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Your Day with HE

Two years ago in about this same spot, I presented (among other miscellania) a piece entitled "My Day with HE", detailing my experiences meeting Harlan Ellison for the first time. Since I've now had my day, I figure now it's your turn. That's right, you are being awarded the august opportunity to hang out with Harlan at this virtual convention for an entire day!

Unfortunately, Harlan was not available to personally spend a day with each of the people visiting this convention booth, so I've arranged for an online avatar of his to guide you through a day at a convention. Both the convention and the HE avatar were modelled using CMU technology, so it's not a perfect simulation. However, it's the best I can do without licensing the UNREAL engine, so here goes...

Your convention experience starts with a bang when you attend Harlan's speech at the convention opening ceremonies. His jet-black hair glistening in the spotlights, Harlan just can't stand how CUTE you are and has your mom hand you over so he can pick you up and give you a big hug. He then tells everyone in the crowd how....
(No...shoot, wait just a goddamn minute. I didn't let this thing cook long enough. Let me run through a few more simulated decades....ah, that's better...)

You arrive at the virtual convention early in the morning and catch a glimpse of Harlan chowing down on some virtual waffles with his wife, his friend Peter David, and Peter's two precocious daughters (shown above). There are about a half-dozen fans milling around nearby trying to look inconspicious and occaisionally sniggering, so you decide to take the high road give the man his privacy as he breaks fast with friends and head for the merchant tables.

At the virtual merchant's area, you avoid the rows and rows of "South Park" T-shirts and bumper stickers and Manga videotapes and look around for some good Ellisonia. Since you already know who Harlan Ellison is and naturally already have your copy of THE ESSENTIAL ELLISON, you look for the stuff what you ain't got yet (note: to more properly enjoy this virtual experience, if you really are in the dark about who Harlan is, take a moment to leave the booth and visit Ellison Webderland's Bio Page). You pass on a chapbook that was produced by White Wolf for an ABA convention as it's over a hundred bucks for all of three stories, and you remember hearing Harlan mumbling something as you passed the breakfast table about how he hates people profiteering over shoddy merchandise like this. You've heard there's a chapbook out that was produced for the 1998 Mad Media V convention that contains all of the fake biographies ever produced for HE's books, now THAT would be a find.

You do manage to find a cassette of Harlan reading his hilarious I'm Looking For Kadak (with the great cover art by Tim Kirk). It's available from the HERC, but why wait 6-8 weeks for it to be delivered? Other than that, there's precious enough stuff out there that you haven't already seen. This would be a great opportunity to slap in a few of the ubiquitous amazon.com links, but let's not - so if you really want to complete your Ellison shopping experience, your best bet is probably MX Bookfinder or Webderland's own Buy Stuff page.

Heading back to the main convention grounds, Your HE experience (let's hope I got it right this time) starts off with a bang as you attend "A Virtual Hour or Three with Harlan Ellison". The venue is in a freakin' barn, and it's packed to the gills, but since this is YOUR day, we've arranged for a spot front-row center. Harlan turns from his mike and glares at you for a second as you arrive a few minutes late, but quickly perks up when he realizes that this, of course, is YOU.

Harlan continues his talk, a rambling but completely fascinating affair that touches upon his childhood and love of movies, his army days and the time he threw up on the priest, and just what the heck he's been doing these days. It's the standard extraordinary fare you've come to expect from an Ellison appearance, but this time you get the impression he's telling his tales especially to you. HE even points you out to his virtual audience and spends a good ten minutes explaining just what a pain in the ass you are for dragging him to this virtual convention solely for your benefit.

After making sure you have received the proper Ellison treatment, Harlan leaves you for a bit and wades into the many pixels of the virtual crowd to answer questions. The usual question about The Last Dangerous Visions is dispensed with surprisingly politely and directly, and HE also reiterates that he is NOT writing a script for the last season of Babylon 5. He grows momentarily livid when he is asked if he's a hypocrite for writing some new scripts for TV shows including The Hunger and the new Outer Limits, but other than that there are no virtual incidents.

As HE returns to the front of the stage, One attendee asks Harlan why he can't be here in the flesh, and Harlan explains that his physical self is in Boston at the moment giving a talk to a bunch of meat-and-bone folks who didn't have the good fortune to be able to just spend a day with him on the Internet. He also says he considers all this "information superhighway gobbledygook" to be part of "THE TWILIGHT OF THE WORD" and that he has every intention of keeping his non-virtual carcass as far from the Internet as possible for as long as possible.

Harlan concludes his talk, but stops you as you stand up and start to wander off. He then hops down off the stage and comes over to shake your hand. "I've gotta do this signing in a couple hours", he says, "but I'm ravished right now. Some local boys that wanna interview me are taking me to get some barbeque. You wanna go grab a bite to eat with us?"

Although you don't want to leave the online convention for even a minute, you can't resist some good virtual lunch, so you nod your assent. You hitch a ride with one of the newsies and find yourself at an excellent hole-in-the-wall ribs joint where Harlan insists on getting you a half-rack, or at least a pulled pork sandwich.

Harlan sits you across the table from him as he gives a red-headed cyberjournalist lots of great quotes. The journalist mentions he is telnetting in from Atlanta and Harlan has to make sure the kid doesn't work for CREATIVE LOAFING. He explains to you that a few years back he was trying to leave a panel and some photographer from CL got right in his face taking pictures, blocked the entrance, and wouldn't let HE leave. So Harlan explains that he pushed the man aside without incident and went on his way. It turned out the "assailed" photographer went to the police and tried to press assault charges and even threatened Harlan with a lawsuit. CREATIVE LOAFING supported the photographer until they were persuaded (Harlan does not say how) to desist. Needless to say, Harlan does not intend to gift that particular "rag" with any of his time or words.

Luckily, your tablemate is NOT from CL, so you are able to enjoy lunch together. HE mentions this beats the crap out of the low fat meals and prune juice his wife wants him to eat at home ever since his "cardiac event" (NOT a heart attack, he cautions you). You ask Harlan if there's anything you can do to repay him for such personal (albeit electronic) attention, and Harlan replies that if you feel you have to do something, there's a couple of good causes out there on the Internet you can support. The first is The Dictionary of American Regional English, or DARE, which is attempting to document english as spoken in various US regions. The second is the The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, or CBLDF (sorry, no snappy acronym this time), which fights against censorship and for First Amendment Rights (as opposed to other organizations which have this backwards). You bookmark these for later, as lunch is finished and Harlan wants you to tag along while he does his book signing.

You wouldn't think THIS many people would show up just to have their scanned books signed by a virtual Harlan Ellison avatar, but there they are. You stand back as Harlan winds his way through the crowd, saying "Hi" to the poor schmucks who arrived three minutes after the line started and now have no prayer of getting to the front of the line even in the over two hours HE will spend signing. Harlan takes pity on a couple of souls and signs their books right there. Then it's on to the front of the line, where Harlan waves you over to chat while he works.

Harlan is amiable and animated with the folks in line. He is happy to personalize any copy and while he usually cuts folks off at three books he's happy to sign any number of items purchased that day from the HERC. The people in line seem stunned to receive such individual attention, and although the line doesn't travel as fast as, say, Ray Bradbury's line where you're lucky to get a grunt from the master, you prefer this one. Harlan even signs a copy of DOOMSMAN for some woman who had already gone to the trouble of getting a Lee Hoffman signature on the other side of the double novel, a true rarity. You'd heard he tore up copies of this book he found or at least foamed at the mouth, but apparently this is the stuff of rumor or past years.

As you and Harlan watch the folks flow by, Harlan confides in you that he just finished shooting an episode of the syndicated TV show Psi Factor in Toronto. The episode was called "The Observer Effect", and Harlan played an alien called "Burke" although he hopes they changed the alien's name as he didn't like it. Being a virtual avatar created weeks before the actual convention, he can't really know, and remains anxious until calmed by the appearance of his wife Susan.

You decide to give HE a little quality time with his patiently waiting fans, and head over with Susan to the site of Harlan's final appearance today, a Masters of Fantasy panel. You help Susan set up the HERC table where a multitude of Harlan's books and tapes and miscellania are available directly from the Ellisons. Susan explains in her charming British accent that Harlan puts the right to buy all remaindered copies of his books in his contracts so he can keep them around to sell himself instead of seeing them stripped or pulped.

Harlan's final panel is a blast as he sits in with special effects legend Ray Harryhausen and fantasy giant Ray Bradbury. You recognize moderator Harry Knowles from his characiture on the "Ain't It Cool" movie review site.

As usual, Harlan dominates the panel, leading Bradbury at one point to quip that they should just leave and let Harlan take over. Harlan and Ray exchange some good natured quips and answer all manner of questions from Harry and the attendees about the state of fantasy today. Harlan has a special glint in his eye, and later tells you that he was overjoyed to get to meet and sit next to Harryhausen, the man who gave him such wonderful childhood movie experiences with his mastery of stop-motion animation.

As Harlan wants to stay and chat with his fellow "Masters" after the panel, you head over to the HERC table that you helped Susan set up. You are disgruntled to see a number of copies of that audiotape of "I'm Looking for Kadak" that you paid much more for earlier in the day, as well as a wide variety of out-of-print Ellisonia. Susan sells everything she brought from Los Angeles and wishes she had packed another box to bring over from the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars where the Ellisons live.

As you are heading out, Harlan makes sure to stop you and shake your hand one last time before you have to return to the sad, drab real world. He tells you to come visit him in person at ReaderCon or I-Con next year as the millenium winds to a close, and asks that you please not tell anyone how he made himself virtually available to you for a whole day. After all, even cyber-Ellisons don't want to get a reputation as a technophile, do they?

This concludes your virtual day with Harlan Ellison. If you have any questions, the Ellison Avatar Technical Support desk is manned 24 minutes a day, 2 days a week, reachable by e-mailing webmaster@harlanellison.com.