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Science fiction writer Harlan Ellison to be inducted into Hall of Fame

By Chris Kokenes, CNN
  • Ellison, 77, has been writing for 55 years
  • Writer was influential in "new wave" that was character-driven
  • He is a best-seller who is unknown by many readers, experts say
  • Ellison has several new projects about to be released

New York (CNN) -- Renowned speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison is about to be inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, recognizing a career that has spanned more than five decades in which he's made contributions to literature, television and film.

Called one of the "great living American short story writers" by the Washington Post, Ellison will be honored at the Hall of Fame event Saturday in Seattle.

The award, coming 55 years after Ellison began his writing career, celebrates the achievements of a writer who has nearly done it all; collecting 10 Hugo awards, three Nebula awards, 18 Locus Poll awards, the Bradbury award, six Bram Stoker awards, the Edgar Allan Poe award and two George Melies film awards.

Ellison, 77, won't be at the ceremony and has asked author Neil Gaiman to accept the award on his behalf. Editor Gardner Dozois and artists Vincent Di Fate and Jean "Moebius" Giraud will also be honored at the weekend-long event.

Ellison, who had been extremely ill for several months, said in a telephone interview that he's in the "last stages of something."

"And I don't have a cold," he sarcastically noted.

Founded in 1996, the Hall of Fame has honored science fiction's giants, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry and Ridley Scott. As part of the ceremony, inductees' laser-etched images on the glowing Hall of Fame permanent display are unveiled.

Brooks Peck, curator of the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction museum, says the decision to induct Ellison wasn't a difficult one.

"He was always very encouraging of young writers, plus he had a big personality which people really enjoy," Peck said.

"Harlan Ellison was very influential in the new wave era of science fiction in the late 1960s and 1970s when the genre changed from the traditional science fiction of hard science and adventure stories to writing that took up social consciousness, exploring the soft sciences of psychology and sociology and where the prose became more experimental," Peck added. "The new wave brought things back down to earth and became more character-centric."

Born in Cleveland in 1934, Ellison moved to New York City in 1955, publishing more than 100 short stories and articles, then his first novel, "Web in the City" (1958) about street gangs in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn.

Ellison's works have sold millions of copies and been translated into more than 40 languages.

Ellison's most recognized works include "Deathbird Stories," "Strange Wine," "Approaching Oblivion," "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream," "Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled," "Ellison Wonderland," "Memos from Purgatory," "Shatterday" and "Stalking the Nightmare."

Fans of the original science fiction TV classic series "Star Trek" know Ellison as the author of one of the most critically acclaimed episodes, "The City on the Edge of Forever," which featured Joan Collins.

Ellison, who still uses several Olympia typewriters to do his work and says he despises the Internet because it's "killing books," has several projects ready for release.

He wouldn't pick any favorites from his own work.

"I love them all. Even the lame ones. I am proud of them all," he said.

And yet for all of Ellison's accomplishments, he is considered by some to be one of America's most prolific best-selling authors who remains unknown by many readers.

Gordon Van Gelder, editor and publisher of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine, the second-oldest continuously running science fiction magazine in the U.S., says Ellison was always far from a mainstream writer.

Ellison made his first sale to that magazine in 1961 and was a major contributor in the late 1960s before writing a film column for years.

"At his core I'd call him a fabulist," Van Gelder said. "He wasn't one to write science fiction in a traditional vein."

Van Gelder likens Ellison's early work to that of the English science fiction writer, Michael Moorcock, who in the 1960s as editor of the science fiction magazine New Worlds helped usher in a new wave of writing for the genre.

"What differentiated Harlan's work was the intensity," Van Gelder said. "The vividness of the imagination."