I was delighted to find that Kurt Anderson interviewed Harlan Ellison, who recently reached seventy-four years of age, for his public radio show Studio 360. This interview coincides with the DVD release of the film about Ellison, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which I have not seen yet but hope to soon. At the site, you can get the podcast of the radio version of the show, but that one is an abridged version. What you really want to hear is Anderson’s full, hour-long interview with Ellison, which you can also download or stream on the site. They cover a lot of topics, including the film, and Ellison reads some passages from “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and “Jefty is Five.”
I’m glad to see that Ellison is getting some fresh attention. He is one of the all time towering giants of American literature. I can say that to a crowd of spec fic-oriented readers, like the followers of the blog, and you’d all probably say, “Well, yeah. Of course. What else is new?” It’s a strange but true fact, however, that Ellison’s work is widely ignored by academics (could it be because of his association with “genre” fiction? No! Really?). I am, by education, a literature student, and I spent much of my academic life in both high school and college trying to alert English profs as to what they are missing out on when I would select Ellison’s work as the subject of a number of critical essays and research papers. Like Ellison himself states in this interview, I considered him to be the natural kin and heir to writers like Poe and Kafka and Borges. But never once did I see a glimmer of recognition in the eyes of any of my teachers nor a scintilla of respect offered forth after I had alerted them to the abysmal gaps in their knowledge of the American short story. This was particularly disappointing to me during the college years, since I attended an otherwise super-brainy liberal arts school and had high hopes that there’d be some cool lit profs there. I’d heard they existed on some campuses, but apparently not the one I was on. As it happened, I think I might even have been the only student there who knew much about Ellison. Hardly anyone seemed to be into spec fic at all. I was the only one writing it in the fiction writing seminars that I took during my senior year...and I think that was a lot of the reason why my work was generally regarded as the worst of the lot while other writers' tiny tales of thinly veiled campus current events and personal foibles passed muster as fine literary fiction.
A thing perhaps less well know among spec fic readers is the fact that Ellison has also always been a compelling essayist, and he continues with this even now. I highly recommend some of his older collections such as The Harlan Ellison Hornbook and An Edge in My Voice (there are others--I just happen have those two books on my shelf). While the topics are pretty old now—since they deal mostly with events that were current in 1970s and early 1980s and were written mostly as newspaper columns back in the day—they still make for some great, entertaining reading today.
Also of some interest to sf fans would be the 5/23 installment of Studio 360 in which Anderson talks about the Klingon language with linguist Arika Okrent (which I heard, when listening to the podcast, as “Erica Okrand,” virtually the same name as Marc Okrand, the developer of the language). She published a new book about invented languages and has herself a good command of Klingon. They also discuss some other invented languages such as the elf tongue from Tolkien's universe and how it was used in the film, and also Esperanto. One gets to hear a little clip of William Shatner speaking in that language in the bizarre 1965 film Incubus.