Welcome! This is my personal blog, where I chat about whatever takes my fancy, reminisce about comics, Old Time Radio, and science-fiction fandoms, review what I feel like reviewing, and so on. It also archives scans of some of the fanzines with which I've been involved.
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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hey, THIS Is the Harlan Ellison Photo Source!

I've just received a phonecall that says that the photo that appears at the beginning of one of my Harlan Ellison posts is appearing on the Good Old Internet as some sort of "Harlan Ellison doing pushups before MadCon" shot. Harlan was not doing pushups, the photo is mine, and if you give three hoots in Hell about accurate reporting, you'll do me a favor if you spread the word. It is precisely and exactly as I reported it on this website. He fell to the floor as a joke to amuse Peter and Kathleen David's daughter Caroline - and, believe me, there was panic amid the several folks who were standing there but not paying attention until he fell. Just as I reported. People who are using the photo (without, by the way, asking me) and saying anything else are, well, not to be commended for their truthiness. I'd appreciate your telling them so.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

MadCon 2010: Where'd the Weekend Go?

Harlan Ellison, Susan Ellison, Josh Wimmer
You see, there's a conundrum for people who have websites like this. We can either be websiting or we can be out there in the wide, wide world - gathering material for websiting. Or we can be breathing heavily after being in the wide, wide world and trying desperately to remember all the things we told ourselves we'd remember to post "as soon as possible." And, yes, I have stacks of notes and photos and such regarding what I plan to post about Comic-Con International: San Diego. Which was weeks and weeks (and weeks) ago. So I'm in the hotel room munching on a McDonald's bagel with (um, let's see) egg and cheese and bacon and sucking down a Frappe - mostly because the hotel coffee bar had indicated yesterday it wouldn't be open today and (as I came back into the hotel) it is - but after I'd gone out to East Towne Mall and ended up settling for McDonald's because East Towne Mall turns out to be not even functioning until 10 a.m. on Sundays (which I didn't discover until I went there. Whiiiiiiiiine).

So. Here's a photo I'd planned to post yesterday. As he sat to sign books (with a huge line stretching down the hall), Harlan was handed print-outs of an e-mail exchange between Josh Wimmer and Buck Howdy. Who, you may ask, is Buck Howdy? Well, for the 52nd Grammy Awards, there were six nominees for Best Children's Spoken Word Album. Put on the ballot in alphabetical order, Howdy's performance came first, thanks to alphabetical order: Aaaaah! Spooky, Scary Stories & Songs. The other nominees were by Dean Pitchford; the group of Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Hillen Mirren, Forest Whitaker and others; David Hyde Pierce; Ed Asner; and Harlan. (Harlan, by the way, was reading Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There - and it's a wonderful performance, unlike any other I've heard. I would link to its spot on Amazon for you, but the one thing Amazon apparently wants to discourage people from buying is audiobooks. It has separate link departments for "Grocery" and "VHS" but not for "Audiobook." It has 1,759 options for "Through the Looking-Glass," though fewer than 300 for the full title - but I still don't have time to find it, given that such items as Alice mousepads were apparently a better match for the title than Harlan's wonderful performance. I digress.)

Buck Howdy won the Emmy is the point here. And he'd e-mailed Wimmer a note that came across as something of a "say hi to loser Harlan" message. And here's Harlan with his first look at the printout. And, in his banquet speech, Harlan waxed eloquent on the matter. And I didn't have time to post it last night. And I've got to get back to the con. So ...


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Harlan Ellison's Not the Only Person at MadCon 2010

Sophie Aldred and Peter David

John Krewson
Just saying... It suddenly occurs to me to acknowledge that there are lots of fun guests here. (In fact, an hour or so went quickly by in a bar discussion that included John Krewson of The Onion and Pat Rothfuss of The Name of the Wind and such topics as the subjunctive mood and the lacks of translation of such works as Cyrano de Bergerac and The Iliad.) Anyway, cool people are here and chatting: Gene Wolfe, Mark and Kathryn Sullivan, Sophie Aldred, Peter and Kathleen David ... and wait a minute. I've got to dress for dinner. Yikes! Outa here!


Harlan Ellison at MadCon: Friday Night

It was a late night last night. Thing is: Last major event on the schedule was a talk by Harlan - a talk that, it was thought, might be followed with a book signing. And Harlan talked. And talked. And talked. When would he move from the podium to the table outside? I didn't know. Tom Galloway didn't know. Susan didn't know. And Harlan talked. And there were roars of laughter erupting from room, and Harlan was in full-speed mode, and everyone was having a good time. And slowly, slowly, slowly the line outside the room grew, as people figured they'd better get in line for that autograph.

And we finally figured out a solution, as Harlan would clearly not be up to autographs. We handed out numbers, so that the folks in the line didn't lose their place. And all of us (including Harlan, who had to be virtually dragged offstage) staggered off to bed. And what am I doing posting this from my hotel room the following morning? Hey, good question. Signing off for the moment; banquet tonight. Cheers!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Harlan Ellison Prior to MadCon 2010

What the heck? Oh, no! I knew Harlan was ill, but is this it? Harlan, having traveled halfway across the country with Susan, had arrived at the convention hotel for MadCon 2010 (there are still a few memberships available: Madison, Wisconsin - my favorite city - come join us). And now he's on the floor?

Well, see, Harlan (Who has lost an incredible amount of weight since I saw him last: Hello, bright side of illness! I'm looking on you!) was not alone at this moment. He was, in fact, surrounded by admirers, one of whom was a child whom Harlan clearly felt needed to be amused. Suddenly, he fell to the floor. People who hadn't been watching as closely as I had been (as I viewed the world through my camera) and had not been noticing the fact that he had been striving to entertain Caroline David rallied round following what they feared was a catastrophe. (Let's start the convention by watching EMTs toting Harlan to a waiting ambulance.)

But, ta daaaa! Caroline was, indeed, amused. And we all went out to dinner at Red Lobster.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

More Anecdotes about Harlan Ellison. Just Saying.

Wups! I forgot I'd promised to tell you about the door to Harlan's study. It's actually not much of a story, but for the record ... I come back to the results of Harlan's caring so much about ... just ... everything. His incendiary remarks sometimes set others ablaze - and one of the results is a huge target that he has, in effect, painted on himself. And one of the longest-standing, easiest ammunition sources seems to be: Hey, didja know? Harlan Ellison is not tall! Admittedly, it's not one of the most intellectual comebacks to his arguments. But, surely, the point must add weight to any other response his critics may have ...

Clearly, the snark has wounded him to the quick. Except ...

He's made a joke of it. The door to his study is a work of art, a sculpture in itself. And one of its aspects is that the lintel is something like four feet above the floor. Which means that everyone including Harlan has to stoop to enter his work area. Hee!

Oh, didn't I also promise to tell you about his early experience as a television interview subject? OK, this was fun. He'd have handled it with aplomb later in his career, but these were relatively early days. (The version of the book he was promoting shown here is a later edition; the first release was a Regency paperback in 1961.) Background: Dorothy Fuldheim was a major TV personality. She has a lengthy entry on Wikipedia, which notes that she may have been  the first woman in America to be anchor of a TV news broadcast. In any case, in 1961 she had an ongoing feature on Cleveland TV in which she interviewed guests, and it was a coup to be the subject of such an interview. She had an incredible style that merged occasionally insightful questions with being out of touch on a strange variety of topics. (I think I recall her answer to rats in the slums as being that slum homes should all have garbage disposals in their sinks. I know I recall her asking Gaylord Perry about Me and the Spitter precisely what it was that a pitcher did in baseball. "I mean is it like a tennis player serving the ball?" was roughly her elaboration - as people in the studio tried unsuccessfully to stifle their laughter.) Anyway, there was Harlan, trying to promote his book of essays - about running with a teen gang to get information for his writing career and about incarceration in the Manhattan "Tombs." Gang violence and jail: Memos from Purgatory was and is strong stuff. So here he was in the studio, facing Dorothy Fuldheim, and he began by saying that, as he'd embarked on a writing career, he'd worked a number of jobs and then decided that the topic of his first novel would be kid gangs. Fuldheim asked what jobs he'd worked. Thrown a bit off-stride, he listed a few, including driving an ice-cream truck. "Oh, did you always want to do that?" "What?" "Drive an ice-cream truck. You know, when I was a child, I always thought that driving an ice-cream truck would be such a wonderful job ..." I've seldom seen Harlan more taken aback. As I say, today, he'd easily regain control of the message to make his points. But that was a classic in the field of derailed interviews, as she continued to discuss how much fun it would be to drive an ice-cream truck and what career goals children have and so on ... And I was lucky enough to be watching the broadcast - a broadcast that never did give him time to share his messages on either kid gangs or jail.

There: an anecdote not likely to come up at this week's MadCon 2010. It doesn't look as if Harlan will be well enough to attend in person, but I bet other anedotes will be flying. I hope I'll see you there!


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 ...



Sunday, September 19, 2010

Celebrating Harlan Ellison

Here's a photo that not even Harlan has seen of himself. I took it at a World Science Fiction Convention, either in Detroit (September 4-7, 1959) or in Pittsburgh (September 3-5, 1960); I'd thought for years that it was the former, but my current guess is the latter. In any case, I was sitting a couple of rows back at a panel in which the entertainment consisted simply of (left to right) Isaac Asimov, Randy Garrett, and Harlan exchanging banter until the panel was over. You can probably tell that the movie screen behind the panelists did not enhance the shot, and Harlan's response to my flashbulb came down to the fact that it was (especially with the screen) blinding and knock it off, already. Which I did, but, hey, otherwise there'd have been no photo of what was a delightful entertainment. Just saying.

My point? Wups, sorry. I was wallowing in memories of the days when WorldCons were small enough that folks like me (age 16 or 17, depending on which con it was) could just pull up a chair and enjoy listening to the casual wit of such folks as these three. And it was the first photo I ever took of Harlan.

Mind you, I'd met Harlan at the 1955 WorldCon in Cleveland, when I was 12. Mom (Betsy Curtis) was a science-fiction writer and had contributed to Harlan's Dimensions fanzine, and, at that convention, I hung around and eavesdropped on all the conversations - at least one of which was between Harlan and her. The last time I visited Harlan and Susan, we simultaneously realized that that meant that our friendship had been one of the longest either Harlan or I had had.

And now MadCon 2010 is gearing up for an Ellison celebration September 24-26 - and, again, people will be able to hang out and savor the wit and share anecdotes and such. Now, mind you, convention organizers are warning as follows on the home page, "due to ill health it is very likely that he will not be able to travel to Madison for MadCon. However, Harlan is determined that ... he will still be appearing at MadCon telephonically for his talks on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday." There's more on the site; do check it out. But that won't keep the rest of us from sharing enough anecdotes to keep him blushing, even at long distance.

So I hope you'll join me (and such other folks as Sophie Aldred (from Doctor Who), writers Gene Wolfe, Peter David, Pat Rothfuss ... Heck with it. Check the website. (See? I didn't even mention John Krewson of The Onion.) Where was I?

Oh, yes. Celebrating Harlan. Well, the thing about Harlan that many people just don't quite get is that Harlan cares. Sounds like a book title or a charity drive - Sorry about that. But the point is that you and I may (for example) like Keebler's oyster crackers as they used to be served as accompaniment to some airline meals. But Harlan loved Keebler's oyster crackers as they used (etc.) - and he followed it up by trying the variety in stores and didn't love them as much - and he followed that up by contacting Keebler's elves. Long story short: He obtained a case of individual airline packets of Keebler's oyster crackers and slowly doled them out over the ensuing months - to his friends, as well as himself. Because he cared.

Which is more adrenaline than some folks can handle. (Pause to thank Heaven that he found another unique human being in Susan, because she's the only person on Earth who could handle living with a person who just cares so much about everything.)

But Harlan not only cares about everything, he acts on those cares. He spreads the word,just as he distributed those oyster crackers. In 1962, for example, he sent Don and Maggie Thompson an essay for their fledgling fanzine just because he cared. Sample: "But today the gross desire to capture everyone by broadening the [comics-reading customer] base so shamefully that no one gets full measure for his money has allowed such patently ludicrous creatures as Batwoman, Lois Lane, Lana Lang, Lori Lemaris, Aqualad, Mon-el, Bizarro, Streaky, Supergirl, Krypto (which is phonetically the Russian word for a 'fellow traveler' and thus, by the let's-not-offend-anybody policy of plotting today, highly suspect), Super-monkey and (so help me God) Super-horse." See? He even cares about comic books.

Next time (if the creek doesn't rise and flood the carrot patch) I'll tell you about the time Harlan revealed his devotion to a certain prime-time show. And about the door to his study. And ... but maybe you know all that already. Hey, folks, this coming weekend is going to be full of Harlan anecdotes. Come join us. And in the meantime, take a look at any of his stories. (Did I tell you about his singing in Kismet? Or the time he appeared on Cleveland's interview show with Dorothy Fuldheim when she derailed the discussion following his mentioning he'd once driven an ice-cream truck? Surely, you've heard about his sending a dead animal ...) Stay tuned.



Monday, September 6, 2010

The Fantastic Mister Beagle

Peter S. Beagle
Among the treats I experienced at this year's Wizard World Chicago was the unexpected meeting with one of my favorite authors, who was accompanied by someone with whom I'd lost touch years and years ago. The author was Peter S. Beagle. The lost-touch guy was Freff. I'd admired the work of both in years gone by - and the treat was discovering that both are not only still around, but also active today. Let's see ... Background ... When I was 17 or so, Don loaned me a copy of the fantasy novel A Fine and Private Place by Beagle, and it was a stunner. At Wizard World, I heard Freff introduce people to the book by reading the first two paragraphs, so:

"The baloney weighed the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door. Frantically he beat his wings to gain altitude, looking like a small black electric fan. An updraft caught him and threw him into the sky. He circled twice, to get his bearings, and began to fly north.
"Below, the shopkeeper stood with his hands on his hips, looking up at the diminishing cinder in the sky. Presently he shrugged and went back into his delicatessen. He was not without philosophy, this shopkeeper, and he knew that if a raven comes into your delicatessen and steals a whole baloney it is either an act of God or it isn't, and in either case there isn't very much you can do about it."

The raven is bringing the baloney to feed a man who has spent years hiding in the Bronx's Yorkchester Cemetery - and talking with the spirits of the recently dead. And it's a delight to reread this gem 50 years later. And, of course, meeting Beagle meant that I sort of blithered about how much I'd enjoyed it in the past and was looking forward to savoring it again - end of conversation. (I often pontificate about how to best speak with people whose work one admires. Surely, I say, you have a question if you're a fan of that work. Ask the question, I say. Except when I meet such a person in unexpected circumstances, at which point I gabble about being a fan and loving the work - to which the only response is usually, "Thank you," end of dialogue. So it has gone with Joss Whedon, Jim Dale, and so many others. And now Peter S. Beagle. Sigh.)

On the other hand, also at the table was Freff, and it was all "Let the chit-chat commence!" First, for those who have come along later, let me say that Freff may be best known in comics circles for his work with Phil Foglio on the delicious but sadly short-lived D'Arc Tangent in 1982. Given that several years have gone by, what's with Freff now? And, for that matter, what's with the name "Freff"? What sort of weird acronym is that? Well, it's not an acronym; it's actually his middle name. He's Connor Freff Cochran, and one of the things he's doing is helping people today get more of the work of Peter S. Beagle. While A Fine and Private Place is the first novel of Beagle's that I'd read, the author is probably best known for The Last Unicorn (1968) - so do note the image on Freff's T-shirt.

Among other projects (and I bought, not only the 2007 edition of A Fine and Private Place to savor it anew, but also The Unicorn Sonata [1996], The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche [1997], The Line Between [2006], and We Never Talk about My Brother [2009], not to mention the Beagle-edited The Secret History of Fantasy [2010]), Freff told me about "the 52-50 project." And I'll tell you more about that another day, if the creek don't rise and the bunny rabbits don't eat all the celery.


Sunday, September 5, 2010

Stephen Reads a Book

This is my son, Stephen. He says he will read a book. He does not say he will read a big book. But he says he will read a book. His mother is happy. "See? Stephen reads!" she will say. "Stephen reads a book!" (She knows Stephen can read. Stephen can even write. Stephen can, in fact, even edit. But now, now, now he will read a real book.) "Hot dog!" says his mother. "At last!"

I was listening, as I do every week, to the delightful National Public Radio Pop Culture Happy Hour. I think everyone who enjoys popular culture would enjoy this experience - but I confess there's extra fun for me because one of the participants is my very own son. And it's sort of like attending a party at his house without my having to travel many hours to get there. In any case, this time, he was waxing philosophical (as much as he does) over the fact that (without referring to notes) he had commented in passing on Slap Maxwell and Hooperman - and had had a discussion with friends over the most obscure details of Insane Clown Posse - but he (he said) hadn't read a book. (This could be substantiated, by the way, in an earlier NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour [that I won't link to] in which a mention of Death of a Salesman was followed by Stephen's quickly commenting, "I don't read books.")

(Let me say that he has occasionally read books in the past - just in case you wondered. But he has certainly not made a habit of it recently.) In any case, the lad now declares himself motivated to participate in "a project in which I read a book." [Show host Linda Holmes quickly suggested How to Win Friends and Influence People and added a possible vote for something by Miss Manners.] The point is that Stephen has actually taken the step of reserving for himself an e-mail address for the project: stephenreadsabook@gmail.com. And he has, moreover, expressed hopes that the book suggested might have some relevance to popular culture so that he could discuss it on the podcast.

I should point out that his 9-year-old son has read many books, recently completing the "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series by Rick Riordan. In fact, that might be a place to start, Stephen: with a book that Jonah is reading. Wouldn't a father-son read-off be nifty? And, if Jonah still hasn't begun the "Harry Potter" series ... Well, what'd be more pop culture than that? With the forthcoming film about to whip Daniel Radcliffe fans into a frenzy? Think of Happy Hours filled with references to Muggles and Snape and Quidditch and He Who Must Be Obeyed ... Wups! Nope! Sorry! I blended my pop cultures there. But think about it, Stephen. Just saying ...


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