Harlan Ellison Passes ...
Or Heaven Just Got An Original Hellraiser
It was at that point that I discovered – perhaps simultaneously, if you can believe it – such authors as Mickey Spillane, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison. (Don’t ask me how I ever came up with that combination; I just did.) Spillane appealed to the budding Alpha Male in me, as his Mike Hammer character was quick with his fists and even quicker with his guns. Bradbury, by contrast, always seemed to put a downright magical spin on practically anything – even the most mundane ideas – stringing together words into sentences and sentences into books that made the imagination run wild. Ellison – as much as I enjoyed some of his stuff – really seemed like a bitter Bradbury to me. I couldn’t say why with any specificity, but his particular brand of ‘what if’ always percolated with an undercurrent of despondency, of anger, so I had a hard time sticking with anything he’d published for long. Either that or Ellison seemed content to create a magical, mystical place to visit only to then yank the rug out from under the reader, as if he were standing over their shoulders crying, “Oh, wake up, for God’s sake, it’s only a story!”
Consequently, I didn’t stick with him as an influence, though so many of the folks I hung around with for so long did. They swore by him. They read his stuff over and over and over again (the way I did Spillane and Bradbury). They worshipped him as the veritable master of all things SciFi.
Later in life, I ended up picking up a collection or two from Harlan, and – as an adult – I enjoyed his work with greater understanding and appreciation; so perhaps he was so far ahead of his time that I just kinda/sorta missed the bus all of my contemporaries were all too happy to ride. I suspect now that he’s gone, I might even be pressed back into service, seeking out and exploring just a bit more of what he’s left behind in a legacy that’ll only grow more impressive as I slip into my own Golden Years.
Still, I’d seen Harlan in a handful of interviews throughout the years, and he always did seem more than a bit angry. I’m not saying whether or not his frustrations were justified – each of us much inevitably be our own arbiter of the things which rile us up so I generally pass on judging others. Besides, I’ve never walked so much as a mile in Harlan’s shoes, and I can’t hold a candle to his immeasurable knack at making a point. I’ll leave him be … but I do hope the hereafter is ready for whatever emotion he no doubt brings with.