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