Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Trick

I'd been ready for it for a while. The last few reports I'd read about Harlan had said that his health was poor. I suppose that you can only be Harlan for so long before your body craps out on you. Maybe I knew that the long silence around Harlan meant the end was coming soon. I'd carried the sorrow around like a tumor for some time. Perhaps that's why I'd started playing the game version of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream again. Even as the voice of the monstrous AM it's still a connection to the man, I suppose. I'm currently stuck in a blimp wondering if I'm supposed to kill my character to get out of the level. Harlan might find that amusing.

Anyway, I got the news today. I'm down another hero.

It's not a word I throw around. Maybe Harlan would have liked the idea. Possibly not. Still, I can count my heroes on a single hand and have fingers left over (Hint: One's in the middle). When I use the word, I mean it, and I mean it deeply.

It all started with something I'd read about him in, I believe, F&SF. That lead to my purchase of these two books from The Science Fiction Book Club. Then I found out he'd written (in a way) the best episode of Star Trek, and A Boy and His Dog, a favorite SF film I'd seen at the local drive-in. The next thing I know, I'm tasked with writing an essay for my (fourth? fifth? sixth? grade) class on my hero. I chose Harlan, of course.

I chose Harlan because he fought for what he felt was right, even when no one else agreed. I chose Harlan because although he may have been afraid, he was fearless. I chose Harlan because he was unique and reveled in that uniqueness. I chose Harlan for the beauty and horror and depth and humanity of his writing. There is a virulent clichè in SF reporting/reviewing that goes like this: "it's a story about what it means to be human." It's lazy writing, every bit as lazy as "SF writers try to predict the future" and just as nonsensical. It's a fallback phrase that people just nod at and move on. Harlan likely hated it, though his work came closer than anyone's to fitting the description.

The Executioner of Malformed Children from the collection Shatterday
I'd played with being a writer from a young age. The words that Harlan put upon pages shored up that play into a conviction. Harlan has been on my shoulder through everything I've ever written. Make that both shoulders.

Excerpt from the short story Shatterday
“The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.” 
― Harlan EllisonStrange Wine

Harlan inspired me to fight for what is good and true and right. Harlan inspired me to fight for what is mine. Harlan inspired me to write and to write well. For better or for worse, Harlan's words had made me a writer. The trick, as he'd said, was that it was up to me to stay a writer.

Now he's gone. Like Anthony Bourdain, a great and powerful voice has left a void in a world more in need of them than ever. I'm down two heroes. At least I have their words to keep me warm in these chilling times.

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