Harlan Ellison Quotes

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About Harlan Ellison

Harlan Jay Ellison (born 27 May 1934) is an American author (mostly of speculative fiction) and media critic.

Born: May 27th, 1934

Categories: Science fiction authors, Screenwriters, Jews, Living people, People from Ohio

Quotes: 44 sourced quotes total (includes 1 misattributed, 2 about)

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I’ve been on my own since I was 13. I grew up having to use my wits. My parents were not wealthy. We weren’t poor, but we had a lot of meals with noodles. I was born during the Depression.  My parents died pretty much penniless. Every dollar I’ve ever made I earned myself. I don’t believe in luck. Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind." The smarter you are, the more you know, the better. I was the only Jew in town and I was my generation’s Bart Simpson. I knew the world could be mine.
I have no mouth. And I must scream.
If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you.
Misattributed to Harlan Ellison
• Don Marquis, as quoted in Kiplinger's Personal Finance, Vol. 12, No. 2 (February 1958), p. 48; this has sometimes been attributed to Ellison, as well as to George Bernard Shaw.
• Source: Wikiquote: "Harlan Ellison" (Misattributed)
Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled.
Don't start an argument with somebody who has a microphone when you don't. They'll make you look like chopped liver.
Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven't been told a million times ALREADY – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.
Like the wind crying endlessly through the universe, Time carries away the names and the deeds of conquerors and commoners alike. And all that we are, all that remains, is in the memories of those who cared we came this way for a brief moment.
"Heaven is what you mix all the days of your life, but you call it dreams. You have one chance to buy your Heaven with all the intents and ethics of your life. That is why everyone considers Heaven such a lovely place. Because it is dreams, special dreams, in which you exist. What you have to do is live up to them." "I—" started Griffin, but the wizard cut him off with a blink. "No, listen, please, because after this, all the magic stops, and you have to do it alone. “You create your own Heaven, and you have the opportunity to live in it, but you have to do it on your own terms, the highest terms of which you are capable. So sail this ship through the straits, navigate the shoals, find the island, overcome the foam-devil that guards the girl, win her love, and you’ve played the game on your own terms."
I am anti-entropy. My work is foursquare for chaos. I spend my life personally, and my work professionally, keeping the soup boiling. Gadfly is what they call you when you are no longer dangerous; I much prefer troublemaker, malcontent, desperado. I see myself as a combination of Zorro and Jiminy Cricket. My stories go out from here and raise hell. From time to time some denigrator or critic with umbrage will say of my work, "He only wrote that to shock." I smile and nod. Precisely.
The trick is not becoming a writer. The trick is staying a writer.
For a brief time, I was here; and, for a brief time, I mattered.
He had writer's block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
Harlan Ellison
• About Isaac Asimov – quoted in Page Fright : Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers (2009) by Harry Bruce
  • Jerry Pournelle, in "Chaos Manor: Is there an Upgrade in your future?" in Dr. Dobb's Journal : Software Tools For The Professional Programmer (2005), Vol. 30, Issues 374-379, p. 9
• Source: Wikiquote: "Harlan Ellison" (Quotes)
I think love and sex are separate and only vaguely similar. Like the word bear and the word bare. You can get in trouble mistaking one for the other.
My philosophy of life is that the meek shall inherit nothing but debasement, frustration and ignoble deaths; that there is security in personal strength; that you can fight City Hall and win; that any action is better than no action, even if it's the wrong action; that you never reach glory or self-fulfillment unless you're willing to risk everything, dare anything, put yourself dead on the line every time; and that once one becomes strong or rich or potent or powerful it is the responsibility of the strong to help the weak become strong.
Posing the question: does the god of love use underarm deodorant, vaginal spray and fluoride toothpaste?
Where did he get jelly beans? That's another good question. More than likely it will never be answered to your complete satisfaction. But then, how many questions ever are?
He was just Ron and I kinda liked him, mostly because he wrote well, and I never felt he took all that Scientology nonsense seriously but knew how to make a good buck, and he liked me, and... well, he was a friend who died.
What he wrote was this: The great tragedy of my life is that in my search for the Holy Grail everyone calls True Love, I see myself as Zorro, a romantic and mysterious highwayman — and the women I desire see me as Porky Pig.
He was just Ron and I kinda liked him, mostly because he wrote well, and I never felt he took all that Scientology nonsense seriously but knew how to make a good buck, and he liked me, and... well, he was a friend who died.
Now he had form and substance. He had become a personality, something they had filtered out of the system many decades ago. But there it was, and there he was, a very definitely imposing personality. In certain circles — middle-class circles — it was thought disgusting. Vulgar ostentation. Anarchistic. Shameful.
If I had to pick a religion, I'd pick Buddhism. Buddhism is a kindly religion. It says you got a chance... it's got humor, it's got wisdom, it says to be nice to each other. All the rest of them have gods that want to beat the crap out of you if you defy the rules.
Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing. It’s just bibble-babble. It’s like a fart in a wind tunnel, folks.
Art is not supposed to be easier! There are a lot of things in life that are supposed to be easier. Ridding the world of heart attacks, making the roads smoother, making old people more comfortable in the winter, but not Art. Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you. Art should involve foot-pounds of energy being expended. It's not supposed to be easier, and those who want it easier should not be artists. They should be out selling public relations copy.
Scientology is bullshit! Man, I was there the night L. Ron Hubbard invented it, for Christ's sakes! … We were sitting around one night... who else was there? Alfred Bester, and Cyril Kornbluth, and Lester del Rey, and Ron Hubbard, who was making a penny a word, and had been for years. And he said "This bullshit's got to stop!" He says, "I gotta get money." He says, "I want to get rich". And somebody said, "why don't you invent a new religion? They're always big." We were clowning! You know, "Become Elmer Gantry! You'll make a fortune!" He says, "I'm going to do it."
This is a test. Take notes. This will count as 3/4 of your final grade. Hints: remember, in chess, kings cancel each other out and cannot occupy adjacent squares, are therefore all-powerful and totally powerless, cannot affect each other, produce stalemate. Hinduism is a polytheistic religion; the sect of Atman worships the divine spark of life within Man; in effect saying, "Thou art God." Provisos of equal time are not served by one viewpoint having media access to two hundred million people in prime time while opposing viewpoints are provided with a soapbox on the corner. Not everyone tells the truth. Operational note: these sections may be taken out of numerical sequence: rearrange to suit yourself for optimum clarity. Turn over your test papers and begin.
Heaven began to run at the edges.
He is…colorful, intrusive, abrasive, irritating, hilarious, illogical, inconsistent, unpredictable, and one hell of a writer.
Harlan is a giant among men in courage, pugnacity, loquacity, wit, charm, intelligence — indeed in everything but height.
They did it wrong, Doc. They made mistakes. And they'll keep it this way, just because everyone wants to believe it. They don't want to know the truth, Doc. It's easier for everyone this way. If enough people believe the fantasy, well, then it becomes the reality. But we know, Doc. We know who belongs where, don't we?
I don't know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe. This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.
"Star Wars is adolescent nonsense; Close Encounters is obscurantist drivel; Star Trek can turn your brains to puree of bat guano; and the greatest science fiction series of all time is Doctor Who! And I'll take you all on, one-by-one or all in a bunch to back it up!" Auditorium monitors moved in, truncheons ready to club down anyone foolish enough to try jumping the lecture platform; and finally there was relative silence. And I heard scattered voices screaming from the back of the room, "Who? And I said, "Yes. Who!"
"Hey, gang!" I squeaked in my terrifically accurate Mickey voice. "Everybody ready to shoot the ultimate Disney flick? The film that rips the lid off the goody two-shoes hypocrisy that lies sweltering beneath the surface of G-rated true-life adventures? Okay, you guys, let's get that hand-held Arriflex right down there between Minnie's legs! I wanna see closeups of quivering labia!"
Christmas is an awfulness that compares favorably with the great London plague and fire of 1665-66. No one escapes the feelings of mortal dejection, inadequacy, frustration, loneliness, guilt and pity. No one escapes feeling used by society, by religion, by friends and relatives, by the utterly artifical responsiblities of extending false greetings, sending banal cards, reciprocating unsolicited gifts, going to dull parties, putting up with acquaintances and family one avoids all the rest of the year...in short, of being brutalized by a 'holiday' that has lost virtually all of its original meanings and has become a merchandising ploy for color tv set manufacturers and ravagers of the woodlands.
I go to bed angry every night, I wake up angry every morning. There are certain injustices in this life you’ve got to do something about. You can’t just say that you can’t fight it, or it’s too much trouble, or that you don’t have the time or the effort, or that you can’t win. Forget all that. Fight them all! I fight them all because you never know which one is the big one. You never know which you give up and then it will come back and bite you in the ass. You never look away from a mountain lion, you lock eyes and you don’t let him get behind you.
It is my hope that all of you who walk down the street with an iPod plugged into your head are hit by a Seven Santini Brothers moving van. I look down on a lot of you … not because you’re not terrific people, but because you’re not stupid, you’re ignorant. Big difference. Ignorance is never having seen a film by Akira Kurosawa. It’s not knowing who Guy de Maupassant is. …By the way if I miss, during the evening, saying something offensive to you, insulting your sexual proclivity, your physical disability, your race, your religion, your sex, anything, please, raise your hand. I’ll get to you, I promise. I’ll say something really nasty.
Griffin stood silently, watching the waterfall, sensing more than he saw, understanding more than even his senses could tell him. This was, indeed, the Heaven of his dreams, a place to spend the rest of forever, with the wind and the water and the world another place, another level of sensing, another bad dream conjured many long times before. This was reality, an only reality for a man whose existence had been not quite bad, merely insufficient, tenable but hardly enriching. For a man who had lived a life of not quite enough, this was all there ever could be of goodness and brilliance and light. Griffin moved toward the falls. The darkness grew darker.
NO ONE GETS OUT OF CHILDHOOD ALIVE. It's not the first time I've said that. But among the few worthy bon mots I've gotten off in sixty-seven years, that and possibly one other may be the only considerations eligible for carving on my tombstone. (The other one is the one entrepreneurs have misappropriated to emboss on buttons and bumper stickers: The two most common elements in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity. (I don't so much mind that they pirated it, but what does honk me off is that they never get it right. They render it dull and imbecile by phrasing it thus: "The two most common things in the universe are..." (Not things, you insensate gobbets of ambulatory giraffe dung, elements! Elements is funny, things is imprecise and semi-guttural. Things! Geezus, when will the goyim learn they don't know how to tell a joke.
Harlan Ellison
• Introduction to Blast Off : Rockets, Robots, Ray Guns, and Rarities from the Golden Age of Space Toys (2001) by S. Mark Young, Steve Duin, Mike Richardson, p. 6; the quote on hydrogen and stupidity is said to have originated with an essay of his in the 1960s, and is often misattributed to Frank Zappa, who made similar remarks in The Real Frank Zappa Book (1989): "Some scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe."
• Source: Wikiquote: "Harlan Ellison" (Quotes)
Empty winds howled down out of the tundras of his soul. This was the charnel house of his finest fantasies. The burial ground of his forever. The garbage dump, the slain meat, the putrefying reality of his dreams and his Heaven. Griffin stumbled away from her, hearing the shrieks of men needlessly drowned by his vanity, hearing the voiceless accusation of the devil proclaiming cowardice, hearing the orgasm-condemnation of lust that was never love, of brute desire that was never affection, and realizing at last that these were the real substances of his nature, the true faces of his sins, the marks in the ledger of a life he had never led, yet had worshipped silently at an altar of evil. All these thoughts, as the guardian of Heaven, the keeper at the gate, the claimer of souls, the weigher of balances, advanced on him through the night.
I used to think that television could be potentially the most powerful medium for the dissemination of knowledge that the world has ever known, it could be a very rich and rewarding thing if handled properly and that the problem was in the execution. I've now come, after ten years in the business, five years of which was as a television critic, to taking the very extreme view point. I think television itself is bad. The idea of television, the act of watching television kills the imagination. It's not like radio, with radio you had to listen, had to make things, you had to build things in your mind. Movies do that. Television is something else again. Television lays it all out there in a very prescribed way and the bare minimum of imagination on the part of the viewer is needed and I really fear for all of us.
I talk about the things people have always talked about in stories: pain, hate, truth, courage, destiny, friendship, responsibility, growing old, growing up, falling in love, all of these things. What I try to write about are the darkest things in the soul, the mortal dreads. I try to go into those places in me that contain the cauldrous. I want to dip up the fire, and I want to put it on paper. The closer I get to the burning core of my being, the things which are most painful to me, the better is my work. … It is a love/hate relationship I have with the human race. I am an elitist, and I feel that my responsibility is to drag the human race along with me — that I will never pander to, or speak down to, or play the safe game. Because my immortal soul will be lost.
Harlan Ellison
• As quoted in Contemporary Authors New Revision Series: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Writers in Fiction, General Non-Fiction, Poetry, Journalism, Drama, Motion Pictures, Television, & Other Fields (1982) by Ann Evory
• Source: Wikiquote: "Harlan Ellison" (Quotes)
When they dug the body out of the alley, it made even the hardened construction workers and emergency squad cops ill. Not one bone was left unbroken. The very flesh seemed to have been masticated as if by a nation of cannibal dogs. Even so, the three inured excavators who finally used winding sheets and shovels to bring the shapeless mess up from its five-foot grave agreed that it was incredible, totally past belief, that the head and face were untouched. And they all agreed that the expression on the face was not one of happiness. There were many possible explanations for that expression, but no one would have said terror, for it was not terror. They would not have said helplessness, for it was not that, either. They might have settled on a pathetic sense of loss, had their sensibilities run that deep, but none of them would have felt that the expression said, with great finality: a man may truly live in his dreams, his noblest dreams, but only, only if he is worthy of those dreams.
Harlan Ellison
• This last line has often been paraphrased: "You can live in your dreams, but only if you are worthy of them."
• Source: Wikiquote: "Harlan Ellison" (Quotes, Delusion for a Dragon Slayer (1966))
Did you have one of those days today, like a nail in the foot? Did the pterodactyl corpse dropped by the ghost of your mother from the spectral Hindenburg forever circling the Earth come smashing through the lid of your glass coffin? Did the New York strip steak you attacked at dinner suddenly show a mouth filled with needle-sharp teeth, and did it snap off the end of your fork, the last solid-gold fork from the set Anastasia pressed into your hands as they took her away to be shot? Is the slab under your apartment building moaning that it cannot stand the weight on its back a moment longer, and is the building stretching and creaking? Did a good friend betray you today, or did that good friend merely keep silent and fail to come to your aid? Are you holding the razor at your throat this very instant? Take heart, comfort is at hand. This is the hour that stretches. Djam karet. We are the cavalry. We're here. Put away the pills. We'll get you through this bloody night. Next time, it'll be your turn to help us.
Alfred E. van Vogt, since the appearance of his first two stories — "Black Destroyer" and "Discord in Scarlet" (Astounding Science Fiction, July and December 1939) the most memorable debut in the long history of the genre — has been a giant. The words seminal and germinal leap to mind. Sadly, at this juncture. the words tragedy and farewell also insinuate themselves. … Van is still with us, as I write this, in June of 1999, slightly less than fifty years since I first encountered van Vogt prose in a January 1950 issue of Startling Stories, but Van is gone. He is no longer with us. … Because the great and fecund mind of A.E. van Vogt has fallen into the clutches of that pulp thriller demon, Alzheimer's. Van is gone. … Anyone's demise or vanishment is in some small way tragic but the word "tragedy" requires greater measure for its use. … Van' s great mind now gone. Tragedy. The ultimate tragic impropriety visited on as good a man as ever lived. A gentle. soft spoken man who was filled with ideas and humor and courtesy and kindness. Not even those who were not aficionados of Van's writing could muster a harsh word about him as a human being. He was as he remains now, quietly and purposefully, a gentleman. But make no mistake about this: the last few decades for him were marred by the perfidious and even mean spirited and sometimes criminal acts of poltroons and self-aggrandizing mountebanks and piss-ants into whose clutches he fell just before the thug Alzheimer got him. … I came late to the friendship with Van and Lydia. Perhaps only twenty-five or so years. But the friendship continues, and at least I was able to make enough noise to get Van the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master Award, which was presented to him in full ceremony during on of the last moments when he was cogent and clearheaded enough understand that finally, as last, dragged kicking and screaming to honor him, the generation that learned from what he did and what he had created had, at last, fessed up to his importance. Naturally, others took credit for his getting the award. They postured and spewed all the right platitudes. Some of them were the same ones who had said to me — during the five years it took to get them to act honorably — "we'd have given it to him sooner if you hadn't made such a fuss." Yeah. Sure. And pandas'll fly out of my ass.
Even the brightest star shines dimly when observed-from too far away. And human memory is notoriously unreliable. And we live in ugly times when all respect for that which has gone before suffers crib death beneath the weight of youthful arrogance and ignorance. But a great nobility has at last, been recognized and lauded. Someone less charitable than I might suggest the honor could have been better appreciated had it not been so tardy, naming its race with a foe that blots joy and destroys short-term memory. But I sing the Talent Electric, and like aft the dark smudges of history, everything but the honor and die achievement remains for the myth-makers. Alfred E. van Vogt has been awarded the Grand Master trophy of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He is not the to first person to receive this singular accolade…given only to those whose right to possess it is beyond argument or mitigation. Were we in 1946 or even 1956, van Vogt would have already been able to hold the award aloft. Had SFWA existed then and had the greatest living sf authors been polled as to who was the most fecund, the most intriguing, the mast innovative the most influential of their number, Isaac and Arthur and Cyril and Hank Kuttner and Ron Hubbard would all have pointed to the same man, and Bob Heinlein would've given him a thumbs-up. Van Vogt was the pinnacle, the source of power and ideas; the writer to beat. Because he embodied in his astonishing novels and assorted stories what we always say is of prime importance to us in this genre-the much vaunted Sense of Wonder. Van Vogt was the wellspring of wonder. … That's how important he was. … And then came the dark years during which the man was shamefully agented and overlooked; and even the brightest star loses its piercing light if observed through the thickening mists of time and flawed memory. Now it is lifetimes later, and the great award has, at last, been presented. To some, less charitable than I, something could be said about a day late and a dollar short, but not I. I am here to sing the Talent Electric, and it is better now than never. He is the Grand Master, A.E. can Vogt, weaver of a thousand ideas per plot-line, creator of alien thoughts and impossible dreams that rival the best ever built by our kind. This dear, gentlemanly writer whose stories can still kill you with a concept or warm you with a character, now joins the special pantheon.

End Harlan Ellison Quotes