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Thursday, December 19, 2013

I have no mouth and I must zoot.

I really dislike Harlan Ellison. I have never held the New Wave (when was that, the Sixties and Seventies?) of SF in high regard, being a prudish religious type who wants to squelch Free Speech and all. I like precisely one of his stories, and it makes me cry (Jeffty Is Five). His impolitic behavior at cons is the stuff of legend; his well-earned dislike for the Trekverse is well-earned. I know personally a leggy blonde whom he approached in an elevator "What would you say to a little f**k?", to which she replied "Hello, little f**k.".

Ellison is a jerk. (I must admit to liking his interviews on Tom Snyder's late night gab-fest, but that was when I was a callow yout', so it doesn't count.)

However, I have seen a Dickensian chance at redemption for him.

Babylon 5.

He helped with the design of the B5 universe, and for that I thank him. He also played three small roles in the series:
    •     Ceremonies of Light and Dark, (8 April 1996) - Sparky the Computer (voice)
    •     The Face of the Enemy, (9 June 1997) - Psi Cop
    •     Day of the Dead, (11 March 1998) - Zooty (voice)
    all of which added texture and a bit of whimsy to what could have been an unrelentingly dark vision of the future. (His Psi Cop - I think it was more of a science/doctor role - was decidedly creepy, shot with a distorting lens in black and white.)
    Sparky was an alternate personality revealed during a reboot of the station computer system. It took on the persona of a Jewish dad with a momma complex, who adopted Garibaldi. Hilarity &c. Zooty was the voice of...Zooty (played by Teller!) This was a standout episode, written by Neil Gaiman!

    Babylon 5 would not have been what it was without the work of Harlan Ellison. Thanks.


    Doom said...

    Gah! You keep reminding me I need to buy the series. But I keep remembering to buy something else first, or Christmas hits, or, or, or... One day, soon, probably, if I live that long. Bah! :)

    Michael W said...

    Harlan Ellison.

    Let's see. There're a great many authors out there whose writing I personally enjoy, but whose personal character I am less than happy with. The fiction of H.P. Lovecraft utterly fascinates me, but he was a sorry excuse for a human being. I greatly admire the work of Hunter S. Thompson, but I'm not certain I would've wanted him as a neighbor.

    As for Ellison, he's another with plus and minuses in his personality. I've never quite excused him for the hooraw he raised over Cameron's "The Terminator" when, at the same time, I have yet to hear or read anything from him concerning Franklin Adreon's 1967 film "Cyborg 2087" (which, in terms of plot, was a hell of a lot closer to "Soldier" than "The Terminator" was).

    He's an abrasive personality. On the other hand, so's Chuck Berry (and, in my way of thinking, both individuals have something of a reason to be so).

    Doom said...

    Soldier was excellent. Uncomfortable, too familiar. Might have to look into Cyborg 2087... Never heard of it, but then, I was still recycling boob fodder the year it came out, so...

    Jay said...

    One of the old Warren Publishing black and white comics (1984 I think.) had a satirical story aimed at Ellison. The characters' name was Penrose W. Rimjobbe.

    Michael W said...

    @Doom --- Cyborg 2087 is currently available on YouTube. Michael Rennie, Jeff Corey, Jo Ann Pflug and all the Dymo Labelmaker control indicators you could want.

    The Aardvark said...

    "and all the Dymo Labelmaker control indicators you could want"

    Just yes!

    Warren was really underrated. I really enjoyed "The Rook".

    Michael W said...

    @Aardvark --- for some reason The Rook was the one Warren magazine I never managed to read a copy of. Loved all the others, though. A classic chapter in American horror fiction. And, back in my day, Famous Monsters of Filmland was considered "must" reading for my peer group.

    Rigel Kent said...

    I've never quite excused him for the hooraw he raised over Cameron's "The Terminator" when, at the same time, I have yet to hear or read anything from him concerning Franklin Adreon's 1967 film "Cyborg 2087"

    That would be because Ellison didn't have the ace in the hole that he did with Cameron, i.e. Cameron's stupidity. Cameron admitted to plagiarism in an interview with Starlog. If he hadn't, then Ellison wouldn't have had a legal leg to stand on.

    I really don't see it as plagiarism myself as he (Cameron) did very different things with his idea than Ellison did. But I'm not all that upset on Cameron's behalf either, the man's a dick.

    And he did plagiarize Heinlein with Dark Angel.

    Michael W said...

    @Rigil Kent --- Haven't yet seen Dark Angel (too many shows to watch, and altogether not enough interest to sample . . . a sorry state of affairs for a SF fan), but from what I've heard I can understand where the accusation comes from.

    I know that plagiarism is the beast that rides on the shoulder of every writer. Cameron's problem reminds me of a line from "The Dirty Dozen". The scene where Lee Marvin first interviews Charles Bronson. Bronson angrily describes why he was in prison (shooting a deserter who was running away under fire with the medicine). Lee's explanation of Bronson's plight is classic: "You let someone see you do it."

    The Aardvark said...

    Ellison has proven himself to be zealously litigious. I wonder if the cry of "plagiarism" overall is reaching the level of "He used the same alphabet as I did." or "The Second Law of Thermodynamics played a pivotal role in MY novel first!".

    Rigel Kent said...

    The most recent accusation of his (Ellison) I'm aware of is when he said Cormac McCarthy ripped off A boy and his dog when he wrote The Road.

    Heinlein used to have a line about writers filing the serial numbers off of each others ideas. To me that's a humorous way of him recognizing that writer's build off of what other writers have done in the past.

    To me that's what Cameron actually did with the Terminator. He took some of Ellison's ideas, and some of his own, and probably some other writer's too, and then built something different with them. Let me give you some examples.

    Tribbles were based on flat cats from Heinlein's The Rolling Stones. This would be clear even if David Gerrold hadn't flat out said so. But the story in which they appear is very different than Heinlein's book. This is an example of a writer building off of something another writer has done.

    I don't remember the name of the author but in the mid to late 90's I read this story in an SF mag, (SF Age I think, but I could be wrong). The story focused on an android that wanted to be more human. He served on a starship that was exploring the galaxy and one of the other character's was a female with empathic abilities. There were other details, but I think you get the drift.

    Now that was plagiarism.

    The Aardvark said...

    Certainly, screamingly so! It seems sometimes, though, that going lawyer begins to become a habit with some.

    Re: Dark Angel, perhaps Heinlein should grumble more from the grave.

    Rigel Kent said...

    If Heinlein had been alive when Dark Angel came out I don't think he'd've made a big deal about it. I think that's because, at least as a writer, he was far more self-assured than Ellison.

    Ellison has always struck me as being very insecure, not just as a writer, but as a man, as a human being. There was a documentary about him, Dreams with Sharp Teeth. And they had interviews with him and he just struck me as the kind of guy that makes a big noise to cover for his own fears.

    When he sued about Terminator and made comments about other works, I don't think it was about money. I think it was his way of saying "Look what an important and good writer I am, all of these other guys have to steal from me!"

    It's kind of bizarre really. I know you're not a fan, but the man has accomplished a lot as a writer, but you get the feeling that for him it's not enough, and never will be.

    There's a story that he got kicked out of university for punching a professor that didn't think much of his writing ability. And then for the next few decades he sent the guy everything he ever published.

    In the interview that I saw him tell the story in he tried to play it as him telling the guy a big FU. But to me it came off as him just really needing approval, not just from this guy. But from everybody.

    I wouldn't like it if somebody told me my writing sucks, but I can't imagine assaulting someone over it. And while I'd certainly enjoy the idea of someone that put me down hearing about my success, I wouldn't go to any great lengths to tell them about it.

    The Aardvark said...

    Very perspicacity! Such insightful.


    I believe that you have a handle on the Inner Ellison. Heinlein did his craft, satisfied himself, and we were in on the joke.

    I believe that in the dark night, Ellison fears that he is the joke. He is an excellent craftsman; I just don't care for the birdhouses he builds. (His television work is far superior, in my opinion, but then I'm the guy who believes that having the Hayes office made Casablanca possible, because they had to avoid doing what was easy.)

    I had a college prof named Proust (!) who never "got" when I was writing "in character" and assumed I was a pompous ass, and told me I would never get above being a "B" writer.

    I was annoyed, but had no desire to punch him out. I DID want to exceed his expectations.