Sadly, one of genre fiction’s most prolific, provocative, and decorated writers has passed away at the age of 84.
Odds are, anyone reading this post knows the name Harlan Ellison, and can cite particular titles from his incredible oeuvre. For those lucky few yet to be initiated, I offer such classic and unforgettable tales as “A Boy and His Dog,” “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” “Jeffty is Five,” and “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman.”
I can remember obtaining a copy of The Essential Ellison: A 35-Year Retrospective back in the late 80’s, and spending a whole summer getting gloriously lost inside its pages (along with Stephen King’s It and The Stand, it was probably the largest volume in my teenage collection). I read and reread that book to pieces, until its dust jacket was tattered and its spine had enough cracks to put an osteoporotic gravedigger to shame. Delving into this copious collection (which has since been Revised and Expanded), I was mesmerized by Ellison’s versatility and virtuosity alike.
In 2005, I got to meet Ellison in person at the World Horror Convention in New York City (where he was a Guest of Honor). The Saturday afternoon train from Jersey was late getting to Manhattan, and when I finally arrived at Ellison’s (ostensible) Q&A session, he was already in full-raconteur mode. Scared to interrupt his performance, I hung back on the balcony overlooking the ballroom, but the second he spotted me up there, he invited me down to join the audience (pointing to an empty seat right up front). There I got to experience up close his oratory splendor, as he regaled the gathered crowd with anecdote after anecdote, joke after joke.
Later in life, Ellison’s public persona seemed to eclipse his weighty reputation as a writer. Someone as brash and outspoken as Ellison was bound to alienate no small number of people, but also to earn the admiration of plenty of others for his take-no-shit attitude. Often uproarious, and never, ever boring, Harlan Ellison always left an impression. Today he leaves behind a treasure trove of literary jewels, rich, finely-wrought narratives that assuredly will never shatter like a glass goblin.