Critics and Other Worthless Appendages


I want to make sure I've got all of you lined up first.

You guys there who think I'm a fan-boy obsessed with Harlan (who I think can do no wrong), please remain near the front, within slapping distance. Those who have been bitching about the frequency of updates to the website, just grab a chair anywhere. We've reserved a section in the back for the folks who think my writing is nothing more than a superficial imitation of Harlan Ellison's style. No, further back. No, just a little further. Ah, that's nice.

Please be patient, I will get to all of you eventually but I need to take inventory first. The group that showed up because you think my site is too involved with Ellison's life, is not useful as a resource on his work, or is not "worthy" of him - there are some stools in the aisles for you. You feebs who keep asking me what Harlan thought of a recent TV show or movie or if he has anything against a certain town, animal, or ethnic group, please just stand in the lobby and try not to say anything else stupid.

I'm sure I missed a few of the disgruntled masses, so please just find an open seat, there's no need to be picky. Everyone set? Good.

Listen carefully.

Every last godforsaken one of you can kiss my ass.

Okay, most of you can hit the road now. I've got a few words for the few of you with a functional central nervous system, but I'm not optimistic enough a soul to think I'd be doing anything but wasting my time arguing with most of you.

Any of you with questions? Good, you can still kiss my ass. This isn't an interactive event. Either shut up and listen or join the stampede for the exit.

Take your time, by definition anyone here is not in a huge hurry to be anywhere.

Okay, crowd in, the rest of you. I've got a little story to tell.

I was driving home from work two days ago, about 17% depressed and the rest just plain pissed off about frustrations at work, my wife's sudden non-excitement about culinary school, and a few recent and petty e-mail and guestbook comments about Ellison Webderland, and since navigating the radio stations in Atlanta is the only thing remotely approaching navigating the traffic for sheer futility, I decided to pop a CD into the stereo. Since Space Ghost's Musical BBQ was recently stolen through an only-slight-less-recently-shattered side window, I chose Ben Folds Five's major label debut. Midway through the second track, I suddenly got the lyrics to the second track, which start off something like this:

   Would you look up at the skyline, at the mortar, block, and glass, 
   And then check out the reflections in my eyes?
   You see they always used to be there, even when this all was grass,
   And I sang and danced about a high rise.

   And you were laughing at my helmet hat,
   Laughing at my torch,
   And I said "Go ahead, you can laugh all you want, 
   I've got my philosophy.  And I trust it like the ground."

This song had been a kind of personal anthem for me since the first time I heard it, one of those tunes that always makes you feel better, and I finally really understood why.

What does the song mean? The song means that unless you have something substantive, supported, and informed to say about the web site you can, like I said, kiss my ass. You're sitting smack dab in the middle of something I built by working hard and following my heart, and if you don't like the way I decorated the place there are a plethora of exits. I have no time in my life for pissants who want to camp out in the foyer and whisper in a stage voice about how uneven the trim is on the crown molding.

Or, allow me to stop shoving metaphor down your throat and explain a little more clearly. I welcome constructive criticism, and anyone who has made a constructive comment or asked me to change or add something will tell you I have been responsive and (where possible) amenable. However, the detailed feedback is outnumbered at least ten-to-one in my e-mail inbox by the toss-off comments of folks who (either because they are jackasses with a hard-on for me or Ellison OR well-meaning souls but uninformed or lazy) can't help but make some pissy comment on their way out.

Well, for that latter bunch, please consider this little corner of Webderland the Complaint Department, recently redirected from /dev/null. I'll be pointing you here frequently in the future, I'm sure, and until you manage to behave like the human being at least fifteen of your chromosomes tell you that you are you'll be spending a lot of time here. You certainly won't be sitting in my e-mail inbox or outbox anymore, or running around in my little brain causing me to purse my lips or furrow my brow.

To be fair, I should give you something to gnaw on for your effort. And since you've apparently got a small amount of time to waste sending me useless bitches with no solution or suggestions, I hope you won't mind if in recompense I waste a little bit of my time responding to some of your more common Webderwhines:

Whine #1: You're just an Ellison wannabe, with all this trying (and failing) to write in his style and obvious attempts to be more like him.

Answer #1: You can kiss my ass. I starting writing like I write long before I read a single one of Ellison's introductions or essays. It's flattering that you think I'm trying to imitate him, and it's true that I sometimes write in a similar fashion to some of his non-fiction work. I'd be a fool not to admit that I have been influenced by his work.

However, only a moron would assume that everyone that writes in a contentious and non-respectful style is an Ellison wannabe. And you're one of those morons. Also, so what if my style is "superficially similar to Ellison's"? That just means there are similarities - I'm certain if I were to appraise YOUR writing style I could compare it to any one of a half dozen authors' styles. It's a meaningless comment, and useless to me or anyone else who would read it.

If you have something critical to say about my writing, and feel there are areas I could improve, please say so. I recognize that I have a long way to go in the craft, and some of the writers who have e-mailed me have been most helpful and encouraging. Lord knows Harlan Ellison himself has seen enough of my work on the site, including most of these rants. He says I have a good eye and a good ear and he does not feel my writing is derivative of his or lacks its own merit. Those of you knowledgeable enough to have an informed opinion about my writing in comparison to his also know he is famously frank and candid with his own opinions in that area, regardless of about whom he is speaking. The rest of you don't know enough about Ellison to be opening your trap in the first place, and if my writing style offends you, try someone like A.A. Milne instead.

Whine #2: This website is all about Harlan the personality. It's worthless as a serious or critical resource.

Answer #2: You can kiss my ass. I challenge you to find a single resource on the Internet (or in the universe, for that matter) with more real, original information about Harlan Ellison's work. I don't try to produce my own bibliography since there is such an excellent one at SfSite, and I don't try to produce an unbiased and critical reader's and buyer's guide to all the books and recordings since the Islets of Langerhans is untouchable in that regard. However, I would submit that damn near everything else can be found here.

There are plenty of news entries about events in Harlan's life and personal appearances, but you'll also know every new book, story, or essay that is coming out, how to get it, and usually something worthwhile about its origin. There are the fake biographies, but there are also a couple of real bibliographies and biographies with a brand new long biography written by Susan Ellison coming up this month. There's also a good and official booklist and detailed reviews of a few of those books with more on the way.

Through the HERC or Amazon you can get an amazing selection of Ellison's books and recordings, or if you're poor there are a number of things Harlan wrote sitting right here on the website. This month I'm also putting online two Ellison short stories, one with audio, and will probably have a couple of his more famous essays online soon as well as video and audio for the second story. You can read Peter David's articles on the Enemies and Friends of Ellison and soon Rick Cusick's article on the subject, all 30,000 words, will be available here.

I'm not even going to mention the comment board and links pages as resources, but anything you're missing after visiting Wedberland is probably there. I'll admit that there are not in-depth analyses of a number of stories or a series of critical retrospectives of his work, and the reviews (with the story list that will accompany them) are far from complete. And to answer that charge:

You got what you paid for, and what you asked for.

Do you ask me who the inspirations for the characters in Paladin of the Lost Hour are? No, you want to know if Harlan really punched some movie producer. Do you query me as to whether Jeffty is Five was intended to be a cautionary tale or a sentimental love poem? No, you ask me what Harlan thought about Twelve Monkeys. Do you offer your in-depth review of The Glass Teat for inclusion on the web site? No, you offer your anecdote about meeting Harlan at some convention. Do you actually make ANY helpful suggestions about what critical or useful information about Harlan's work I might add, other than suggesting I duplicate Lesley Swigart's Herculean task of logging HE's 1700+ stories? No, you carp about how I haven't quit my job yet to apply myself to the task.

There are a few souls who have put their money where their mouth is, and I am grateful for their work. The 5% of potential reviewers who actually turn in a review (I'm hoping the current lot makes me eat these words, and by all appearances they are going to), the folks who send in quote lists and point out new resources on the Net, Jonathan who scanned BUGFUCK! and JT who is helping keep the links up to date - all you guys have been saving my ass for months. I ask you and the others who have had faith to stick with me for the next couple of years...I promise you will not be disappointed and creating that critical resource on Ellison's work that does not yet quite exist is my number one goal for the end of the millenium.

The rest of you can sod off. If you think you can make a better Harlan Ellison website, go for it and I'll make this promise: If Harlan reviews it and finds it to be a better mousetrap, I'll take the "official" off mine and let you have it. Otherwise, either give me some suggestions for improvement with some meat on them, add a good resource of your own that others can go to and I can link, or give me something good to make the site better. If you can't do any of that, why the hell are you crying about the job I'm doing for you?

You made your bed, now lie in it.

Whine #3: This site shows you are obviously a Harlan-obsessed fan-boy loser.

Answer #3: You can kiss my ass. This site shows I like Harlan, and I do. It's also his official website, which means I don't give a lot of space here to dissenting viewpoints and jerks who don't have a single nice thing to say about the man. Why exactly would I want to spend time dissing Unca Harlan on his own website?

I make no bones about the fact that I think Harlan Ellison is one of the greatest short story writers this country has seen in this century. I would also say his record backs me up. I make no bones about the fact that I have a tremendous personal admiration and respect for the man, and those that know him well (as opposed those that were blown off by him at JimmyCon '78) for the most part feel the same. I don't think he's God or a god and I know he screws up as much as the rest of us. I don't think everything he's ever written should be sitting under glass in a museum and I don't make that claim.

When I first made this site, I was pissed off that there was no Ellisonia on the Net to speak of and that anger shows in much of the original site text that remains from that time. I also was your basic fan at that time and did not know Ellison or his work as I do now, and this was a fan site long before it became the behemoth it is today. Sometimes the site shows its origins.

However, I am at a loss to see how anyone could interpret the material here as the deluded ravings of a hopeless fan-boy, or that someone visiting here would say (as did Christopher Priest) that I am Harlan's lap dog. I think I can speak for my opinion of Ellison with more accuracy than the many mind-readers and lay psychologists out there, and I am neither worshipful nor blindly adoring when it comes to the man. I do not claim I am unbiased, and I spend a lot more time looking out for Harlan on the Net than I do digging up dirt on him. You got me there. Guilty.

Those of you who keep accusing me of bashing certain authors, people, and institutions so I can sound more like Harlan or being disrespectful to religion because I want to be just like my atheist buddy just don't get it. What makes more sense, that I would want to modify my beliefs and views to match Harlan because I admire him or that I would admire Harlan and what he has to say because I agree with him on a number of points? Is it just too long a leap of logic to think that maybe, just maybe, I made a Harlan Ellison web page because we in some instances think the same way instead of the other way around?

And to the guy who said he didn't like my cavalier use of the word "goddamn" and asked me how I would like it if someone used MY father's name as the first part of a curse word - my Dad's name is "Dick". You do the math, genius.

Whine #4: You don't update the site frequently enough.

Answer #4: You can kiss my ass. Aren't you the same guys who were bitching about The Last Dangerous Visions?

By the way, it's technically not been QUITE two months since my last rant. Everything else, I'm WORKING on, okay?

Whine #5: This website is not "worthy" of Harlan.

Answer #5: You can kiss my ass. And you can kiss my ass. What, does Harlan have to drive a car that is "worthy" of him? Should we make sure he eats pizza and wears shoes "worthy" of his body of work? Should we get the maid to let us into his hotel rooms ahead of time so we can make sure the carpet is vacuumed and the sheets folded well enough to be "worthy" of the Great Ellison?

I'm not a violent man. The last time I almost got in a fight was just over three years go, outside a bar in Little Rock, Arkansas. Some overmuscled drunk goon had just finished side-kicking and upset-punching some poor slob into oblivion because he had looked at the goon wrong, and a buddy of mine and I were wondering if we should help out or mind our own business. Said goon threw a roundhouse kick about head-high, looked at us, and said "So any of you want some?"

I replied, in my typical suicidal fashion, "No, but I'd like to meet the guy who taught you to use the martial arts as a kind of substitute penis." Luckily, my friend was busy dragging me to the car, the kung-fu'ed guy was crawling to his feet, and I think all the goon heard was "something something penis" ... so I missed the opportunity to get properly pasted. So, that incident aside, it's been six years since I've gotten medieval.

But you putzes are enough to make me want to break my streak.

Give me a freakin' break. I'm sorry my work on the site is not good enough for your estimation of Harlan. I'm sorry he didn't have time to write everything himself and spare me the trouble of disappointing you. I'm sorry that your expectations and hopes on loading the homepage were so cruelly crushed that you had nightmares for weeks. I'm sorry that you tend to disagree with most of the people that have reviewed the site and you think it just plain sucks.

But you know what? I like it. I think it's fun and useful and I think I did an okay job. I've got my philosophy, and I trust it like the ground. That philosophy tells me I'm doing the Good Work and you are just a hanger-on who didn't see enough of his own reflection in the monitor glass to make him happy.

I know some of you mean well, and don't realize you're just making an echo, and all I ask is that you give me something to work with next time, okay?

For the rest of you vacuous nits - for every crappy crybaby letter like yours I hear from a dozen other people who appreciate that Webderland's out there. Besides which, the one single letter from the guy who woke up his kid laughing at one of my rants makes it worth it wading through the slaps in the face from the whiners who can't figure out who is the wannabe and who is the real deal. But even if every e-mail I ever got was a real sewer trap like yours, even if my inbox and guestbooks were innundated with the carpings and the moanings of those who denigrate when they cannot create, I would keep on going the way I'm going.

Because, as the man said, The Cheese Stands Alone.

And because I know who's worth the grief, and who isn't.

   You take this all for granted, you take the mortar, block, and glass,
   And you forget the speech and move the stone,
   But it's really not that you can't see the forest for the trees,
   You've never been out in the woods alone.
   So you can laugh all you want to, I've got our philosophy -
   And I love you, you're my friend, but you've got no philosophy,
   Now it's time for this song to end...

Rick Wyatt
July 1998

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