Harlan Ellison is dead. The most infamous writer of science fiction (I know he preferred "speculative fiction" but that never really jibed with me so there you go Harlan) has left the field of play. When I was a young man, just tumbling along looking for some direction, the works of Harlan Ellison came into my ken and I found a voice that was distinctive, provocative and compelling. I don't pretend to have read it all nor to be anything approaching an expert on his career, but the effects of Ellison when his work or attitudes or antic intersected with my world were memorable.
Among my earliest encounters with Ellison were in comics, where Roy Thomas used plots from Ellison for issues of The Avengers and The Incredible Hulk. First there was a two-part adventure which began in The Avengers and crossed over into The Incredible Hulk and introduced Jarella. Later were have another Avengers issue in which humble man gets the powers of a god.
I also ran across Harlan in issues of Justice League of America where he was a character no less, named "Harlequin Ellis" created by Mike Friedrich when he was scripting the comic.
His great short stories (his ideal format) were weird and strange and often even made sense to me. "Repent Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman" is a story I've read several times over the years in this collection and that, and it always strikes me as a powerful shout out to the conformity that seeks to overwhelm us all. As an editor, his collection Dangerous Visions and the later Again, Dangerous Visions were the stuff of legend even before I got my hands on them. These were stories of a different flavor, not the bright positive visions of gleaming spaceships and elegant societies, but shadowing indictments of the status quo. That was Ellison's theme really, the indictment of the world in which he lived.
Weirdly my favorite works from Ellison are his articles which form the collections The Glass Teat and the later The Other Glass Teat. Here is where you find the social criticism which stoked so much of his fiction bristling on the surface. Ellison talked about television in intelligent ways pointing out the enormous power of the medium while skewering examples of the form. Always his critiques were full of vigor and often with some degree of venom. Harlan Ellison was an angry fellow it seems, though most pictures I've seen show him with a broad smile on his face. But the anger seems to have a point to it, it seemed always to come from some deep place which added up. The one thing I always counted on when reading anything by Harlan Ellison, whether it was fiction or nonfiction was that he spoke the truth as he understood it. That's no small thing in a world in which truth and fancy are mixed in dangerous ways.