Tag Archives: harlan ellison

I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

i robot cover.jpeg

As I was writing my lastest Wayward Time Traveler piece for SF Signal, I couldn’t help but recall something that happened just before I went to Los Angeles last week. I was packing and went into the TV room to ask Kelly about something or other–and found her watching I, Robot on FX. This movie is the 2004 movie starring Will Smith and involving, as the title indicates, robots. I saw it a year or two after it came out, mostly out of curiosity, and have regretted it ever since. Not just because it was a terrible movie, you understand, but also because there was a masterful screenplay written for I, Robot by Harlan Ellison and–

I can see I’m getting ahead of myself here so let me back up and explain for those people who may not be as close to science fiction as I am.

Continue reading I, Robot; I, Robot; I, Robot; and I, Robot

Writers and writers

I think that there is some kind of transition period between being just a fan of science fiction to being a science fiction writer. At least, that’s the way it is working out for me. Despite having some street cred (3 professional sales), I still look at other writers as if they are, well, Writers. I am not a naturally shy person, but I do get nervous around these Writers, and I know exactly why that it: I still think of them as demi-gods.

Part of it is that while I have some street cred, I don’t have a whole lot and I suppose there is a feeling of inadequacy surrounding that. I think to myself, here is this Science Fiction Writer who has sold dozens of stories, received countless award nominations, published several novels. They are so calm and self-assured about it all. And then there’s me, barely out of fandom with my 3 story sales. How can they possibly take me seriously? And yet, they usually do. They treat me like one of their own and yet they are still demi-gods to me.

I think I am doing better about trying to stand at eye-level with other professional science fiction and fantasy writers, but this whole notion of actually being a writer is sometimes still unsettling to me–in a good way. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I tried and tried and tried, and I was not a very good story-teller when I started out, but I kept at it until one day, I was just good enough. After that first sale, things started to get a little bit easier, and that is almost entirely due to the Writers who have treated me so kindly: Michael A. Burstein, Barry N. Malzberg, Robert J. Sawyer, Allen Steele, Jack McDevitt, to name just a few. These guys are my Babe Ruths and Mickey Mantles, and yet they’ve all taken me seriously as a writer. You would think that would make it easier to approach other writers at conventions, and introduce myself, but for some reason, that imagined wall is still there: they are Writers and I’m just a writer.

I’m hoping to finally surmount the imagined wall this year–or, as Pink Floyd urged, tear it down–but it is not an easy thing to do. I can’t quite seem to place myself at the same level of the Writers whose stories I’ve enjoyed for a couple of decades. But I’ll try.

I wonder if other writers at my stage feel the same way? There is a feeling that the first sale wasn’t a fluke because you had a second sale. And then there was that third sale to one of the Big Three that made you a Full Active SFWA member. To some extent you still can’t believe it. But you’re still tempted to hold up those three sales, dear as they are to you, against those Writers you love so much and think: gee whiz! this one here has sold forty stories; this one more than one hundred with a dozen nominations for various awards. Will I ever be that good? Meanwhile your still struggling to make that next sale. It is a fun struggle, I’ll grant that, but when you see these Writers operate, you can still glimpse the difference between a rookie and a Pro.

I have met other writers, in passing: Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. There are some writers I will never get to meet: Isaac Asimov, Cyril Kornbluth, Alfred Bester, Arthur C. Clarke, Lester del Rey, L. Sprague de Camp. Those lost opportunities, gone forever are what motivate me most to meet those writers that I can meet. I always try to tell them how much I’ve enjoyed the stories they’ve written, how theirs has been an example to me. It comes off sounding mawkish, I think, but sincere nevertheless. And I try never to forget my own motto: that I am a fan first, and a writer second.

The “lost” Harlan Ellison meeting

I would have swore that the first time I met Harlan Ellison was at a talk he gave at the Learning Tree in Chatsworth, California in July 2005. My diary only goes back to April 6, 1996, so I thought I had no way to confirm or deny this. Until this morning.

I got into work early (because I need to leave a little early today to pick Dad up from the airport at 5 PM) and I was going through some archived files on UNIX and came across a folder of blog-like essays I sent out to friends in the latter part of 1994 and early part of 1995. There are 57 of these essays, totaling some 79,000 words! I couldn’t help but skim through them, especially since they all preceded my diary by more than a year! In the 4th essay, “Installment #4”, I read about my first encounter with Harlan Ellison, and it is amusing enough to recall here.

My first encounter with Harlan Ellison, December 10, 1995

A brief thank you

In my continuing efforts to sent a short note of thanks to those authors still with us who have encouraged me through their writings and words to keep up my own writing, and who therefore played some part in my selling a story, I posted the following message on a bulletin board that I know Harlan Ellison reads and responds to:

A Brief Thank You
Harlan —

I just wanted to say a brief thank you. I recent sold my first story after years and years of trying, and I couldn’t have done it without the encouragement I got from reading your stories, and attending some of your talks. There are a handful of writers that have strongly influenced my own writing over the years: Isaac Asimov, Barry Malzberg and of course, Harlan Ellison.

I met you at Dangerous Visions once or twice back when I lived in Studio City, and I’ve attended a few of your talks. I remember a talk you gave at the Learning Tree in 1995 where you gave a dramatic reading of your story, “Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral” that left me breathless and incredibly impressed.

All of it, your stories, your essays, your talks, kept me motivated through the years, kept me telling myself, “I wanna be like HIM,” and kept me from ever giving up. And I finally did it and I have you, in part, to thank.

So thanks for the encouragement, and thanks for the great stories.

Sincerely,

Jamie Todd Rubin
Riverdale, Maryland

I’ll let you know if I hear back from him…

The Harlan dream

Last night I had a dream that I was at Harlan Ellison’s house (which is just up the street from where strausmouse lived when we were in high school) and that we sat on a porch in the back and I listened to him talk about writing and science fiction and comic books. I used to have a similar dream about Isaac Asimov (who, unlike Harlan Ellison, I never met in person). Strangely, in my dream, Ellison was very benign and seemed happy to talk.

It is a bit of an unusual dream, but I recalled that at one point yesterday evening, I was skimming through LOCUS and recall reading a short item on another law suit in which Harlan is involved. That’s what probably triggered the dream.

An afternoon with Andy and Mandy

I had a very nice afternoon and evening with Andy and Mandy today. They picked me up at the hotel at about 1 PM and we headed to Westwood for lunch at In’n’Out which I have been craving since my last In’n’Out meal back at the beginning of March. We then headed back into the Valley.

I went to the Iliad Bookshop for the first time since moving away from Southern California–and was surprised to find that it had moved to a location. Actually, I should say I was relieved. I picked up 5 books while I was there so it was worthwhile.

Andy and I then sat around watching the Lakers get killed–something that filled me unshameful glee. Afterward, we headed back to the west side for dinner. We made a small detour however. Ever since I discovered that Harlan Ellison lived four houses up the street from Eric’s parents (how many time did I drive past Ellison Wonderland in high school and never know it!) we had to drive by so I could see for myself. Sure enough, there it was, gargoyles, signs and all. It is really quite a magnificent house and I grabbed a couple of low res pictures (on my cell phone) to prove to myself that I was there. An Eric was right–it was just a few houses up from his parent’s. (No, I’m not going to post the address–I think Harlan deserves his privacy.)

We headed to the Grove and met Lisa and her friend Michelle, and Joel was there as well. We ate at Wood Ranch and, naturally, I had the tri-tip. Joel was kind enough to bring me back to the hotel, and now I’m finishing up my packing and heading off to bed. My flight is at 8:45 AM in the morning.

First full day in Albany

I was up at about 8 AM, showered and then spent the early part of the morning reading Foundation and Chaos. It was unusually mild out early today. I went with Eric to take Cali out for a walk after breakfast this morning and it felt almost humid.

I skimmed through the local paper during breakfast, the Albany Times Union. The opinions column had Andy Rooney’s column, which I don’t get in any of my local papers, and, as usual, I was hilarious. The column attribute included Andy Rooney’s email address, so I decided to sent him an email message, and this is what I wrote:

Mr. Rooney:

I’m writing to tell you how much I enjoyed your column, “A Staggered Life” in today’s Albany Times Union. I don’t ordinarily see your columns in print, but I’m up in Albany visiting friends this weekend, and I caught your column on the editorial page.

I’ve been an enthusiastic fan of everything I’ve read of yours which to-date includes “My War”, “Sincerely, Andy Rooney”, “Common Nonsense”, and most recently, “Years of Minutes”. I don’t watch a lot of television magazine programs, but if I happen to be near a TV at 7:55 on a Sunday night, I always tune in your segment on 60-Minutes.

I appreciate your candor, sense of humor, and skill as a writer. Most of all, I enjoy reading what you write.

Sincerely,

Jamie Todd Rubin

Early this afternoon, Eric, Ryane and I headed to a local mall where I picked up a fitted Yankee hat (size 7) since my old had really needed replacing. We had lunch at Ruby Tuesday’s (where our buffalo wantans came out cold the first time) and then headed back to Eric and Ryane’s house to pick up Cali and take her to the local city park.

The park was pretty desolate, but it was still mild out, although heavily overcast. We walked around for a while and allowed Cali to chase a few squirils. After dropping Cali back off at home, we headed back out and dropped Ryane off at a bridal shower in Saratoga Springs. Then Eric and I headed to a sports bar in town and spent a few hours watching the Seahawks of Seattle pound the Redskins of Washington over several beers and mixed drinks.

On our way back home, after picking up Ryane from the shower, it started snowing pretty hard. Somehow, the conversation got turned to Harlan Ellison and Eric mentioned that Ellison lived a few houses up the street from his parents. I couldn’t believe it! I’ve been past his house several times and never even knew it! I always knew his house was up in the hills but now I know more or less the address of Ellison Wonderland, which just boggles my mind for some reason.

We decided to stay in for the evening and ordered pizza. We closed out the evening playing Scrabble (which I lost) and then Uno (in which I was blown away). I can’t seem to win any type of game whatsoever. Why is that, I wonder?

I’m heading to bed now, and as I look outside, the ground it white, and the snow is still coming down pretty hard. The winds have picked up too, and are blowing strong. Weather is saying 3-5 inches by morning. We’ve got a lot planned for tomorrow–including sledding, so we’ll see how the snow turns out.

I’m so pissed I forgot my camera!