RIP, Harlan Ellison

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Harlan Ellison, whose death at age 84 seems both surprising and long expected [remember his assertions back in 2010 that "I'm dying"?], is eulogized by TNR's Jeet Heer:

Despite the many awards for his science fiction and fantasy stories, his reputation suffered, particularly towards the end of his life, from his mercurial and sometimes violent temper, which led to transgressive and criminal behavior. In 2006, he humiliated the writer Connie Willis by groping her breast on stage during the Hugo Awards. Ellison claimed this act was a joke and apologized but it fit in with a larger pattern of boundary-crossing that he boasted of in other contexts.

"Ellison's violence and sexual assault tainted his reputation while still alive," writes Heer, "and they continue to raise questions about how to evaluate his work:"

To be sure, even in his best work, Ellison was a limited writer with a narrow emotional and tonal range. He could do rage, terror, alienation very well, with hectoring and loud stories that mirrored the 1960s countercultural rage at the establishment. But there was little in Ellison's work of empathy, friendship or love. He had no gift for conveying delicate shades of feeling.

"Ellison's quarrelsome personality clouded his reputation," Heer concludes, and "His personal violence remains unforgivable." Mark Evanier concurs, and presents not an exculpatory story--as if such a thing were possible--but a delightful one instead. (It might even inspire you to re-read "Repent, Harlequin!" with a new appreciation.) As Evanier observes, "there might have been a few wrong lessons to learn from the man:"

More serious was his occasional inability to meet deadlines. He turned his chronic tardiness in everyday life into one of his better stories, "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman." It's a fascinating work because he seems to have tried to take every rule of Good Writing he could think of, violate it and still wind up with Good Writing. I know some disagree but I kind of think he made it.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on July 2, 2018 8:34 AM.

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