I am not entirely sure how I feel about this.
I have read a fair amount of Ellison in my life, he was probably the SF author who came closest to being considered “real” literature, particularly with his collection of short stories, “Love Ain’t Nothin’ but Sex Misspelled.”
However, there’s also the fact that Harlan Ellison groped Connie Willis at the 2006 Worldcon.
Also, when I discovered the world of SF/F conventions as a nubile 19 year old, blonde, and starry-eyed that I got to meet so many of my favorite authors,* almost the first thing a lot of people, men and women, said to me when they met me at SF/F conventions was, “Never, ever be alone with Harlan Ellison. Don’t let him corner you, and don’t let him buy you drinks.” Honestly, I can’t remember who all told me that, because so many people did. I mean, I’m running down a mental rolodex of everyone I can remember telling me that, and it included just about every fan I ever met over the age of thirty.
If you were female in SF/F fandom in the late 80s/90s and at all conventionally attractive you would get this warning from people. A lot of people.
SF/F fandom has had a lot of Missing Stairs over the decades it’s existed. A lot. But Harlan Ellison was probably the best and most widely known.
I never did get cornered by him. I did feign militant lesbianism to get away from him in a public space at a con once. But he never did corner me.
And that’s the way it was for a long damn time. Word spread that someone wasn’t safe, and it was then the responsibility of the women to A. have gotten this warning, and B. to act upon it. The assumption was that if Creepy Uncle Harlan got his hands on you, you had either been stupid or wanted it and “regretted it” later because everyone assumed “someone” would have told you.
I think you all know how much bullshit that is.
What all those men and women who warned me and other girls away from him should have been doing was telling him that they’d be watching him and that he needed to stop what he was doing. That what he was doing was wrong, and unacceptable. They shouldn’t have trusted that the whisper network would reach everyone, or that everyone would recognize him, and/or have the presence of mind or ability to eel away from him.
So, while I have enjoyed some of his work, knowing what I know about him makes it harder to enjoy those works. Especially those where he attempted to write female characters. Just, no.
Ok, so he wasn’t Henry Miller levels of terrible at writing women, but that is a super low bar, people. Toddlers can safely step over that bar.
So, yeah, I’m pretty conflicted about his death last week, and still sorting out my feelings.
*This is how I got to spend half an hour just chatting with Roger Zelazny who did not try to grope me, but I am under no illusion that it was my ready wit that convinced him to ask me to sit with him.
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