Typewriters crawl away from his fingers!
It is difficult for a researcher to think about Harlan Ellison without nightmares dancing in the head.
It is not hard to believe that Harlan wants it that way.
Once a hanger-on in the early mimeographed diatribe fandom in the Eastern U.S., he went on to bedevil his superiors in the Army and to crank out some very interesting book noir reportage on gangs in the late fifties.
He's hung out with rock stars and scientists and most of the greats of the Sixties Science Fiction intelligentsia, all the while remaining a bit aloof and bitter...
and funny, and cat-bristlingly protective of those he believes in and those that he is better than.
Today, he is an elder statesman, a pioneer in graphic novels, cyberpunk, the original New Wave, and illuminating socially conscious short fiction.
He was the archivist for two very disturbing books, called "Dangerous Visions", that compiled 'unpublishable' works by known and unknown writers of the time, the middle sixties and early seventies.
Some of the writers wrote on demand, at his request.
Much of the "Dangerous Visions" text is still disturbing, despite a rise in strangeness, vulgarity and darkness in fantastic and science fiction publishing in recent decades.
Hey, ya'll! Watch this!
It is unknown whether he is still doing this, but for many years Harlan Ellison was famous for setting up a tent in a lobby at conventions or a desk in a shop window and cranking out a story within a specified time period.
Often he took suggestions.
Several times he did it on the radio, while parked in a room off the main studio. He would take suggestions, then go write and come back and read what he had so far on the air.
A product of his time.
For all his avante-gardity, this man whose favorite phrase for years was 'sui generis' is part of the class of writers who first blinked at the light in the years around WWII. Thus, there is both a hard science fiction bent and yet a black humor tinge to his work, even when he is being delightfully naughty.
He swam upstream with Keith Laumer, Norman Spinrad, Larry Niven, Micheal Moorcock, Philip K. Dick, and Fred Saberhagen as well as Spurgeon, Zelazney, Asimov, Heinlein and Harrison.
He watched the world through a darker lense and from a lower viewpoint, being short, scrappy and sometimes just generally nasty.
He encountered the Star Trek universe a couple of times, most notably with the network meddling with his script for "The City On The Edge of Forever", which has since been published in it's entirety, and, possibly, made into an audio book.
In a 1980 landmark lawsuit he sued and beat ABC-TV and Paramount Pictures for $337,000 when they plagiarized a television series he had created. This was the famous Brillo/Future Cop case.
Sometimes, the cuddly porcupine comes at you!
He sends back Christmas cards with a big black 'x' across the sentiment. He is not a big fan of sentimentality on demand.
From a column he wrote, dated December 28, 1972:
“Christmas is an awfulness that compares favorably with the great London plague and fire of 1665-66. No one escapes the feelings of mortal dejection, inadequacy, frustration, loneliness, guilt and pity. No one escapes feeling used by society, by religion, by friends and relatives, by the utterly artificial responsibilities of extending false greetings, sending banal cards, reciprocating unsolicited gifts, going to dull parties, putting up with acquaintances and family one avoids all the rest of the year...in short, of being brutalized by a 'holiday' that has lost virtually all of its original meanings and has become a merchandising ploy for color tv set manufacturers and ravagers of the woodlands.”
Television has been one of his windmills for decades. Two of his books "The Glass Teat" and "The Other Glass Teat", were compilations of his columns for the (Village Voice?) during the late sixties and early seventies. At least one researcher is known to have read the reprints with great interest many years later.
And, yet, he has sporadically written for television, four times winning awards for original scripts and interacting with the producers for the newest "Twilight Zone", "Babylon 5", the newest "Outer Limits", and "Psi Factor".
He is a strong voice for free speech and literacy, believing the two go hand in hand and that the rising illiteracy rates in schools... among the instructors... is contributing to a declining ability on the part of educators and publishers to understand just how democratic writing and reading can be.
He was an early proponent of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund and still champions it.
He also highlights the efforts and needs of DARE, the Dictionary of American Regional English, a scholarly publishing project to catch the provincial dialects in situ before they are smothered under the efforts of the media and schools to standardize speech.