Friday, June 29, 2018

Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison unintentionally made me who I am today. 

Science fiction has always been important to me, partly due to Ray Bradbury and HG Wells, but it was Harlan Ellison that taught me how to write. Of course he created a lot of brilliant 'speculative fiction', but it was his commentary on the world around us that caught my eye and tickled my brain. 

I could never match his intellect, but when I write, I can sometimes hear his voice nudging me towards what to say and how to say it. Because of his amazing influence, I always wanted him to know how much I appreciated his talent, but he's obviously not someone I could easily meet. Then a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find his website had his address posted, and he seemed open to anyone that wanted to send him actual mail. So, I was determined to write him a (way too) lengthy thank you letter, but as is always the case, life got in my way, and I kept putting it off. 

As of yesterday (June 28, 2018), it seems I put it off too long, because the legendary Harlan Ellison has passed away in his sleep. 
If you're unfamiliar with his name, you might know him from his extraordinary career. 

Harlan was best known for writing The City on the Edge of Forever, which is considered by many to be the best episode of the original Star Trek series. The irony of that is, he hated the episode. He wrote an entire book, reprinting his original script, and complaining about Gene Roddenberry. I read it, and I highly recommend it.

You also might recognize his name from the closing credits of the original Terminator from 1984. 

From IMDB:

"Science fiction author Harlan Ellison sued James Cameron, claiming that the film was plagiarized from the two The Outer Limits (1963) episodes that Ellison wrote, namely The Outer Limits: Soldier (1964) and The Outer Limits: Demon with a Glass Hand (1964). The concept of "Skynet" could also have been borrowed from an Ellison short story called "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." The suit was settled out of court and newer prints of the film acknowledge Ellison. Cameron has claimed that this settlement was forced upon him by the producers. He felt that Ellison was an opportunist making invalid claims, and wanted the case to go on trial. However, the studio told him that he would be personally responsible for financial damages in the event he lost the trial. So he had no choice but to accept the settlement, a fact that he has always resented."

Harlan Ellison never took any money for this movie. He only asked for a credit acknowledging his work. And that's what he got. 

For decades, he's been described as a curmudgeon, ornery, intimidating, and just brutally honest. But others have said he has a heart of gold and would go out of his way to help friends, or even a stranger, in any way he could. He's won dozens of awards and has more wisdom and experience than any of us could ever hope to accumulate. 

He had a commentary for Sci-Fi Channel (before becoming SyFy), and fortunately for us, they're all posted online. PLEASE watch a few of these here to understand a bit more about him. Each one is about three minutes long, and definitely worth your time. You can also see some of his more recent rants on his own YouTube page here

So now I have to ask myself, what is to become of the overly inflated fan letter I started writing? 

I guess I'll just post it here as an open letter, in the hopes that somehow, his spirit might be able to sense my gratitude in the √¶ther


Dear Mr. Ellison,

Hi, my name is Mike, and I've loved you for many years. To clarify, my feelings are strictly platonic, mostly due to my heterosexuality, although I do acknowledge that you are a good looking guy. I am in fact, deeply in love with your work, your wisdom, and your vast intellect.

Sadly, I think my "infatuation" is destined to be unrequited.  I say this, because I wrote you many years ago, after reading, Dream Corridor, and you never replied.  I know you're a busy guy, so I wasn't too upset.  But, I always had high hopes that the legendary Harlan Ellison would acknowledge my existence in some way.

I also wondered, maybe I didn't do enough to get your attention?  Maybe I was just one more annoying voice in the sea of endless banality you most likely get every day.  And in truth, I know I was quite the idiot when I wrote you years ago, (and most likely still am today).

I sort of imagined you adding my name to a vast compendium of other names, with stars next to each one, correlating the level of stupidity, like your own little black book of morons.  I sincerely hope my previous letter didn't garner a star (or two?) by my name.

But in the off chance that you were genuinely just too busy to reply, or my letter never even got to you, I decided to try writing again.  So here I am, many years later, pouring my heart out to you as concisely as my tiny brain will allow, in hopes to impart my undying gratitude and appreciation to your influence in my life.

I do apologize for the unnecessarily long introduction, but I felt the need to tell you that you have genuinely inspired me.

In middle school, I started reading Ray Bradbury, and HG Wells, and of course comic books, (mostly Hulk and Spider-man, but there were many others).  I was lucky, because my parents loved science fiction, so they would tell me about interesting things that they enjoyed when they were younger, which would generally scare the crap out of me (like some episodes of Lost in Space and Star Trek... hey, I was just a kid!).

I hated school, because I was a bit nerdy, and the masses seemed to enjoy picking on me, since I liked imaginative things *gasp!*.   And naturally, science fiction was a great escape for me from the real world.

So, in my efforts for escapism, I joined the Science Fiction Book Club.  And from reading the vague descriptions of each book, I was curious about and eventually bought your book, Stalking the Nightmare.  

Thank you!!

I still remember how I loved Djinn, No Chaser!  It made me laugh, with brilliant insults I could never be quick enough to remember if I should need them.

Of course there were many other fantastic stories as well, but that one always stood out. And since I was a slow reader, I really appreciated your short story format. I could get into the story, it would make me think, and get out, all within the same day. Rinse, repeat.

But eventually I read all the stories in Stalking the Nightmare, and the only thing left was Scenes From the Real World.  Ugh.... I  confess, as a kid, I had NO interest in reading about your personal life. I thought, "I'm living my own life, why should I listen to him rant about his problems??"  But I was desperate and a curious sort, so I decided to check them out anyway.

And suddenly something amazing happened:  I was entertained!

To my surprise, it seemed there was still plenty of flavor left in this book after I completely sucked the juice out of the fiction part. I still remember annoying my friend as I read The 3 Most Important Things in Life over the phone to him.  I wonder how much he really paid attention?  I seriously doubt I read it with the proper inflections.

Soon after finishing the entire book, I bought Shatterday, and then Deathbird Stories. Each time, I continued to be impressed with your style and imagination.

For myself, I did spend time trying to write, and created a few of my own short stories, but I never had the patience to write a full novel. And like any aspiring writer in high school that had noticed girls, I occasionally wrote poetry and nonsensical prose.

A few years later, when I began college, I started to write my own journal.  I had a useless job as a security guard, and spent lot of time staring into the empty void. I always hoped no evil doers would appear and make me do anything... because I was completely unprepared to deal with the criminal element. So I began to write.

Originally I was inspired to jot my thoughts down after watching Twin Peaks.  I loved hearing Agent Dale Cooper dictate his findings to Diane on a pocket tape recorder. I guess in some way, I was eager for my own life to sound a bit unnatural, like his.

But looking back, I can honestly say it was your original Scenes From the Real World, (and later Harlan Ellison is Watching on Sci-Fi channel) that I was channeling!

Unfortunately, it seems I've lost my spark of creativity and originality. But I do still cling to my (informed?) opinions, whether on movies, television, or occasionally music.  Sometimes those opinions are not so popular, even with my friends, which has given me a crisis of faith in my writing.  I find myself thinking... why should I bother writing, especially when friends disagree with me. I've always preferred aliens over alienation, so I never want to annoy anyone.

Today, I don't write as often as I should, because putting words in just the right order takes lot of effort for a simple guy like me. And I'm realistic enough to know, in this sea of idiots with a keyboard on the internet, I couldn't make a career out of this.

But I wanted to reiterate again how important you were in my life. I for one, will always promote your genius and outspoken views on the world. And I truly appreciate the originality I was lucky enough to experience from your works throughout my life.

I hope in some small way, I could get your attention this time.

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