Post-Publication Letters

Michael Bishop:

I hope you’re still alive when you receive this. I don’t think it’s likely that Ellison has hired a gunman, but if you’re dead when you get this, or soon after, that will establish how little I’ve learned about Ellison over the years.

Brian Aldiss:

Talk about getting a bomb through the post from Harlan … your yellow book, ‘Deadloss’, has a similar shattering effect. I dropped work immediately to read it.

The most unpleasant aspect of the whole matter of LAST is that various people, including yourself, think that you put yourself in danger by discussing this matter. I’m very divided about Harlan. He can be magnificently generous and caring and kind; he can be tremendously amusing; but on the other hand he is trailed by a sinister shadow which every so often overwhelms him. What was prankish becomes threatening.

To my mind, the seeds of destruction of LAST can be seen (if only by hindsight) in the first anthology (DV), where the stories are swamped by all the florid editorializing surrounding them. The habit of talking everything up brings disaster in its wake. Really, the whole business of LAST is tragic–and I mean not least for Harlan. LAST has been talked up to the point where it is impossible to let go without losing face.

[‘Deadloss’] is argued with an almost Swiftian restraint and I admired it.

R.I. Barycz:

… A most instructive two quids’ worth of restraint under provocation at long distance. What makes it sad is that, by his own lights of perfection, Harlan Ellison saw and still sees nothing amiss in his actions. I’m sure there was many a pulp hack of the Thirties who could tell a more terrible tale of a MS accepted but sat upon by an editor not keen to pay for it on publication; but that was then and this is now, and there are no excuses.

Laurence M. Janifer:

As a writer who’s been involved with Harlan off&on since The Earliest Days when he came whooping into NY–and one who was never asked, probably for good reason, to contribute to any Dangerous V. at all–I want to thank you for ‘The Last Deadloss Visions’. It’s a lovely job and all it lacks is an obit list, though most of its readers can probably write that up for themselves from the various lists of authors with stories in LAST. Perhaps future editions, additions, and so on will carry the obits, updated as more and more writers die. And, as suggested in the Steady State, younger authors come along to fill the spaces.

Harlan is the original yes-but, a phenomenon about whom it is impossible to say anything not thoroughly mixed.

Barry Malzberg:

I’m very glad to have ‘Deadloss’ in hand; thank you. It is precise, cold, reasoned and utterly professional, as was your expressed intention.

I have long felt that the only real weapon freelance writers–isolated, lonely, vulnerable, unorganized–have is information, if it is not the truth that will set us free (actually, it is my latterday understanding that the truth entraps us) it is knowledge. Therefore, I am happy to add the following material to what is already on hand: ‘Still-Life’ which appeared in ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’, was sold on 11 August 1969 for $120.00 (2 cents a word for 6,000 words) and was published in April 1972. Including pro-rata royalties subsequently paid, the story has earned $519.00. The last royalty payment–for $33.00–appeared on 20 November 1982 and despite the fact that ‘Again, Dangerous Visions’ was republished by Berkley in a large paperback trade edition in 1983, there have been no subsequent payments.

[Barry Malzberg’s information about payments seems to support Michael Bishop’s earlier letter. If any writers can confirm they have been receiving what Mr Ellison calls an annuity from their stories, I’d be pleased to incorporate what they say in future editions of this. CP]

Greg Feeley:

You acknowledge a willingness to see “the facts that embarrass [Ellison] collected in one place”. I was consequently surprised that your chronology did not pay any more attention to Ellison’s frequent announcements of never-to-appear novels and other books, but it occurs to me that the British editions may not include his revealingly optimistic listings of ‘forthcoming’ works. A quick romp through this Ellisonian apocrypha may prove edifying.

‘Partners in Wonder’ (Walker, 1971) lists twenty-one books by or edited by Ellison, plus ten noted as ‘forthcoming’. Only the first four have ever appeared. The others include LAST, ‘The Sound of a Scythe’, ‘The Prince of Sleep’, ‘The Harlan Ellison Hornbook’*, ‘Dial 9 to Get Out’, and ‘Demon With a Glass Hand’.

[*NOTE: The Harlan Ellison Hornbook appeared in 1990. CP]

Of the four books that did ultimately appear, one of them, ‘The Other Glass Teat’, is mentioned on the dust-jacket as having already come out. In fact, ‘The Other Glass Teat’, although scheduled to appear soon after ‘The Glass Teat’ in 1970, was published only in 1975, with an introduction that claims that the book was essentially suppressed by the Vice President of the United States, a charge that would have made national headlines in that post-Watergate climate had anyone else credited it.

‘The Sound of a Scythe’ is identified as a revision of Ellison’s ‘The Man with Nine Lives’ (1960), and was eventually sold to Pyramid as part of a uniform edition of his works in the mid-Seventies. In the October 1968 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Ed Ferman describes Ellison as “completing two novels, ‘Demon With a Glass Hand’ and ‘Dial 9 to Get Out’.” Addressing the 1972 World Fantasy Convention in Los Angeles, Ellison described ‘The Prince of Sleep’ as being based on ‘The Region Between’ (novella, 1970). In 1972 this novel was announced as forthcoming from Ballantine. In the July 1977 Special Harlan Ellison Issue of F&SF, a full-page advertisement from Dell “salutes Harlan Ellison” and announces ‘The Prince of Sleep’, “his first new novel in over fifteen years, a major work of fantasy for 1978”. In the early 1980s the ‘New York Times’ mentioned that Ellison had sold several books to Houghton Mifflin (presumably at the same time as LAST), including a new novel called ‘Shrikes’ and, yes, ‘The Prince of Sleep’. ‘The Harlan Ellison Hornbook’ was to be another collection of underground press columns.

That is the annotation for the “forthcoming” books listed in one Ellison title of the early 1970s. Would anyone sit still for a thorough listing of these ghostly titles? Most of these non-books continued to be listed as forthcoming in Ellison’s front matter throughout the 1970s, with new ones added, until Ellison finally stopped listing ‘forthcoming’ titles around 1980.

What this rather wearying compilation shows is how very badly Ellison wants to write novels, as he once did early in his career. Even without counting the scuttled ‘Dark Forces’ (or a short novel involving elves and the Brooklyn Bridge, mentioned in an interview I don’t have to hand, which Ellison said Ace would be publishing in an illustrated edition), the list includes seven novels, all but one known to have been sold to publishers, some repeatedly.

When you collate these announcements with the claims for LAST, the appalling dimensions of Ellison’s last fifteen years begin to emerge. During this period, Ellison has also been late on delivering story collections, non-fiction collections, columns for a number of periodicals, introductions to other people’s novels, and one other original anthology, ‘Medea: Harlan’s World’ (which did appear, seven years late, in 1985).

The fact of the matter is that, aside from his short stories, Harlan Ellison has since the early 1970s given priority to his various television and film projects, and when one of these gets a go-ahead, earlier commitments are deferred.

Ellison gives eloquent if inadvertent testimony to this in the January 1988 issue of ‘F&SF’, where he defends the irregular appearance of his film column by noting that “although suchlike as Charles Platt and Christopher Priest may bend themselves into hyperbolic pretzels proving I’ll never complete LAST, that and other matters of import command most of my attention most of the time”. Yet just four pages later Ellison is alluding to the “June-to-September hell in which I lived while writing ‘Cutter’s World’ for Corman and NBC”.

In an article in the November 1987 ‘Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine’, Ellison says, “From December 1977 through December 1978 I wrote nothing very much … apart from the two hundred and thirty-five pages of screenplay entitled ‘I, Robot'”.

Robert Silverberg’s memoir of Harlan Ellison’s hungry days of trying to break into the professional SF world of the early 1950s (published in the special Ellison issue of ‘F&SF’) remains, for all its affection, a striking portrayal of the young Ellison, constantly claiming to have made professional sales he had only imagined.

Your assertion that Ellison’s integrity “is not at issue” is true insofar as he does not intend to injure those writers and publishers who have trusted him; but what Silverberg calls “a hunger for literary success so powerful that it dissolves the fine but vital distinction between fact and fantasy” must by now be so clear to Ellison that his insistence upon making these assurances finally renders him–like the self-aware alcoholic who begins to drink although he must drive home on icy roads–as responsible for what he wreaks as if he had intended it.

Eddy C. Bertin:

‘Deadloss’ is everything I had hoped it to be: informative and rational-minded; as such an interesting piece of SF history. It also makes for absorbing reading, only a pity that it is such a sad story, else it would be highly amusing.

Taral Wayne:

Thanks to you I’ve been given a whole new perspective on LDV–a whole new issue to get steamed up over, and a few nasty laughs at Ellison’s expense. I’ve no doubt your intentions were more honourable than inspiring the likes of me with malicious fun. When I put ‘Deadloss’ down, however, I found that reading your fanzine hadn’t been the usual disposable experience that fanzines are. I didn’t just put it down. I had ideas.

You and those who wrote in reply pitied the harm done to the writers, to the readers, and to Ellison himself. I think you left hints that harm was done to the field itself, but much was left unsaid. Ever unsubtle, I’ll say it.

Ellison boasted that the stories for LDV were top-notch, cutting-edge, and, well, dangerous. You estimate he may have as many as a hundred and forty-five of them in his box–a hundred and forty-five stories that Ellison has denied the field for so long that even if they were to appear in publication tomorrow they would be old news, hardly dangerous. Taking Ellison at his word about those stories, the damage he’s done to the very cause he espoused must be immense. Imagine that no LDV exists, nor any of the stories written for it. Imagine instead that a hundred and forty-five of the stories that have been published since 1972 vanish from view, sucked by Ellison’s persuasion into the black hole under his desk. A hundred and forty-five stories would nicely fill [the following story collections]:

‘Blooded on Arachne’ by Michael Bishop
‘Particle Theory’ by Ed Bryant
‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson
‘Nine Hundred Grandmothers’ by R.A. Lafferty
‘A Song for Lya’ by George R.R. Martin
‘The Wind’s Twelve Quarters’ by Ursula Le Guin
‘Still I Persist in Wondering’ by Edgar Pangborn
‘San Diego Lightfoot Sue’ by Tom Reamy
‘The 57th Franz Kafka’ by Rudy Rucker
‘Ten Thousand Light Years From Home’ by James Tiptree Jr
‘The Persistence of Vision’ by John Varley
‘The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories’ by Gene Wolfe
and, appropriately, ‘Deathbird Stories’ by Harlan Ellison

This list is a pound of flesh. Torn out of the body of SF it would leave a large, bleeding hole, and just such a hole may exist without our awareness of it.

Steven Bryan Bieler:

I’ve just this moment finished ‘Deadloss’. I could not put it down.

Though I had seen the notices in ‘Locus’ and elsewhere regarding LAST’s pending publication, they appeared over many years and gave me time to forget them. To see all the evidence together, to read it all at once, is startling, to say the least. One man has tied up the work of so many writers and the attention of so many more readers–and he has done it by doing nothing!

In rereading my first letter, I see I was incorrect in my statement that Houghton Mifflin intended to publish LAST in early 1985. The three volumes were to be published over six or eight months, beginning in late 1984. I actually believed that my story could appear in a matter of weeks!

Of the many things that struck me about ‘Deadloss’, I was especially taken with Mr Youd’s information, regarding Harlan’s promise to Houghton Mifflin in April 1984 that the book would be delivered to the publisher within 70 days. Harlan and I met for the first time near the end of that period; a little over a month later he bought my story. So perhaps I am responsible for that particular delay for game?

Well, Harlan is not an angry god, nor am I a sinner in his hands; having argued with him over the phone, he reminds me more of my parents. I appreciate, and treasure, the kindness he showed me in 1984. But holding my contribution all this time is a clear violation of our contract. (Incidentally, I have yet to receive a renewal contract, nor have I had any contact with Harlan since November 1984.) Your zine has shocked me out of my apathy. I still like my little story and I want people to read it, so with the new year I will write to Harlan and withdraw it from the book. I will keep you informed of developments, if there are any.

An enterprising publisher might be interested in an anthology of stories withdrawn from LAST. According to ‘Deadloss’, Ian Watson, Michael Bishop, Jacques Goodchaux, Thomas N. Scortia and yourself have all withdrawn stories. That’s a good start on an interesting book.

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