Harlan Ellison Essay - Ellison, Harlan (Vol. 1)

Ellison, Harlan (Vol. 1)

Ellison, Harlan 1934–

American science fiction writer. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Harlan Ellison is not only the most audible but possibly the most gifted of the American members of the New Wave. When he first hove into sight in 1956, spinning around lampposts and bragging of imaginary adventures and achievements, I thought him all noise and no talent, and told him so. In the succeeding decade he proved me dead wrong about this, and very few acts as a writer have given me so much pleasure as acknowledging this…. He is in fact a born writer, almost entirely without taste or control but with so much fire, originality and drive, as well as compassion, that he makes the conventional virtues of the artist seem almost irrelevant; his work strongly resembles that of Louis-Ferdinand Céline … even to its black, wild humor.

William Atheling, Jr., in his More Issues at Hand, Advent, 1970, p. 131.

Harlan Ellison is one of those one-man phenomena who pop up in a field, follow their own rules, and have such a terrific charisma and personal drive that they get away with it. They break all the rules and make the rest like it. He is in an Asimovian sense a "mule," a unique sort of genius who can lead where others can never successfully follow, who can hold an audience enthralled yet never gain a convert, who can insult and have only the stupid offended.

[Ellison's writing might be ascribed to the New Wave school of science fiction] in the sense that [his] short stories have most certainly charted new paths in writing, in that he has indeed found new ultramodern ways of narration which yet manage to keep comprehension (compared with most of the New Wave pioneering which actually reverts back to antiquated experimental styles of the twenties and thirties without acknowledging it; a great deal of the New Wave material smacks of Dadaism, a 1919–1920 manifestation), in that he takes the downbeat view of the far future and therefore, by implication, seems to accept the view that there is no real hope for humanity and that we are not going to surmount the crises of this century.

In that sense Harlan Ellison is New Wave, and if so, is the best of them all.

Donald A. Wolheim, in his The Universe Makers, Harper & Row, 1971, pp. 105-06.