Harlan Ellison: A tribute (of sorts)

VANAPHASE™ the Vanadium powerhouse!


For the longest time in my life I was afraid of Harlan Ellison.


I guess that might need some explanation so I’ll go back to the start. Imagine a time in the 80’s when a kid just figuring his way out of social awkwardness decides to take a unique class. This class was different in several ways: one it was a split class – The first half of the semester was creative writing. The second half was Science Fiction. The other reason being that I didn’t like the teacher. Having been a shy and awkward youth but with a vivid imagination I was already deep into SF literature so this class was interesting enough to pull me in despite my opinion of the teacher.


I’m glad I did for several reasons but first and foremost was my introduction to Harlan Ellison’s writing. “Soldier” was the story that was in the collection we were reading. I was breathless whIle reading it. The initial action scene when Quarlo appears in present time and obliterates a locomotive gave me a thrill like I had never read before; I saw the scene so vividly in my head. Harlan’s brilliant prose just absolutely clicked with my mind’s eye. I decided right then and there I wanted to write as an essential part of my life. Naturally the rest of the story dug even deeper into my mind. Holy crap, THE IDEAS! Iset out to find as much material as I could from Ellison. Something that was no easily achievable in a time where Amazon was only a mythical female warrior and my public library was painfully thin in the science fiction section.


What I did find a decent amount of were the stories. Not his written work but stories of HIM. A lot were second, third, fourth hand. The biggest one being his confrontation with Gene Roddenberry over “City on the edge of forever”, which we all know a least in legend. I had also heard of his clash with Paramount executives when he was asked to pitch an idea for the first Star Trek movie (vaguely I recall him pitching an alternate universe story, an executive interjecting some idiocy about the Mayan calendar, Harlan telling them they were idiots and leaving). There was also the lawsuit with James Cameron over his plagiarism of Soldier for Terminator and several other instances of him being prickly at best, combative and yelly at worst.


Harlan had become a heady, daunting, near mythical character for a teenage geek with aspirations toward being a SF writer. Harlan was the standard I was comparing myself to. The level I was striving for. Having the typical traits that an up and coming geek writer had, namely insecurity, self doubt and overthinking to a fault; the picture I painted of him in my head was as vivid as that scene in Soldier and twice as harrowing. In short; I imagined if I ever met my hero he’d hate me a call me a loser.


Fast forward years…Shatterday, Angry Candy, for a film school assignment I did an adaptation of Harlan’s “Whimper of whipped dogs”. My discovery of other influential writers like Warren Ellis, William Gibson, Clive Barker. My own mutated writing aspiration from screenplays to comic books… “Would Harlan like this?” was usually the first question I would ask. The answer was always initially “No” so I pushed myself to get the writing to a point where, at least, I felt he would say “Meh, you suck but not as much as others. Don’t give up your day job, pal.”


My day job. My day job had become a set lighting electrician for the motion picture business. Which essentially meant I carried heavy stuff and worked strange long hours. I lived and worked in the Los Angeles area and kept my head above water and my dreams cultivated even when they seemed all over the place. I attained a dream job in the mid 90’s when I was invited to be a regular “juicer” (as we are known in slang terms) for Babylon 5 mid season 4. This was currently my favorite TV show and I was thrilled to be working on it. Also it was an easy fifteen minute commute from my Burbank apartment but that was just gravy. I had become a fan because even early in season one I sensed the tapistry JMS was weaving and there was really nothing like a serialized SF TV show out there ever. Then I saw that Harlan Ellison was a creative consultant on it and B5 was cemented in my sparse TV viewing routine.


Now I was working on the show and that put me several hitherto before only dreamed of/dreaded steps closer to meeting Harlan Ellison. Occasionally the scene of my bumping into him and him verbally tearing me a new asshole played out in my head. At the time I had no idea that being a “creative consultant” didn’t necessitate Harlan being there in person really at all. The fear lingered nonetheless.


Finally, it happened.


Harlan had come to set. He was doing a cameo for an episode playing a PSIcorp member in a flashback. Holy crap I was wound up. I kept my distance because I had forged many friendships and one or two crushes in my time on the crew and I had no desire to be called a “unparalleled idiot and the biggest loser I’ve even met!” by the guy sitting in the directors chair chatting to the on set make-up girls.


“But what would Harlan do?” I goaded myself. “He’d probably think I was a loser for not approaching him.” I responded developing a no win scenario in my head. I figured that even if this brilliant writer peered into my soul at the moment of meeting and stripped me to my very core it would be far worse if I had the chance to meet him and threw it away.


Fighting off a solid decade plus of dread I had developed in my fevered imagination, I braved it.


“Excuse me, Mr Ellison. Hi my name is Michael and I just wanted to say that you’re one of my absolute favorite writers.” I stammered (or thought I stammered but probably didn’t …but I was so nervous because I… you get it). “”I’ve tried to read everything I can get of yours.”


Harlan regarded my with those sharp intelligent eyes. “Everything, huh. Ya’know during the Northridge earthquake I was in my house. When everything shook I fell to the floor by my book case. Everything I’ve ever wrote tumbled out of that bookcase and onto ME… Good thing I’m a short story writer or I’d be dead now.”

The girls laughed. It took me a moment for this to sink in and then I laughed too. Harlan Ellison, the man I had most feared meeting in my entire life, not only DIDN’t verbally destroy me when I met him, he told a self-depreciating story! We chatted for a few more minutes and then I had to throw myself back into work… or maybe I was no good at small talk and I wanted to quit while I was ahead. Either way as I thanked him and walked away I heard him comment to my friends in the glamour squad “He seems like a nice guy.”


I can’t even begin to explain the profound and strange relief I felt after that encounter. One of the oddest and, with a small amount of reflection, baseless fears of my life evaporated. At the risk of getting all “after school special” on you, kind reader, it is a moment I look back on, especially when I am hesitant (fearful?) to take a step, and realize that most of the fear is in my head.


Thank you Harlan for that, even if you did it without ever knowing.


As my career has progressed I’ve indirectly been associated with Harlan; my friend Editor and writer Lou Anders had a funny and ongoing relationship with him giving me plenty of funny stories to augment those old creaky negative ones. My friend J.K. Woodward illustrated the IDW adaptation of Harland’s original script for “City on the edge of forever”. Several occasions when visiting JK I got the privilege of previewing his gorgeous rendering of the infamous SF classic.


As an added bonus there were two other times I personally crossed paths with the man who terrified me and my dreams. At a wrap party for Babylon 5. For some inexplicable reason I decided to rent a zoot suit for the shindig (I think it was when that look was back for about thirty seconds in the mid to late 90’s). A drunk Harlan told me that I didn’t get laid from wearing that i had a serious problem. I didn’t btw he was onto something. Second time was about three years ago. I was in my local comic book store in Northridge and Harlan was in there buying some stuff and being Harlan. No longer slave to my baseless narrative but figuring he’s never recall me I left him to his talking. Till he looked straight at me and said “I know you.”


“Yeah, I worked on Babylon Five, you told me the story of the earthquake and your bookshelf. I’m Michael”


“Oh, yeah, good to see ya!”


“You too Harlan. Thanks for everything, I’m a big fan.”


That was the last time and I’m luckier than most fans to have met him at all. The thing is even if you haven’t read any of his stories you HAVE enjoyed somebody’s work that was influenced by him. Harlan casts a long shadow over the entire genre of SF and a good deal of the rest of the literary world too. Now that he’s gone there will be the homages and tributes and all will talk about how he was such a firebrand, a fierce defender of writer’s rights, someone who held his ground with a withering put down and a gleam in his eye. All of that is true too.


But there was a lot more to the trickster god of speculative fiction. I’m honored to have seen it.


As a bonus J.K. Woodward provided some thoughts on Harlan and his experiences with him…

Meeting Harlan was nerve racking. I met him at a store signing at Blastoff in N. Hollywood. Scott Tipton owns the store and Chris Ryall arranged the meeting. I spent most of the signing in the back room drinking liquid courage from an old Star Trek flask I had.
 Working with Harlan was thrilling! Not only was I a fan, but I understood what he wanted and loved his vision. With him I created my best work to date and it couldn’t have been a better experience!
 Knowing Harlan was the best! Unlike anyone else in my life, the work mattered to him. His priority was all things imaginative. He would bring up the projects, where as everyone else in my life would politely change the subject when I talked such things.Friends, family, and co-workers, while well-meaning, simply didn’t understand that everything else seemed trivial in comparison to creative endeavours, but Harlan understood that well!. After hearing about his passing, the world seems like a lonelier place. Even if I didn’t call him up everytime I wanted to talk, I would lean on the idea of Harlan for strength. When it seemed like no one wanted to hear it, I’d simply think, “Well I know Harlan would have an opinion on this.” It made me feel a little less isolated in the work I do.
Thanks J.K.
Woodward is IDW’s goto guy for Star Trek covers and illustrations. “Harlan Ellison’s City on the edge of forever” based on Harlan’s original script is available in graphic novel format.
 Much of Harlan’s collected work can be found on AMAZON.com and purchased at the few surviving brick and mortar book stores around the world. I do suggest you check some out.

Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
Aladdin Press Conference
The Cast and Crew of ‘Aladdin’ Discuss Bringing the Animated Classic to Life

Rub the lamp three times and you just never know what...

Brightburn Review
‘Brightburn’ Review — Bad Superman Makes for Good Horror

What if Superman didn’t stand for the elusive ideals of truth,...

Aladdin Review
‘Aladdin’ Review — A Whole New Retread

Part of Disney’s ongoing plan for complete pop culture domination has...

Event News Event Reviews
Legion M CEO, Paul Scanlan Discusses Events at WonderCon

Legion M, the world’s first fan-owned entertainment company, has been moving...

All-New Voyage to the Other Side: A Paranormal Investigation Happening on the Queen Mary

On Saturday, March 30, 2019, actor Chad Lindberg (The Fast and...

Hop Aboard The Queen Mary for an Eggstravagant Easter Sunday Celebration April 21

From the Queen Mary – Long Beach, CA.   – Hop...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Taco Bell Xbox
The Newest Taco Bell Box is an Xbox – Your Chance to Win a Taco Bell Xbox

Taco Bell and Xbox are partnering up to give fans a chance...

Exclusive Track Premiere from Madden NFL 19!

(July 26, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA) – Lakeshore Records today...

Star Ocean Anamnesis
The Most Intuitively Fun Gameplay of Any Mobile RPG – Star Ocean Anamnesis Review

Star Ocean Anamnesis is hands down the most fun and intuitive gameplay...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
#DancingToTheWhiteHouse is a Conservative Political Comic Book Satire

Very rarely are political comics coming from a conservative stance and...

Stan Lee, the Co-Creator of the Marvel Universe, Dead at 95

According to reports earlier today, Stanley Martin Lieber aka Stan the...

Five Questions for Gary Morgenstein About ‘A Mound Over Hell’

Gary Morgenstein is a journalist, public relations expert and author with...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
Blue Yeti Nano Microphone Review

We have been playing with the Blue Yeti Nano for a...

Wrestle Crate Pre-Christmas Unboxing

    Welcome to our first unboxing of Wrestle Crate, this...

Eagle Eyes
Protect Your Eyes with Eagle Eyes Glasses – Eagle Eyes TV Kit Review

Eagle Eyes TV Kit review – Feel the difference and get...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Frank Mir Faces Dan Severn at Josh Barnett’s ‘Bloodsport’

Tonight, April 4, 2019, UFC, Bellator and MMA veteran, Frank Mir...

Josh Barnett Discusses ‘Bloodsport’

On April 4, 2019, UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, MMA veteran, metal head,...

Lion Fight 51 Full Results

February 16, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA – Lion Fight 51...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
Fantoy Comics Presents: Harry Potter & the new defense against the dark arts teacher Pt:1

Hogwarts gets yet another defense against the dark arts teacher!

Fantoy Comics presents: Harry Potter and the Moth Man cometh pt3 the Final Chapter!

More Mothman!

Adult Continuity Presents: Porno Pikachu pt 2: Gotta F*(% ’em all!

Porno Pikachu pt: 2

Gaming Uncensored Toon-In-Talk
Coastal Commoners Ep. 9 Happy Thanksgiving!

This week the Commoners discuss some race baiting issues that bothered...

Coastal Commoners Ep 8 – Saying Farewell to Stan Lee

This week the commoner’s say farewell to Marvel Comics legend, Stan...

Coastal Commoners Ep 7 Mid-Term Elections!

Oh the headaches of elections and what can go wrong. We...

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Twin Peaks: The Return Vinyl Soundtrack
Mondo and Death Waltz Recording Company to Issue ‘Twin Peaks: The Return’ Soundtrack on Vinyl

The owls are not what they seem. The legendary show from...

They Live Vinyl Soundtrack
Death Waltz Records Has Awakened An Amazing Vinyl Edition of the ‘They Live’ Soundtrack

  It took the world long enough but it seems that...

They Live Vinyl Soundtrack
BUY! Mondo and Death Waltz to Reissue John Carpenter’s ‘They Live’ Soundtrack on Vinyl

Yesterday was the 71st birthday of the great John Carpenter and...