Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The League: Dinner Party

Dinner party!

Who would I want to come over for dinner? My first instinct was to say H.P. Lovecraft, but after giving it some more thought, I remembered that he had all sorts of majorly unacceptable people problems that made him unfit company. (And anyway, you don't necessarily have to like a person to like their work.)

My invitations would be put to better use to Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison, who actually were sort-of friends until, like Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini, they had a falling-out. And to think, it was over an anthology! What's sad is that, unlike Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald, it's too late for them to reconcile and regain their awesome power-couple besties status. I'd invite more, but why break out more place settings when these two would already be a handful?

But both were/are brilliant, very eloquent, and had/has strong opinions about their profession. Those opinions sometimes clashed, but that's what would make this fantasy dinner party great! Just imagine the discussion over a three-course meal! For these two, I'd break out the good silverware and fancy china. There are so many things I want to ask. Was there ever a face-to-face confrontation about Dangerous Visions? Did PKD really almost shoot Ellison by accident during a boar hunt?

The evening's menu? Cat food for appetizers (Philip K. Dick should be familiar with this acquired taste, back when he lived in near-poverty in the fifties), and for the main course, curried monkey brains scooped steaming from the trepanned skull with a side of very crisp french fries (Harlan Ellison's fake favorite food, according to his fake "about the author" blurb), all washed down with some piping-hot Syn-Cof!

Sadly, Philip K. Dick passed away in 1982, so unless we hold a seance in between appetizers and dessert, such a dinner party is impossible. The next best thing? Cull choice quotes from actual interviews, then cut-and-paste them into some haphazard semblance of a three-way conversation. Enjoy!

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Dick: "Harlan's not in it for profit. Harlan's in it for the ideology of science fiction."

Me: "Wow, I really admi--"

Ellison: "I don't take a piss without getting paid for it."

Me: "Oh."

Ellison: "There are things that I wouldn't go anywhere near. I can't be bought! I can be rented, but I can't be bought, because at the final tick, right at the core, money doesn't mean much to me. My wife worries about money because she's a normal human being. I don't and I never have."

Me: "Yeah, I--"

Dick: "Writers are stupid if they think they're in it for money. Why did they get into writing in the first place? Whoever promised them a lot of money? Where was Ellison promised a lot of money?"

Ellison: "By what right would you call me an ask me to work for nothing? [...] Would you go to a gas station and expect free gas? Would you go to the doctor and have him take out your spleen for nothing? How dare you call me and expect me to work for nothing!"

Dick: "I mean, science fiction is a lot of fun to write, and it's worth all the bad financial breaks to do it."

Me: "Okay, but what--"

Ellison: "They always want the writer to work for nothing! And the problem is there's so goddamn many writers who have no idea that they're supposed to be paid every time they do something. They do it for nothing!"
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Dick: "Vonnegut has always never written science fiction--or so he discovered, when he looked back over his career and discovered that he'd made a lot of money at some point. And at that point, retroactively he became like the Pope, who gets to say, 'Everything I say is true, and I never was writing science fiction, even if you read Player Piano and thought it was science fiction. You were wrong. And Cat's Cradle likewise. And Sirens of Titan. They're not science fiction because I say they're not science fiction! Come to me and I will tell you!' That's what Harlan always says, too."

Ellison: "I am first of all not a science fiction writer, as most of the people within the science fiction world will tell you. [...] I'm just a writer who occasionally happens to do science fiction. Most of my work is way outside the field, yet outside the field I am tagged with that, so my books are reviewed in with the rockets and spacemen section."

Me: "Well, science fic--"

Dick: "I hope people will come into the science fiction field and write science fiction and not listen to people like Robert Silverberg and Barry Malzberg and Harlan Ellison and Kurt Vonnegut, who say either they don't write science fiction or they never did write science fiction or they will not write it in the future."

Me: "The genre now ha--"

Ellison: "It's like a guy standing on a street corner saying, 'I'm not a rapist. I swear I'm not a rapist.' And people say, 'Well, if he's not a rapist, why does he keep saying he's not a rapist?' They cannot seem to understand the simple reasoning behind not being called a science fiction writer. They just don't get it."

Me: "That's a weird fuckin' analogy, man."
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Ellison: "As a writer, [Philip K. Dick] was one of the great innovators. He was sweet man, and an absolutely individual talent, and I admired at least 80% of what he wrote."
Dick: "I don't like Harlan Ellison's stuff."

Me: "Awkward."

For the full context of these quotes, head on over to their original sources: Harlan Ellison's interview with The A.V. ClubAn interview with Philip K. Dick, and Harlan Ellison - "Pay the writer!"

As for the rest of the League, guess who's coming over to dinner at Retro Robot Review!

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