever he considered himself to be. That just puts me right off. Very much the opposite of someone like, say, Terry Pratchett (who is about a zillion times cleverer, IMO), who you just know would be happy to lend you a cup of sugar if you dropped by, and think nothing of it.

The whole reveling in being a condescending, ill-tempered, superior, snotty jerk schtick? I have no time or patience for that from ANY artist, no matter how important or talented they may be. I'm afraid I can't separate art from artist under those circumstances, and it absolutely diminishes their work in my eyes. Nope, sorry. . .

HB (a bit hard-nosed today)

Karen said...

I debated about putting any sort of text with this post today but I figured you guys would know what to do. And you did!

While I recognize his talent and have enjoyed some of his work, I can't understand anyone who spends so much time working at being angry. As someone who has struggled at times with a bad temper, I know I feel so much better when I am at peace with others. I don't get people who seek out drama. But when he's not picking a fight, he can be terribly interesting to listen to.

Anonymous said...

What was this about Ellison and Scooby Doo? Truly, the End Times are upon us.
About "The Glass Teat", back in those days, you were lucky if you could get two channels on your T.V., now you can get around a hundred, even with a crappy cable plan.
The rough beast is slouching toward us, waiting to be born.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I have always liked Ellison's work. However his behavior is another story. All his "angry man" act does is alienate future readers. There are people on his message board who try to emulate him. However I would never try to be like this guy. I wouldn't have any friends to speak of. He gets away with it because he's a successful author. I have to agree with the commenter who said he believes he's smarter than the reader and likes to hammer that point across in every word he writes. I still believe he would have a much wider audience if he didn't like to annoy people so much.

Anonymous said...

Ellison definitely brings out some mixed reactions in people, even in those of us who have enjoyed his work. Somewhere, he's probably cackling like Dr. Frankenstein, rubbing his hands and enjoying the chaos. Yeah, that sounds like him.

Anonymous said...

I have read some Ellison, and some things about him ,and the funniest story I read concerning him, which may well have been a myth, was, that his idea for a screenplay for the first Star Trek movie involved the crew meeting God at the edge of space...the funny part was that when he pitched it, the executives told him they were looking for something more dramatic.
He stormed out of the room swearing like crazy.
It's probably apocryphal B.S., but it's still a good story.

Humanbelly said...

Ha! I think I've heard that story as well, Anony. I wouldn't be surprised if it's apocryphal, since it sounds like that would be a very convenient anecedotal match with the fact that Star Trek 6 (was it 6? Maybe 5?) was a hack-job telling of pretty much that exact story--!

In fact, Harlan Ellison likely would have wasted no time sueing the studio at the very first opportunity. . .


Edo Bosnar said...

Star Trek 5. That's the one. William Shatner had complete creative control. Worst. Trek. Movie. Ever.

Tony said...

Ah....Cordwainer Bird. He wrote the stories for a Canadian sci-fi show in the early '70s called "The Starlost". He was so dissatisfied with the results, that Harlan insisted the credits contain his pen name. The show lasted for only 16 episodes. I have them on DVD.

Unknown said...

Ellison was one of my favorite SF writers in High School. The timing was perfect for discovering him then, as I was just starting to question everything around me (especially authority). One of my favorite books ever was The Illustrated Harlan Ellison, edited by Byron Priess. It had some really interesting takes on some of his stories by Steranko and Stout, among others. Sadly, I loaned it out and it never came back. Priess did some really interesting things in the Bronze age with Weird Heroes and his various illustrated books.He might be worthy of further analysis here.

Also.....The Outer Limits! Ellison wrote two of my favorite episodes: Soldier & Demon With A Glass Hand.

James Chatterton

humanbelly said...

The very mention of DEMON WITH A GLASS HAND caused me to look it up on Youtube and watch it right at that moment-! Man, good episode, you're right-- haven't seen it since I was a child. I have to say, though, that I'm not 100% sure it's Ellison's story that carries the day (although it's fine, don't get me wrong-- and I had completely forgotten the twist at the end-!). Robert Culp foreshadows his I SPY cool, here, with a reserved, underplayed, very human performance (ha!). . . and the setting in that HUGE old office building in L.A. is a wonderfully-used wonder all its own.
Ellison's conceit of the character needing to track down "fingers" to complete the compact computer is, of course, decades ahead of its time, and would make a nice little video game, when you think about it-!


Fred W. Hill said...

Joining late in the conversation, as happens all too often. I was introduced to Harlan's writing initially through his columns in the Comics Journal in the early '80s -- I missed the issue with the infamous interview over which both he and the Journal were sued by Michael Fleischer (sp?) but I read the issues over the next several months which had many letters on it (the letters section wasn't called "Blood & Thunder" for nothing!). Eventually I also read many of his short stories and generally enjoy them and in the late '90s I occasionally saw him on a sci-fi/pop culture program early Sunday mornings.
Yeah, he can go over the top in his vitrol and he's hard to take in heavy dosages, but generally he has a good sense of humor but has also taken on some serious issues, admittedly not particularly in a manner that win over anyone who isn't already at least leaning to his side of the argument.
Oh, and I liked "The Glass Teat" collection too, Rip! Fascinating stuff.

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