Editor’s Note: We were saddened to learn recently of the death of Harlan Jay Ellison, the famed fabulist and writer of science fiction. Ellison was a noted author in his field, but also extremely controversial, offending Right, Left, and Center with perfect impartiality. However, he was instrumental in politicizing science fiction and fantasy, and in some ways today’s Feminist, Cyberpunk, and Libertarian SF would not be possible without him. Our friend Robert L. Folkner, himself a noted and published fabulist, offered us this brief note on Ellison, and his place in the worlds of genre and literary fiction.
By Robert L. Folkner
Harlan Ellison, justifiably famed short-story author, novelist, scenarist, critic and political activist, has now been stilled forever at the age of 84. Born to an Ohio dentist and a housewife and with an older sister named Beverly (to whom he became completely estranged ,) Ellison’s family lived originally in Cleveland but relocated to the town of Painesville for one year. The Ellisons were Jewish and Harlan was victimized by anti-Semitic youths. Upon the death of his father, the family returned to Cleveland. Ellison ran away from home on several occasions, working for a time in a carnival colloquially referred to as a “Gilly”—he described it as a horrific experience in his memoir, Gopher in the Gilly. Later in life he worked a variety of jobs, including driving an explosives truck and working as a hired gun for what he termed “A wealthy neurotic.”
Ellison served in the United States Army for the then mandatory period of two years (1957-1959); the year 1958 saw the publication of his first novel, Web of the City.
Ellison preferred to be referred to as a Fantasist, rather than as a writer of science fiction. As an author, he won numerous awards, including multiple Hugos, Nebulas, and Edgars.
He developed a reputation for being abrasive and demanding. Much of this was likely due to attempts by studio executives to cheat him out of monies due him.
Harlan was hired by Disney Corp. as one of their writers, and according to him he was fired on the same day for verbally “performing” a theoretical script for a “Disney porn flick.” This occurred in the cafeteria and was overheard by Roy Disney.
Harlan was married five times and lived in Sherman Oaks, CA. on Coy Drive. He will be greatly missed by his fans and admirers.