Who is Harlan Ellison?
It’s a question that, after a quick search, I discover I’ve never answered on this blog before. And I feel kind of bad about that.
Ellison, now 81 years old, is one of the most influential writers in science fiction. That’s something that would piss Ellison off to hear, because he’s always fought against being limited, against being pigeonholed, in what was once a “ghetto” of science fiction.
Before I get to one of my favorite examples of Ellison’s other writing, let me give you his science fiction credentials:
Ellison is the author of more than 1,700 stories, books, screenplays, comic books and the like. He’s won every award of any importance in the world of speculative fiction.
Although he maintained his work was butchered, Ellison is in some circles best known for “City on the Edge of Forever,” the “Star Trek” episode in which Kirk and Spock go back in time to find McCoy, who has – in a drug-induced haze – gone back in time and changed history.
Ellison wrote great television including episodes of the “Outer Limits” anthology TV series – “Demon with a Glass Hand” and “Soldier” – that were such an influence on James Cameron’s “Terminator” that, post-theatrical release, an acknowledgement of Ellison’s work was added to the credits of Cameron’s movie.
Ellison wrote some great fiction but I wanted to note one of a few volumes of non-fiction that he wrote, “The Glass Teat.”
Re-reading “The Glass Teat” now is a time machine not unlike those that Ellison wrote about for “Outer Limits.” How much of a place and time is “The Glass Teat,” a collection of columns Ellison wrote for the The Los Angeles Free Press in the late 1960s and 1970?
Well, suffice it to say that the collection ends with a showdown between Ellison and Ohio school administrators while the spirt of Spiro Agnew hangs overhead like a buzzard.
If you also ask, “Who is Spiro Agnew?” then I’m not sure why you’ve read this far.
And yes, Ellison’s three-part column (four really) about the stir caused when Ellison spoke to Ohio (he’s from Ohio, despite decades in California) high school students and not only spoke his mind but uttered a few colorful words and phrases didn’t have a lot to do with TV. I’ll get to that in a minute.
This was late 1969, after all, and the country was a different place: Vietnam was raging, our leaders were either Nixon and Agnew or they had been assassinated, and a young generation was trying to break away from their parents’ world. Before your time? Check out any recent “Mad Men” episode for frame of reference.
Although Ellison wrote what was more than marginally a TV column, he really wrote about whatever intrigued or infuriated him that week. Sometimes that was TV, which was a very different medium back then, and how it squandered its potential. Sometimes it was current events or politics.
Ellison wrote enough columns to fill this book and a sequel, “The Other Glass Teat,” and I highly recommend both of them.
The players might seem of another time – they are – and Ellison’s trademark acerbic wit/outrage might seem foreign to readers who are today accustomed to writers who not only don’t wear their hearts on their sleeves but cover up their hearts for mass consumption.
But Ellison doesn’t care. He has always done his thing and “The Glass Teat” documents just that.