Sci-Fi Awards Show Marred By Boorish Groping

By Neal 

The members of the World Science Fiction Convention (i.e., everyone who ponied up the registration fees) gathered in Anaheim last weekend for their annual meeting to hand out the Hugo Awards for the year’s best science fiction, but soon after the awards ceremony ended Saturday the online chatter over who won what turned ugly as word spread that when Harlan Ellison accepted a special committee award—roughly the equivalent of the lifetime achievement Oscar—he took the opportunity to grab the breast of the woman who handed him the prize, awards show master of ceremonies Connie Willis (who, coincidentally, was also the recipient of a Hugo for best novella that evening). As audience member David Goldfarb described the incident:

“The two of them hugged, in what I assume was a pre-scripted moment—although I could easily be wrong. As they came together for the hug, Ellison moved his hand so that it would land on Willis’s breast. Willis immediately grabbed the hand and moved it to her shoulder. The whole thing was over very quickly. There was a little bit of rumbling from the audience; but by the time I (and, I guess, much of the audience) realized what had happened, Willis was already continuing as though nothing untoward had occurred.”

By the next day, however, another fan reported, “At the closing ceremony Connie said something like ‘If someone wants to start a petition for Harlan Ellison to keep his fucking hands off of me, I’d be willing to sign it!’ Or something like that.” (We tried to reach Willis to confirm or clarify this, but our phone call has so far gone unreturned.)

Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden was the first major industry figure to condemn Ellison on his blog, while author Rachel Manija Brown posted about how she’d fended off Ellison’s wandering hands earlier that day. “I was a big fan of his writing when I was a misunderstood teenager,” Brown added in a later comment, “but he does not seem to have matured at all since he was a misunderstood teenager—and most teenagers have a much better sense that other people should be treated with respect.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Ellison appeared to realize he’d screwed up, though several observers interpreted the string of apologetic remarks posted to his official website as self-serving. “I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will,” he says. “What now, folks? It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past.” (True enough: Ellison is as famous for his public behavior as he is for his writing.) For younger writers like Alan Deniro, that just might not be good enough. “How must a woman just entering the field feel about this? Younger female readers?” Deniro asks. “What could they possibly think about this? Could they possiblly think anything good about SF/F? As a field? A community?” His publisher, Gavin Grant, adds that people like Ellison are “taking all the fun out of being in the genre and not inspiring anyone with anything but horror and the urge to vomit and throw out their books.”