He irritated, entertained, offended, and taught me all in equal measure. Most of all, he made me laugh and think. Harlan Ellison was many things. I've been told by people who knew him that he was "a big pain in the ass" and also that he was "one of the angels". One way to sum my thoughts on is him is that Harlan the man should be taken seriously but not too seriously. I think despite his abrasive style and his erratic moods, he really cared about people; he just didn't have a lot of patience for them. I get that because you can say the same about me. Another thing I learned over the years is to not let an author's personality overshadow their work when the work is potentially rewarding. He rewarded in spades and continues to do so.

Given that I'm experiencing the biggest Harlan kick of my life, I thought I would take the time to discuss some of his work while it's fresh in my mind. I'd like to focus on his horrific works. He would take issue with the term "horror" but "macabre" or "grotesque" would fit the bill just as well.

I mentioned "I Have No Mouth but I Must Scream" before but it has made such an impression on me that I can't keep from bringing it up. In short, the world has been dominated by a supercomputer. This A.I. is insane because it was created by humans and filled with our flaws and it recognizes this. As a punishment, it has kept five humans alive and spends decades tormenting them, making each person the worst version of him or herself. It can be seen as completely bleak, but Ellison pointed out that it's essentially a positive story because of the main character's sacrifice at the end in which he overcomes his worst self. This one is memorable and I'm sure it will stay with me. Imagine if Philip K Dick wrote his own version of Dante's Inferno.

"Croatoan" is about a man searching for his girlfriend's aborted child in the sewers. Well. .. nobody ever accused Harlan of being politically correct. At any rate, what you his guy encounters is monstrous. This tale isn't logical but it works as a nightmare in print about a man being forced to account for himself. Atmospheric, dark, and grimy, this is a tale worth reading.

"The Whimper if Whipped Dogs" is a profound story of human cruelty and indifference. Why is the big city is so dangerous? Harlan posits the existence of a modern god of violence and evil that must be submitted to for survival. People could criticize this story for its misanthropy but bear in mind it was inspired by a real murder witnessed by dozens of people who just watched and did nothing.

It would take too long to highlight his horrific work in detail but I'll mention a few more. "All the Sounds of Fear" an actor experiences the most dire of identity crises. "Mefisto in Onyx" a serial killer switches his body with an innocent man's (another of those stories I wish were made into a movie). "The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" why was madness allowed to exist in the world? Without it, we wouldn't have love. "Shatterday" an exceptional doppelganger tale. "Broken Glass" a story of psychic voyeurism. To say the least, Harlan Ellison was versatile.

One article doesn't do the guy justice. He was a complicated man but he's worth discussing and reading. I'll take some more time with him another time.

Written by Nicholas Montelongo

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