Yesterday—June 28th, 2018—Harlan Ellison passed on to the clockwork castle in the sky.
Few authors have impacted me with their work in the same way Harlan’s has. Many remember him for being irate and outspoken—a bitter misanthrope who would hardly allow you a word in conversation. He was someone with a lot to say, and by God he wouldn’t be caught holding back. But looking at him now (never having met him, but exploring his body of work and listening to various recordings,) I see a man who was passionate about stories: a man who would not let injustices stand, and words go unspoken.
He was intelligent, witty, and a legend in his craft.
Slippage was most likely my introduction to his work, though it’s hard to say because it’s been so long. The thing about Ellison’s writing, is that even after paging through his story collections—preferring some pieces to others and discovering new favorites—there probably isn’t a single one I’ve forgotten. His ideas and imagery tend to linger in the mind…
The hapless, immortal pile of jelly in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.
The disfigured old women sitting in a circle of wheelchairs in The Function of Dream Sleep.
Technology’s blood-drawing teeth in the story Keyboard.
The Devil himself giving Teddy Crazy his unsettling end in !!!The!!Teddy!Crazy!!Show!!!
The slow and painful death brought on by nature in The Lingering Scent of Woodsmoke.
And there are many, many others—as varied and extravagant as they come.
Awhile back I wrote a piece on how genres don’t exist, and Ellison stands as a good example. Though the above descriptions are of his often dark and upsetting imagery, he was beyond capable of producing the full range of human emotion. He was no more a horror writer than a science fiction or fantasy writer. That probably had something to do with him hating being labeled—not accepting a title other than “writer.”
And really, that’s all fair enough. The man was more than just one thing in his work, and it’s something I appreciate as a reader; when you pick up an Ellison story, essay, or script, it could be just about anything. And no matter what it is, the story is worth reading.
Though he is gone, his words will live as long as there are readers, and let’s hope that will be for a very, very long time. For those who knew him or were touched by his work, this has been a heartbreaking loss. I’m sure I will be occupied visiting and re-visiting his books in the coming weeks.
If you have yet to read Harlan’s work, I recommend The Essential Ellison: A 50 Year Retrospective. It has much of his best, and contains plenty of variety. You can click the image below to order your own:
What’s your favorite Ellison story? Let me know in the comments section below. Oh, and if you wish to learn more, there’s an excellent documentary called “Dreams With Sharp Teeth” which is all about the man and his work.
Rest easy Harlan, you will be missed.