Alas, Poor Harlan…

Harlan Ellison has died. Harlan was an extremely prolific writer over his lifetime and was active in science fiction fandom in the fifties before evolving into a full-time writer.
A glance at any of the stories popping up about Harlan will reveal how widespread his writing truly was: comic books, science fiction, fantasy, television scripts, movie scripts, essays about television, and perhaps a lot more we don’t know about.
While he might have been the master of short fiction and essays, Harlan never really produced the science fiction novel we all hoped for. He produced three non-genre novellas in the last fifties, but after that, we simply got the short material that was continually collected into books.
Harlan was our guest of honor at Kubla Khan in Nashville in 1977. During his rambling guest of honor speech, his topics included his promise that he had an idea for a novel that would be a national bestseller rather than just a book stuck in the science fiction ghetto. Reading between the lines, it appeared that the novel would be about a man in his thirties who has succeeded and finds that he has run out of momentum in his life – he feels lost and has no idea about what to do next. During the question and answer period, one fearless fan raised his hand and asked Harlan what the novel would be about. Harlan’s answer?
“Right, as if I’m going to tell you my idea for a bestselling novel.”
I really wish he had at least left us a note about the unwritten novel.
Harlan received a large number of well-deserved awards for his work, including Hugo awards from science fiction fans, Nebula awards from science fiction and fantasy writers, and Edgar awards for mysteries.  He also wrote two notable scripts for the Outer Limits television series: Demon With A Glass Hand, which won numerous awards, and Soldier, an episode that has striking similarities to Terminator.

The sheer volume of Harlan’s writing no doubt has influenced countless people, but perhaps his biggest impact came as an editor.  At a pivotal moment when traditional Science Fiction was challenged by the New Wave writers who seemed more concerned with literary accomplishments than the hard science stories of the past, Harlan was the editor who created Dangerous Visions.  That 1967 collection of short stories was a line in the sand that serves as a clear delineation of the New Wave through the utilization of storylines and topics that were previously considered off-limits.  Again, Dangerous Visions was a second, larger book that followed in 1972 and pushed the limits of SF stories even further away from the past.  A third volume, Last Dangerous Visions, was announced but never released.  Over 150 stories were possibly accepted for the last multi-volume set; many of the stories were later published elsewhere, and many of the authors have died without seeing either publication or being returned.  At dinner with Harlan at a DragonCon in the nineties, I casually misreferred to the volumes as the Lost Dangerous Visions; Harlan was not amused, but dinner continued (whew!)

If you’re interested in more details about Harlan’s work, you can start on Harlan’s own website.  A brief overview of his bibliography is there, and that page also links back to a lot more details on the other pages of his website.
I’ve had few heroes in my life; Harlan was one of them, and he will be missed.

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