Saturday, March 28, 2009

Harlan Ellison's Introductions

I'm off judging the Eisner awards this weekend, which means I'm spending every waking moment either reading comics or talking about them. So I need to dig into the archives -- which are nearly depleted at the moment -- for something I wrote somewhere else.

The posthuman construct generally called endy9 had been reading
Again, Dangerous Visions and was struck at how abrasive and self-serving his supposedly nice introductions could be. So that entity asked rec.arts.sf.written readers what those writers really thought about Ellison. I responded:

Harlan had gotten into a number of really nasty feuds even by the point of ADV -- I think his battle with Charles Platt extends back about that far.

Harlan was always divisive, but he was also one of the field's best short-story writers, a major luminary of the American New Wave (part of the reason he was divisive), and an editor buying stories that wouldn't be published otherwise.

His introduction to the first Dangerous Visions reads like pure bombast now, but it was more than half-true then: those stories really couldn't have been published anywhere else before that book, and things changed across the field afterward.

So the answer is a big "it's complicated" -- some people (particularly older writers and those associated with John W. Campbell and Analog) loathed Harlan and all that he stood for; some people fell out with him, one way or another (and Harlan in those days was not one to patch over differences, even small ones); and a lot of people either honestly liked him or tolerated his more bombastic qualities because of all of the great work he did.

He also only attacked people that he thought deserved it -- he teased his friends, but he attacked his enemies. (Harlan's teasing may seem rough, if you're used to sweeter writers, but you won't mistake it for his attacks once you've seen both.)

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