Commentary By Jerry Seward
I don't often cry in public, but one man moved me to tears recently.
That man was Harlan Ellison.
On March 22, 1997, a friend, Michael Kimball, and I went to Detroit to the Motor City Comic Con, where Mr. Ellison was one of the featured guests. Other guests included Mark Goddard (Don West from Lost In Space, who was kind enough to give me a discount on what he charged for his autograph) and Peter Mayhew and David Prowse from the Star Wars movies.
I wanted to thank Harlan for something that had to do with my late fiancee, Susan Herman.
Here's the story as told to me by Susan: When she was a teenager, Susan attended the 1973 S.T.A.R. con at Cobo Hall in Detroit, where she met Harlan, who she said was very kind and charming. In the process of many moves over the years, she lost his autograph and always regretted it.
I decided to write to him to see if I could get a replacement for her lost autograph. He responded very quickly, with an autographed photo, which came just in time for me to give it to Suse for her birthday.
Susan was a big fan of Ellison's. Of all the authors she'd read, she felt that he seemed among the best male writers who had some understanding of women. Many of his stories confused her and she couldn't figure them out, but many more had an influence on her life. I read to Susan often and some of what I read to her were works by Ellison--"Chatting with Anubis" was the last Ellison story we shared.
On two separate attempts to speak with him, I missed my chance. The first time was while standing in line to get his autograph (I brought my copy of his 1988 anthology Angry Candy). I was in line for nearly a hour. Just as I made it up to him, he said he didn't have time to talk to me but he did sign my book before dashing off to one of the Speaker's Rooms.
I was determined to talk to him. It was important to me that I tell him how much his work meant to Susan. That was my main reason for being at the con. So I dashed off to the room where he was going to read one of his stories.
Along the way, I was briefly diverted by a Burmese python draped around a scantily-clad model's neck. She let me touch it (her snake, not her neck). I returned to my mission.
I entered the Speaker's Room and there he was, as feisty as ever, even though he had major heart surgery last year. The story he read was "Paladin of the Lost Hour" and it was as if he had picked it just for me. In the story, a wonderful work about death and responsibility, elderly Gaspar is the Guardian of the Lost Hour, an hour that must never pass. He was dying and it was time to pass the magical watch stopped at 11:00 on to the next paladin. But before he did, he wanted one minute of the hour to spend with his late wife, Minna. The way Gaspar described Minna and the love he felt for her could have been me talking about Susan. Harlan read the story with such power and passion that he was crying and I was crying, too.
After he had finished, I thought I'd get a chance to talk to him, but alas, other people crowded me out. So I went back and stood in line. I wasn't going to leave until I spoke with him.
Finally, after only a few minutes, I got my wish. I told him about Susan and how much his writing meant to both of us, especially in the last year of her life. He was very touched. He was so gracious and he listened to what I had to say and he didn't rush me. After that, I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day.
It's a day I'll never forget. Thanks, Harlan.
Now, on to some other things that are on my mind, like the problem with movies nowadays, namely the so-called blockbusters. Why can't Hollywood make a science fiction film as good as such independent gems as Sling Blade, Welcome To The Dollhouse, and Breaking The Waves (which, by the way, has a fantastic ending that ranks right up there with the final scenes to Planet Of The Apes and The Quiet Earth)? Where's the next Blade Runner, Forbidden Planet, and 2001? Independence Day wasn't a true science fiction film. It was a sci-fi comic book fantasy where all of the characters engaged in superheroics sans superpowers. All Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum were missing were capes. Plus, the film had a solution to the problem that wouldn't have worked in the real world (scientific accuracy is sorely lacking in this newest crop of disaster flicks that includes Twister and Volcano).
The upcoming Fifth Element and Gattaca look promising. I thought Crash would be but I was wrong (and yes, I think Crash qualifies as a science fiction film).
I want to close this month with something that just made me furious and still does when I think about it. I'm talking about a syndicated newspaper article reporting on the Heaven's Gate suicide cult that had the headline "Star Trek, A Tragedy," referring to the journey the cult members believed they would be taking to a UFO behind the Hale-Bopp comet after they killed themselves. I feel this whole Hale-Bopp incident is dragging science fiction fans through the mud. The people who aren't science fiction fans and don't understand what the genre is all about are probably thinking we're all capable of joining a cult like this. If anything, SF fans aren't that gullible because they believe in a future for the human race, not in the insane idea that the world's going to end in three years. Whether we will live in a Star Trek world or a Blade Runner world, humanity will carry on.
Science fiction isn't about spaceships and bug-eyed monsters. It's ultimately about hope--hope that we'll beat the dinosaurs' record.
We'll be O.K. Killing ourselves is not an option.