One of the first things I thought of on learning that Harlan Ellison died this morning was the introduction he wrote to his 1988 short-story collection Angry Candy.
It’s a powerful piece about the deaths of forty-plus people who he cared about and admired, over the course of a couple of years in the mid-1980s. It provided me with some needed catharsis when I first read it. As did the lovely and moving stories in the collection; I haven’t read them in nearly thirty years, but at the time, I felt they were some of Ellison’s best work.
Here are a couple of excerpts from that introduction.
First, his recollection of what he said at his friend Emily Austin’s funeral:
It’s not seemly to speak harshly at the funeral of someone you loved, and who’s gone away, and you miss so much it squeezes your chest when you think about them. It’s not right to make a big scene and cry about how it hurts when you ask that lost friend a question, and she’s not there to answer, as if the wind took her answer away, and if you listen hard enough you can still hear her voice receding, getting thinner and smaller and more transparent. We’re not supposed to do that. We’re supposed to reassure one another, and say dumb things like, “Well, she couldn’t have suffered much.” And I want to say things like that, because ceremonies like this are for the living, and not the dead, because the dead are gone and can’t hear what we say, and I can’t even take any solace in that, because it isn’t a new thought. And the truth of it is, I can’t take any solace at all, because Emily is dead. […] No one allows us to be angry. It isn’t fitting, it isn’t seemly. but that’s how I feel. I’m just pure and deeply angry that she’s gone. […] And in the compassion that we try to show each other, we won’t let ourselves be angry, won’t let ourselves scream at the world that is now minus that special part.
He goes on to quote what Norman Spinrad said at the same funeral: “Don’t expect justice. Emily being taken like this, is not fair. It is not just. She never deserved to die so soon. There is no justice inherent in the universe … except what we put there. All the justice that exists, is what we make.”
And toward the end of the introduction, Ellison writes:
I was a road kid who found a way to get off the road. I learned how to write. It was mostly time alone. But there have always been friends and lovers who brought me back to the understanding that when it is all written, there remains nothing more important than the lives you touch, and that touch you. You are not alone.