Saturday, August 8, 2009

Harlan Ellison

The recent documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth (2008) provides a fascinating look at the life and work of author Harlan Ellison. Ellison is perhaps best known for his short fiction, stories such as "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" and "'Repent, Harlequin,' Said the Ticktockman," but he's written very widely both in print and for the screen. He wrote "City on the Edge of Forever," which is perhaps the best and most memorable episode of Star Trek (and over which he's suing Paramount Pictures). He's the 2006 Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, an honor he shares with only the best and the brightest.

This is a wonderful film. If you're an Ellison fan, you'll want to see it for the obvious reasons. If you're not an Ellison fan (because you haven't read him, obviously!), then you'll want to see it because he's just a really fascinating person. Famously, he's always angry about something, and he's nearly always venting this anger to somebody. Thus the hilarious Harlan stories about mailing a dead gopher to a publisher, walking off a set because he's referred to as a writer of science fiction, yelling at a director that the film has to be changed because some actress mispronounced "Camus," and so on.

On a deeper level, though, here's a man with a pretty serious flaw that's become constitutive of his life and his character. I don't get the feeling that Ellison would recommend constantly simmering fury as a way of life for everybody, but he knows that's how it is for him. To be true to himself, then, he has to be a jerk a lot of the time. It's hard to avoid thinking that this rage at the system and disgust with the idiots who surround him is part of what motivates him to write. Maybe a calmer and kinder Ellison is just not very interesting.

Anyway, watch the film. Until then, here's the trailer:

And a few other bits and pieces worth looking at, including a couple of his stories!
A 1980 interview with Ellison in which he talks about his loathing of being labeled a sci-fi writer.

An even earlier interview, in several parts, beginning here, in which Ellison gives a scathing critique of 70s television.

Given his conviction that writers should be paid for their work, it's no surprise that we won't find lots of free and legal Ellison stories on the web. So, you'll just have to buy yourself one of his story collections. However, you can find "Paladin of the Lost Hour" on his site Ellison Webderland, and the wonderful "Jeffty is Five" is part of The Locus Awards anthology, which Harper Collins is letting us browse online. Scroll down to p. 71. Lots of other stuff worth reading in there, too, of course.

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