OceanShores beach  driftwood tree 1500

on writing a fan letter to harlan ellison

WE SPENT A WEEK IN JUNE at Ocean Shores on the west coast of Wash­ington. It was our first time there, and the first time I had been near an ocean in al­most thirty years! While I in­tended to spend a lot of time in the water—whose tem­per­a­ture was in the mid-50s—and be in­volved in sundry so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties, I also planned on doing some reading. 1

For this va­ca­tion, I took Stephen Jay Gould’s Tri­umph and Tragedy in Mudville, a col­lec­tion of es­says on his pas­sion for base­ball. Nor­mally, Gould writes about evo­lu­tion, but his ob­ser­va­tions on the na­tional pas­time are em­i­nently readable—especially his take on the ex­tinc­tion of the .400 hitter..

Reading about base­ball gen­er­ally causes me a brief reverie about the 1980 season and lis­tening to the NL Cham­pi­onship Se­ries with (Philadelphia-Houston) and the World Se­ries (Philadelphia-Kansas City). Base­ball doesn’t get any better than those two se­ries. 2

I also brought Harlan El­lison’s Edge­works I (1996), which com­bines two older books: Over The Edge (1970) and An Edge In My Voice (1985). The former is a com­pi­la­tion of short sto­ries, the latter a col­lec­tion of columns pub­lished in the LA Weekly mag­a­zine in the early ’80s.

I have read most every­thing by El­lison I could get my hands on and, as much as I en­joyed his fic­tion, I en­joyed the in­tro­duc­tions to his col­lec­tions of fic­tion even more! A cur­mud­geon whose tar­gets were my tar­gets!

 

Harlan Ellison: cover of dust jacket to Stephen Jay Gould's TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY IN MUDVILLE.

Strange wine, indeed

Reading El­lison’s decades old ru­mi­na­tions and ful­mi­na­tions took me back to June 1978. Elaine—my girl­friend, the love of my life, then and forever—and I had re­al­ized our own Man­i­fest Des­tiny by dri­ving across country, leaving north­eastern Penn­syl­vania for northern Cal­i­fornia. Lodged into the 1973 Comet with us was a grey-striped kitten we had named Harlan. 3

Days after landing in Berkeley, we dis­cov­ered that El­lison would be signing copies of his latest book, Strange Wine, in a small sci­ence fiction/fantasy book store on Tele­graph Av­enue. It seemed too good to be true!

 

As much as I enjoy El­lison’s fic­tion, I just might enjoy his anec­dotes and his rants even more!

 

We found our­selves in line with a freshly pur­chased copy of the book, awaiting our turn to meet The Man. I hoped to ex­change a few words, have him affix his sig­na­ture, and call it a day.

Those among you who know me, if even briefly, know that I am rarely at a loss for words. Hell’s Belles, I’ve been de­scribed as the over-caffeinated off­spring of a de­fense at­torney and a stand-up comic!

But here I was, in line like with all the other fanboys—like all the other fanboys—thinking about how El­lison went on and on in es­says and in­ter­views about how fans at con­ven­tions and book sign­ings could be so rude, so ob­nox­ious.

I knew I wasn’t like that, but as we moved closer, I lis­tened to what the other fans were saying to El­lison as they met him. Their questions—they all came armed with questions—ranged from in­sipid through stupid and into the bizarre.

What could I say that didn’t make me sound like one of them?

 

Harlan Ellison: cover of dust jacket to Harlan Ellison's EDGEWORKS I.

But I didn’t drool!

Our turn came and Elaine and I moved to the head of the line and there was El­lison. I stood looking down at Ellison—I am 6-feet 2-inches, he was al­most a foot less tall—and started to ad­dress him, but didn’t.

I just stood there.

I re­ally didn’t want to gibber in front of him.

I don’t re­member saying any­thing.

I didn’t drool. (I say this with pride.)

It quickly be­came ap­parent that El­lison did not look at me as just an­other fanboy.

Why?

I was with Elaine, and she caught Ellison’s at­ten­tion.

Why?

Think of the gor­geous young Jen­nifer Con­nelly in The Rock­e­teer and you’re in the ball­park of what Elaine looked like—except Elaine was love­lier.

And sexier. (Think the young Betty Page.)

El­lison over­looked my dumb­ness and signed my book. He handed it back, nodded to­wards Elaine, and gave me an ac­knowl­edging smile.

We left the book store, and I kept saying to Elaine, “We met Harlan El­lison! We met Harlan El­lison!”

But I was thinking, “Harlan El­lison digs my girl­friend.”

Oh, I forgot to men­tion my cat …

 

Harlan Ellison: cover of dust jacket to Stephen Harlan Ellison' STRANGE WINE.

My fan letter

All this came back to me, forty years later, as I read El­lison’s rants in Edge­works. I de­cided I would write a letter to El­lison about our “meeting.” I’m an old fart now, but he’s an­cient and may not get as much fan mail as he used to. He might think it a lovely anec­dote. 4

I’d never written a “fan letter” to anyone, let alone a fa­mous au­thor.

So on June 20, 2018, on my first day back from va­ca­tion, I jotted down a few notes out­lining an ar­ticle for my main blog. It would list a ten novels that summed up what I thought were the best and most in­ter­esting as­pects of “the Six­ties.”

It’s working title was “Ten Quin­tes­sen­tial Novels Of The Six­ties.” Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and Ken Ke­sey’s One Flew Over The Cuck­oo’s Nest were the first main­stream books that came to mind.

Robert Hein­lein’s Stranger In A Strange Land, Norman Spin­rad’s Bug Jack Barron, and Frank Her­bert’s Dune were the first sci­ence fic­tion novels.

In the ten, I would in­clude one non-novel: Dan­gerous Vi­sions, El­lison’s mas­sive an­thology of sci­ence fic­tion and spec­u­la­tive fic­tion. Pub­lished in 1967, it is the book that I would rec­om­mend to anyone who be­lieves they don’t like sci­ence fic­tion. 5

I’d make it the lead-off ar­ticle for the much (much) de­layed launching of this blog you are reading, The End­less Six­ties. Then I could in­clude a full-color print-out of the ar­ticle with my letter to El­lison!

“It won’t take long,” I thought, “maybe a couple of weeks. Heck, El­lison could be reading it with a hot dog at Pink’s on the 4th of July.”

On June 27, 2018, Harlan El­lison died.

When we met Harlan El­lison, all I could think was Harlan El­lison digs my girl­friend! Click To Tweet

FEATURED IMAGE: This beach with this huge piece of drift­wood is a few hun­dred yards from the rooms where we stayed at Ocean Shores. Each day Berni and I went down there and used this tree trunk as our place on the beach. 6

She col­lected col­ored stones in the sand while I walked out—way way out—into those waves. At night, I sat up reading Harlan El­lison and won­dering why it had taken me all these years to de­cide I wanted to write him a fan letter …

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   I never leave the house without a book in my hand or pocket.

2   I am cursed to spend this life­time a Phillies fan.

3   About Elaine and “then and forever”—well, for­ever came sooner than ex­pected.

4   Tech­ni­cally, the title is Edge­works I, the first of a mas­sive project by White Wolf Pub­lishing to col­lect the bulk of El­lison’s output into twenty vol­umes. Alas, only three saw print be­fore the project came to and end.

5   The sto­ries and the an­thology it­self were nom­i­nated for many awards:

• Fritz Leiber’s “Gonna Roll The Bones” won the Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Nov­el­ette
• Philip K. Dick’s “Faith Of Our Fa­thers” was nom­i­nated for the Hugo in the same cat­e­gory for Best Nov­el­ette.
• Philip José Farmer’s “Riders Of The Purple Wage” tied for the Hugo Award for Best Novella.
• Samuel R. De­lany’s  “Aye, and Go­morrah” won the Nebula for Best Short Story.

At the 26th World SF Con­ven­tion in 1968, Dan­gerous Vi­sions was cited as “the most sig­nif­i­cant and con­tro­ver­sial SF book pub­lished in 1967.”

6   And if Elaine had the same de­f­i­n­i­tion of for­ever that I have (foot­note 3 above), then we’d still be together–except then I would never have met Berni, the love of my life, now and for­ever!

 

 

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