Harlan Ellison is dead

He was a loud-mouthed jerk, and he was also colossally opinionated and entertaining, and passionate about so many things. I first heard him speak in the early 1980s, and man, he was a fast-talking raconteur.

  • “Repent, Harlequin!” said the Ticktockman
  • I have no mouth and I must scream
  • Santa Claus vs. S.P.I.D.E.R.
  • Jeffty is five
  • Shattered like a glass goblin

What I really liked, though, was the whole of his story collections. He’d bare his soul describing how he came to write each story (although, sometimes, that soul was “I had to type fast to meet a deadline and get paid”), which was a useful glimpse into a writer’s mind.


  1. markgisleson says

    At some point in his career he sat down in a store display window and wrote a story while people watched.

    I have to reorder my thoughts if someone starts a lawn mower two blocks away.

    He had an impact but I will not miss him or his lectures about getting paid.

  2. says

    I still have almost all his books. As a teen who took themselves way too seriously he appealed greatly to me. I don’t read him much anymore but I cannot deny that he probably had more impact on my tastes in science fiction than any other writer. The stories PZ mentions are all excellent choices if one wants to get a sense for his work.

  3. brett says

    RIP, even if he was often an asshole.

    Another “Golden Age” SF writer is gone. I think the only one left out of an entire cohort of those mid-twentieth century SF writers is James Gunn.

  4. Jeff Whitson says

    He groped a woman’s breast at an awards ceremony. Would you like a link to the video? It really is an unpleasant spectacle.

    What a nasty place this is, that such a man should be honored in his death just because he wrote a few books. Shame on you.

  5. whheydt says

    I once watched as Ellison crossed (verbal) swords with Randall Garrett. Ellison came off second best.

    At a con in Berkeley, he upset a woman and he was duly challenged to fight a member of the SCA…who proceeded to pound him into the ground like a peg. He may have learned how to to fight with a knife in back alleys, but he wasn’t so hot with broadsword and shield.

  6. Jeff Whitson says

    chigau. Hiding behind anonymity while defending a sex offender, you’re a real piece of class. Have you been drinking today?

  7. chigau (違う) says

    whheydt #7
    Ellison actually attempted to fight someone from SCA with broadsword and shield?
    Did anyone film it?

  8. gijoel says

    He’s gone to the great misanthrope convention in the sky.
    Bless your passive aggressive heart

  9. chrislawson says

    Yeah, he wrote some amazing stories. “Shattered Like A Glass Goblin” is a genuinely extraordinary piece of writing in that it’s arguably not a fantasy/sf story at all even though it reads like one. The other story I’d add to PZ’s list is “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes.”

    Having said that, I found it impossible to respect him as a person after he grabbed Connie Willis’s breast at the Hugos. Not that I’m condoning Jeff Whitson’s uber-righteous tone trolling (personally I think that comment at #8 must be close to getting the ban hammer — you know, Whitson, someone committing a sexual assault doesn’t give you the right to be a complete dick to everyone who acknowledges that person’s talent, nor is it defending sexual assault unless the person is actually defending sexual assault — I’d also point out that Ellison apologised and Willis accepted the apology, so you’re not even respecting the wishes of the woman who was assaulted by turning every remotely positive comment about Ellison into your personal crusade).

    The best take-down of Ellison, which I have been assured is not apocryphal, is one day at an sf convention he went up to an attractive young attendee and said, “What would you say to a little fuck?”, to which she replied “Hello, little fuck.”

  10. says

    Goodbye, Harlan. I have always had an abiding love for his stories, they had one hell of an impact on a much younger me.

  11. says

    Tonight I’m going to re-read “I have no mouth, but I must scream” and drink a couple glasses of burgundy in his honor.

    There’s a great documentary about him; Dreams With Sharp Teeth which was pretty good (if you like Harlan Ellison) – it includes a glimpse into his collection of spare typewriters which reminded me of my dad’s collection of spare typewriters.

    Ellison fought and won probably the last great battle on internet copyright. After Ellison slew AOL, the laws were changed so that sort of thing would not happen again in the form of the DMCA safe harbor provisions for content providers that can afford congresspeople.

    Like most young guys my age, I had mixed feelings about Ellison, but mostly because all of the girls (and some of the guys) in the sci-fi club went all swoony whenever his name was mentioned. Given that Ellison was a giant in the sci-fi scene in 1981, his name was mentioned a lot.

    Thanks for all the hours of happy reading, Harlan! Goodbye.

  12. says

    “I will not miss him or his lectures about getting paid.”

    “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money.” Whatever else he may have been, Harlan was no blockhead.

  13. says

    At some point in his career he sat down in a store display window and wrote a story while people watched.

    The picture in the OP is from that incident. The sign in the background reads “will write stories.” Basically, yeah, “I’ll write as a spectator sport.” And if he ever wrote anything that wasn’t worth publishing, Ellison never mentioned it. ;)

    He wrote the script for “City on the edge of forever” which created a serious lump in the quality distribution of Star Trek episodes.

  14. Trickster Goddess says

    He was also an excellent audiobook narrator, both of his own and other people’s stories. He made it sound like he was actually living the story, not just telling it.

  15. Susan Montgomery says

    Good riddance. The granddaddy of being dark and edgy for the sake of being dark and edgy has finally gone.

  16. Porivil Sorrens says

    He was a friend of the family, so I’m sad to see him go. Dude was an ass, but he also had a solid artistic mind.

  17. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    Good riddance.

    being dark and edgy for the sake of being dark and edgy

    Pot, meet kettle.

  18. piscador says

    IIRC, Asimov posted an anecdote in one of his many short story/article collections. He related how he was with a group of fellow SF writers at a convention in the 60s when somebody remarked that a particularly loud and obnoxious young male attendee reminded him of young Harlan Ellison.
    Robert Silverberg replied, “Let’s kill him *now*.”

  19. whheydt says

    RE: chigau @ #9…
    Per my wife, I was mistaken about that. Apparently one of the Anderson’s (either Poul or Karen) remarked that he looked like a peg, because he was quite fit at the time.

  20. royhilbinger says

    When I first heard Thomas Dolby’s “Hyperactive” I thought, Wow! Somebody wrote a song about Harlan Ellison! “City on the Edge of Forever” is still considered one of the best episodes of Star Trek. And he was a good teacher (and a fixture at Clarion) and a helluva good editor, too. He had an amazing ability to spot and develop talent; I still own copies of Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions. Yeah, he could be a total asshole, but he’s an asshole who will be sorely missed.

  21. DLC says

    Harlan was a jerk. but he managed to produce art. Art is eternal, so long as there are people who remember it. He was a boor, and a masher. But he also produced masterworks. I have no mouth and I must scream. He also wrote the story for two episodes of Scooby Doo Mystery Inc.

  22. Nekomancer says

    I’ll remember him for one of the most memorable Star Trek episodes – The City on the Edge of Forever. Also his excellent work on Babylon 5. Of course his epic friendship with the Good Doctor, Isaac Asimov.

    Now, the big question is, will “Last Dangerous Visions” finally be released!

  23. susans says

    @#6, that was Connie Willis, one of the best science fiction writers. Her “Domesday Book” is outstanding.

  24. ledasmom says

    When my older son was a young toddler, he ate some of Harlan Ellison’s onion rings by mistake.
    There is really no point to this anecdote, except that it amuses me.

  25. says

    His involvement in Trek’s City on the Edge of Forever is a messy hornet’s nest that sort of matches the rest of his career. While he most certainly did write the original teleplay, it was rewritten multiple times, and the end product was vastly different from what he wrote. Underlying elements were there, but it was DC Fontana and Roddenberry who ultimately put it together into the defining episode of Star Trek.

    Not saying his fingerprints weren’t all over it, but it’s far more complicated than him just writing it… like everything about Ellison.

  26. leerudolph says

    When my older son was a young toddler, he ate some of Harlan Ellison’s onion rings by mistake.

    How did you know it was by mistake? Hmmm?

  27. vole says

    I know he once spent the day writing stories at a desk in the front window of Foyles bookshop in the Charing Cross Road, London. If that’s the only time he did it, that will be where the picture at the top of this discussion came from.

  28. rejiquar works says

    My first experience with Harlan Ellison was `A Boy and His Dog’, which I encountered when I was roughly the age of the [human] protagonist(s). I loathed the misogyny in that story, and was not terribly surprised to discover the author’s rep for asshattery & sexism. He was perhaps the first author I decided, no matter how brilliant, to give his fiction a pass. I will cop to _The Glass Teat_, tho’.

    Now that he’s safely dead, I s’pose I could read some of the material y’all find so inspiring…

  29. microraptor says

    The only work in his bibliography that I can remember reading was “Repent, Harliquin” and I didn’t understand the point he was trying to make. Or if there was a point he was trying to make.

  30. Richard Smith says

    People have mentioned the Star Trek episode “City on the Edge of Forever,” and Babylon 5, but who can forget that most awesomest of 1970s science fiction television, The Starlost? Well, okay, understandably just about everybody. Yet, if just about everything about it hadn’t been absolutely wrong, we wouldn’t have “Somehow, I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore, Toto.”

  31. johnmarley says

    I’m on the fence regarding Harlan Ellison. About half of his stories (that I’ve read) are excellent and thought-provoking. The other half seem to be shocking and offensive for no apparent reason other than being shocking and offensive.

  32. antigone10 says

    I have never understood why people liked “I have no mouth and I must scream”. I will admit right away that I am not the audience, because I hate body horror with a passion, but even if you do like body horror how do you get around the misogyny?

  33. jack16 says

    I met and conversed with him at several SF cons. He was shocked that I was going bald. Once while speaking of his work he said “Nobody is going to call me a hack!”. Bob Silverberg immediately shouted “Your a hack! “. Some of the Philadelphia fans that I knew did not like him. His work in Clarion was notable. In those days, a shooting star.


  34. wsierichs says

    His story “Soldier” had an interesting history. It’s an anti-war story that he wrote as both a short story and a play (I don’t remember which one came first). Then he turned it into a teleplay that ran on “The Outer Limits.” That was one of the first TOL episodes I remember. Its the underlying plot basis, much later, of “The Teminator.” Ellison sued and ended up with some money for plagiarism.

    He also wrote “Demon With a Glass Hand” for TOL” It was set in a distinctive L.A. building that was later used in “Blade Runner.”

  35. Porivil Sorrens says

    Uh, the same way we get past like, 90% of media. Show me a piece of media that doesn’t feature some degree of -ism and I’ll show you a liar.

  36. says

    There was a story HE once told–it may have been from “An Edge in My Voice,” a book in which absolutely no prisoners are taken–about being a restaurant, in a booth next to some married woman who was talking to her friends about how she was going skiing that weekend with a male companion not her husband. She didn’t seem particularly worried; in fact, she said, “He’ll never know.” With exquisite timing, HE rose from his booth, walked by their table, and said, “As of know, he does know,” and immediately left the restaurant, the married woman’s plans in ruins. This wasn’t the only great story HE ever told.

  37. says

    I forgot to mention HE’s unforgettable one-sentence review of The Partridge Family in one of the Glass Teat books: “Mother of God.”

  38. antigone10 says


    That makes it okay? And there’s the sexism of say, assuming your hyper-competent secretaries are best distinguished by their hair color and the “sexism” of “Oh, the girl just cried because she was manipulative and totally loved being raped by four guys because the evil computer just made her hyper-sexual”.

  39. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    gee, with all the “he was such an a-hole I’ll hate all his writing”, reminds me of some rarely mentioned fallacy often attributed to someone name Ad Homi. <you know what i’m implying>
    I don’t see the problem recognizing that writing talent and personality are not mutually exclusive. That stellar talent is not necessarily in a stellar personality.
    Ellison’s works were exceptional works of art, which I still cherish, while disregarding his other flaws. oh well

  40. says

    @chrislawson 11: Connie Willis never “accepted” Ellison’s apology, despite him spending days following the incident vacillating from contrition to defensiveness to frothing anger at her for what he perceived as past slights. That said, Jeff Whitson can go screw a bag of glass.

    Harlan was the classic “Yes, but,” a man about whom it was impossible to say anything (good or bad) without needing to qualify it in some way. I suspect a few of his stories will probably survive, but the main act was always Ellison himself – as Neil Gaiman once said, Ellison only really wrote one story, an 84 year-long piece of performance art called “Harlan Ellison” that was at times inspiring, infuriating, absurd, amazing, and utterly mad.

  41. chigau (違う) says

    marcikesserich #48
    That Gaiman quote about Ellison seems to me to be spot on.

  42. says

    even if you do like body horror how do you get around the misogyny

    By interpreting it as misanthropy?

    That is a mistake I have made. I see some things as generally hateful and don’t deconstruct them to see that they are specifically hateful of women (or whatever) in a certain way. In the context of that story, AM is described as destroying that about each of the characters that they valued most. But, you are right, it can easily be interpreted as misogyny, and I didn’t see it.

  43. Porivil Sorrens says

    It doesn’t make it okay, but you asked how people get around it, and I answered – the same way people get around the misogyny that is in like pretty much every work.

  44. chrislawson says


    You’re absolutely right. I had been told many years ago that Willis had accepted his apology. Checking online I can see that I was wrong. My apologies.

    Please allow me to correct my statement with a fuller version of the story: Ellison apologised, and the core of his apology was good (he acknowledged doing the wrong thing and that no excuses could ameliorate his actions — in his own capitals “IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION”) but he ruined it by minimising the impact of his actions (using terms like “puckish”, “over the top”, and calling it a joke that “went too far”), and ruined it even further by playing the well, what can you expect from a politically incorrect rapscallion like myself? card. Ick. One commentator aptly described this as Ellison putting on puppy eyes.

    He left a message on Willis’s answering machine which he claimed was an apology, but we have no public record and secondary sources claim that it would only be considered an apology by “a chimpanzee whacked on smack” (direct quote). Willis did not respond to his message and then Ellison completely tore up even that small shred of decency in the original apology with subsequent comments chastising Willis for not publicly accepting his apology (even though his original apology acknowledged that she would be within her rights not to respond) and trying to gaslight by claiming it was part of a prepared act. Even worse, a few years later he claimed that he had never groped her, which contradicts the reports of the hundreds of people in the audience and the video of the incident…and his own original apology!

    Even worse were the Ellison fans. If you want to get depressed, go and read the Ellison’s old comment boards where some of his fans argued in all seriousness that Ellison was the real victim here because Willis had not publicly accepted his apology. I’ll try to remember that next time I am assaulted.

    So I take back my statement. I was incorrect. Willis never publicly accepted Ellison’s apology…which she had every right to refuse to do even if Ellison had been a model apologiser, but then Ellison’s subsequent behaviour vindicated her decision in no uncertain terms.

  45. says

    @53 chris,

    Thanks for adding all of that great context. As someone whose met Harlan a couple of times and enjoyed some of his work, his groping of Willis has been fresh in my mind since #MeToo began to gather steam, and I’ve wondered how it would have been handled in today’s world.

    As a woman in SF fandom, the stories abound about the lecherous behavior of many of its leading lights, with avowed misogynists like Mike Resnick, gropers like Isaac Asimov, psychosexual lunatics like China Mieville, and of course noted child molester Marion Zimmer Bradley.

    It’s an easy comparison of fandom to other cloistered communities from atheist enclaves to Hasidic yeshivas that the very separateness of the environments makes them predisposed to protect and even facilitate abusers.

    Ironically enough, one of Ellison’s best pieces was an essay called ‘Xenogenesis’, about the absolutely toxic behavior of SF fans. While some of the anecdotes seem positively quaint in a world where anyone can now directly hate-tweet anyone they want, the dark roots of places like 4chan and MRAism were easy to see even decades ago.

  46. Susan Montgomery says


    Come, now. Ellison would likely have appreciated my sentiment more then the loving tributes. Much like John Cleese said of Graham Chapman, Ellison would have wanted “anything but mindless good taste”.

    That said, I do stand by my evaluation. Of the works solely by him, it’s an endless streak of gratuitous vulgarity (in that it doesn’t serve or add to the story but is just there to be shocking) and contrivances to ensure the worst possible outcome. As curmudgeonly as I am here and on Patheos, I don’t have the liberal/progressive bias against the happy end.

  47. ledasmom says

    leerudolph: It’s more that I semi-accidentally gave them to my son because they were in front of us and he was hungry, and now that Harlan Ellison is dead I feel completely safe in admitting that.

  48. DanDare says

    I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream had a big impact on my as a young man.

    A hateful world spanning system. A great tech marvel turned against humanity destroying us forever.
    Collective punishment and its evils.
    The hopelessness of the survivors. Their inability to harmonise.
    Powerful stuff. I haven’t reread it as an adult and I don’t really want to see the more adult nuances that I feel would spoil my memory of it.
    It makes me wonder though. Movies are often remade. Why not stories? Isaac Asimov rewrote and published the story about the miniaturised submarine, but that was redoing his own work, upgrading it as it were.