Thursday, June 28, 2018

Harlan Ellison passes . . . .

Oh no . . . just saw on the SFRA listserv that Harlan Ellison, one of my top 5 writers of all time, died earlier today. 

I first encountered him in the first collection of short stories I ever truly loved, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Wonder, edited by David G. Hartwell. The story was "On the Downhill Side." It struck me as only so-so, but it was enough -- or Hartwell's headnote was enough, perhaps -- to have me seek out Ellison collections at the library. . . . and I remember being blown away by Approaching Oblivion (particularly Ellison's introduction, "Knox," and "Silent in Gehenna") and Deathbird Stories, including "Pretty Maggy Moneyeyes," "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," and "The Deathbird." 

After that I relentlessly sought out every Ellison story I could find. Since this was before the days of Amazon (and I was too poor to buy books anyway), looking for an Ellison collection was basically the first thing I did whenever I walked into a new public library.* Then I buckled down, saved my pennies, and finally got The Essential Ellison: A 35-year Retrospective, a collection of his greatest hits -- including "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" and "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," other favorites of mine.**

I've never encountered another writer who wrote with so much rawness and pure intestine-seizing anger. A rather raw youth myself, full of libertarian individualism and anti-religious ire, Ellison was like ecstasy.

When I re-read his best stuff a few years back as an adult, I did so with some trepidation, worried that he might not have held up over time. But he did. His absence leaves a large hole in the field of science fiction.

* I did the same thing with Stephen R. Donaldson works and, if you can believe this, books on table tennis.
**There's now an updated 50-year retrospective out.

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