One of my all time favorite authors died this past week. Harlan Ellison was 84 years old he has written thousands of short stories, written numerous screenplays and use to have a regular segment on the show Sci Fi Buzz on the Sci Fi Channel back in the early nineties.
This is where I discovered Harlan, I loved his commentaries and how he had no fear in criticizing anyone who annoyed him. From there I started buying some of his short story collections such as Deathbird Stories, The Harlan Ellison Hornbook, Ellison Wonderland and The Essential Harlan Ellison. The Essential Harlan Ellison is over 1ooo pages long and is the book I spent the most time reading without stopping. On one Saturday afternoon in College I got through 200 pages of the book in one sitting. When you read something from a great author you don’t like to take breaks and Ellison was great.
As good as his writing was it was more fun hearing him rant about things. If you look on you tube you can still find his segments from the Sci Fi Channel along with several interviews he did with Tom Snyder on his old talk shows. Harlan was one of a kind and if you never heard him speak you are missing out.
I was lucky enough to meet Harlan Ellison twice at comic conventions in the early 1990’s and despite his reputation he was very nice. When I first walked up to him he was talking about how he didn’t like The Shadow from 1994. As he was talking I said I thought it was better than the Tim Burton Batman movies. He responded by saying he enjoyed the Tim Burton movies, he just felt The Shadow wasn’t close enough to the original work. Harlan didn’t only have a passion for writing he was passionate about reading, authors and comics. That day Harlan spoke in front of a huge crowd of enthusiastic fans and sold quite a few books.
The next year I saw him at a Chicago comic convention, this time he was there to promote his work on the great Science Fiction series Babylon 5. Harlan had just had triple bypass heart surgery and wasn’t as spry as he was at the previous convention but he still took time to speak to fans and sign books. As we waited for him to speak in one convention hall I noticed the first thing he did was check to see what books everyone in the hall was reading, the man was passionate about books.
Once again I had the honor to talk to him, I knew he had written The City On The Edge Of Forever for Star Trek and helped keep Star Trek on the air in the 1960s. I also knew that he wasn’t happy with the final product of The City On The Edge of Forever and grew to hate Star Trek. Being a fan of Star Trek at the time I asked him if he ever watched Star Trek. He said he only watched his episode and it broke his heart and he never watched again. Harlan took his work seriously and didn’t take kindly to people trying to change his vision.
Another story I have of Harlan was when a friend and I were waiting in line to get books signed by him. After being in line for a while Harlan said he wasn’t feeling well and would return later. He then said that he would let any young kid cut in line and sign for them first. To this my friend wined, Harlan heard it and yelled “Don’t wine I’m always going to sign for kids before adults.” When we were watching him speak later he told the story of the wining adult causing my friend to shrink down in his seat as the crowed laughed.
What was most important for Harlan Ellison was that he wanted to remembered for his work. In one of his Sci Fi segments after his heart attack he said “Whatever you do don’t forget me.” Harlan never had kids, his books were like his kids. So do yourself a favor look Harlan Ellison up on you tube and listen to some of his rants. Watch Babylon 5, Watch City On The Edge Of Forever his Outer Limits episodes and the movie version of A Boy And His Dog. Most importantly read his books.