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Monday, September 20, 2010

Harlan Ellison: Is He Truly a Luddite?


Well, no. Ah, that was easy. Oh. What? Why would anyone suggest such a thing in the first place? Well, consider: Harlan does not write his thousands and thousands and thousands of words on a computer, though he has written oodles of science fiction, speculative fiction, whatever it's called this week. (Do me a favor, though: Don't identify him simply as "a science-fiction writer," because he writes lots and lots and lots of words that are not science fiction. Just saying.) Anyway, his writing tool of choice is a portable typewriter (an Olivetti, as I recall). He can use it anywhere. He can use it even if the power goes off. He is, in fact, a major advocate of the wonders of the portable typewriter.

Consider: Harlan griped to me at one point that a hotel in which he was staying not only didn't have blotting paper in the desk in his room, but (when he called the main desk) the staff didn't even know what he was asking for. He verged on outrage at the very fact.

Consider: Harlan has expressed himself as being of the opinion that television is A Bad Thing. (I challenged him on this a few years ago, and we ended the discussion when he became virtually incandescent in rage over the failings of the medium.) I think that opinion may have something to do with his closely analyzing TV via writing so many columns about TV that he has filled two books with his illuminating commentaries. [Sample: Regarding CBS censorship of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in 1969, he wrote in part, "No, what that banned segment shows us, shows all of the country, was that not only are the network potentates a gaggle of cringing, petrified, spineless twerps, they are ripe patsys for extortion and blackmail. ... Look, CBS, I'm talking to you like a Dutch Uncle. You see, what's happening is that we're building a psychopathic society. Everybody lies, everybody sells out, everybody stinks of hate. We're all being driven mad as mudflys, CBS. The hatreds are running deep, core-deep. How much longer do you think we can tolerate our guardians of the public trust, dudes like you, who corrupt and bastardize that trust?"] Anyway, by the time John and Bjo Trimble took us to visit Harlan and Susan in 1976, I think most of his readers were convinced that Harlan had long since destroyed his television machine.

But, at the end of that delightful evening at Ellison Wonderland, Harlan stood politely to say that, while we were all welcome to stay to share it with him, he was not going to miss the evening's broadcast of Hill Street Blues. And we understood perfectly (though we had not yet been captivated by the show) and took our departure, cheered by the information that he had not truly abandoned the medium. (And, it should be noted, I've enjoyed other televisual entertainment with the Ellisons since.) So. No Luddite there.

But he uses a typewriter. And blotting paper. And loves at least some old radio shows - to the point at which he even helped put together a performance of a Robert A. Arthur radio script at a SPERDVAC convention because any recording of the original broadcast has long since been lost.

The thing is: Harlan doesn't forget to treasure what's best of the past while we travel in that 60-seconds-per-minute time machine that we all inhabit. So do consider joining a flock of us this coming weekend to treasure Harlan. And share anecdotes. Just saying ...

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7 comments:

Paul September 20, 2010 at 7:33 PM  

Thank you for the fantastic story!

Anonymous,  September 20, 2010 at 8:14 PM  

Ellison is calling in sick a week in advance.

So don't bother with Madcon, unless you want to hear him ranting over a telephone.

Maggie Thompson September 21, 2010 at 7:24 AM  

Whereas, should he recover enough to attend, of course, Harlan will wear a pink bunnysuit and say sprightly things about how nice the weather is and how cuddly convention attendees are?

Gotta say: If you're not a fan of Harlan's, you probably didn't have this event on your agenda to begin with. If you are the sort of fan I am, you're happy to get whatever participation he's well enough to provide.

Anonymous,  September 21, 2010 at 8:14 PM  

It's unprofessional and a little dubious. Future convention planners take note.

Tony Isabella September 21, 2010 at 11:04 PM  

Maggie, you are so much nicer than me and we do love you for it.

But..."Anonymous" is a coward, just another gutless punk hiding behind his computer and too frightened to put his name to his words.

On my message board, we step on his kind, wipe him off our boots, flush him down the toilet. Thus allowing him to meet the destiny he deserves,

Anonymous,  September 24, 2010 at 3:53 AM  
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maggie Thompson September 24, 2010 at 11:25 AM  

Sorry, Anonymous, I'm sure you enjoy posting this sort of remark elsewhere on the Internet, but I intend to remain cheerily on-topic. And I'm thrilled Harlan and Susan are here safely. Much fun last night - with more fun to come today! Woo hoo!

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