Yesterday I learned of the passing of one of America's great writers, Harlan Ellison. Saying that Harlan had a reputation would be an understatement of monumental proportions. He was known for his razor sharp wit and his intolerance for bullshit. As he did a lot of work in Hollywood, you can imagine what happened, time and time again. He was magnificent.
I first began to read Harlan's work back in the late seventies. I was assigned a paper in college which required me to read and dissect a story from an omnibus of short fiction. I chose "Repent Harlequin Said the Tick Tock Man." As someone who was used to Bradbury and Heinlein, it was a revelation, to say the least. He wrote with a style all his own and, as a beginning writer, I stole from his style blatantly. The main difference being that he wrote extraordinarily well, while my earliest stuff stunk, as many beginning works do. I eventually had the balls to obtain Harlan's address and sent him a short piece I wrote while I was stoned on prescription drugs prior to surgery. Mercifully, he never answered.
I've read just about everything he's written, both fiction and nonfiction. I had, at one time, a row in my library dedicated to his collections and novels. Everytime he would published something new, I eagerly devoured it, many times over. That last sentence is important. You see, I have an excellent memory and rarely read anything twice. His work was so well written that it was a pleasure to go back and reread every story to extract every nuance and sly twist from it, until it was wrung out like a rag. Years later, I would read them again and each time I would find it as fresh as the first time.
When it came to new writers, Harlan was never afraid of the competition. He freely gave advice and the advice was excellent. Write everyday. Never give up on writing. Write what means something to you. Sue the hell out of James Cameron and win. Oops, maybe not that one, unless you wrote the basis for Terminator, then watched it being stolen. Finally, edit unmercifully. Don't be afraid to be your own harshest critic. It's how miracles happen.
I already miss Harlan and I hope his widow is able to get through the mountain of unpublished work and give us just a taste of what we are missing. If there is reincarnation, come back as a wasp Harlan, and sting the hell out of the liars, crooks, and thieves. RIP.