Thoughts From a Very Expensive Uber to West Hollywood

In 12 days, I’ll be on a plane to Portland, Oregon, leaving 16 years of working and living in what the late Harlan Ellison liked to call Baghdad—before the first Gulf War made it a household word and usurped the literary mythos with a contemporary view of a city very far removed from its legendary past. At least, here in the West.

West Hollywood, specifically, meant tolerance and excess, and it meant a certain freedom from feeling like a minority, even if that was probably an illusion. Eventually it became a pain in the ass to get out of and back into, and changing times and fortunes necessitated a move to cheaper neighborhoods.

Change is inevitable. It’s in the details that everything is tweaked, resolved, and given meaning. Where we do our work is supposed to matter less than our vision and intent. But you’ll always be influenced by your environment. Setting matters. People matter.

I’m visiting some friends I may not see for a long time. I probably won’t thank them for whatever influence they had on my work, that would be too weird. But it is there.

Harlan, and Good and Bad Things

He finally went and did it. Died. Deshuffled the most mortal of coils. A fiery, arseaholic ball of emotion and invective with an Edisonian ability to invent new tales burned out and went forever silent. He wrote amazing things, and I considered him a hero for a long, long time.

Then I started hearing about his sexist behavior. Odd, I thought, since he was such a fierce advocate of the ERA and feminist ideals. But sometimes the people we admire do awful, hurtful, damaging things. We can’t shy away from talking about that part of our erstwhile heroes, if we talk about them at all, and sometimes if we don’t want to. Harlan shamefully groped Connie Willis on stage, and was reportedly grabby with a lot of women through the years. This is unacceptable sexual assault, and he should have been called out on it a lot more than he was. He apologized to Willis, who accepted. That’s to the good.

He inspired millions of us to write and to create new worlds and to never give in to the powerful who wanted to crush or steal our dreams. But he hurt people and sparked fear in some innocents he denigrated, and womenthe woman he touched inappropriately, and that will shadow his brilliant work forever, as it should.

Here’s my Ellison story:

I was attending Comic-Con in 1995 or ’96 as an exhibitor for my comics series Greymatter. I saw that Harlan was going to be meeting and greeting at a booth in the middle, somewhere, and even though I was terrified at the thought of confronting such a fierce and forward man, and the real possibility that he’d excoriate me and my work, I had to go get in line.

I waited, I walked up, I handed him a pile of books. He was delighted, and gracious, and welcoming. He said, “Ack! You waited in line to give me comic books?!” with a giant grin and slight head shake. He accepted my fanboying with tolerant good humor and thanked me. And I left, exhilarated I’d met yet another of my favorite creators.


Cory Doctorow wrote a better obit than this one, about HE, and how to think about someone we admire who does bad and good things and it’s here, and it’s worth reading.