[Note: This is an excerpt from Dangerous Visions, an anthology of SF short stories edited by Harlan Ellison (who wrote an introduction to each story as well). Asimov wrote two forewords to it, and in the second one he tells how he came to meet Ellison. I think it's an awesome story, which is why I've transcribed it here.]
This book is Harlan Ellison. It is Ellison-drenched and Ellison-permeated. I admit that thirty-two other authors (including myself in a way) have contributed, but Harlan's introduction and his thirty-two prefaces surround the stories and embrace them and soak them through with the rich flavor of his personality.
So it is only fitting that I tell the story of how I came to meet Harlan.
The scene is a World Science Fiction Convention a little over a decade ago. I had just arrived at the hotel and I made for the bar at once. I don't drink, but I knew that the bar would be where everybody was. They were indeed all there, so I yelled a greeting and everyone yelled back at me.
Among them, however, was a youngster I had never seen before: a little fellow with sharp features and the liveliest eyes I ever saw. Those live eyes were now focused on me with something that I can only describe as worship.
He said, "Are you Isaac Asimov?" And in his voice was awe and wonder and amazement.
I was rather pleased, but I struggled hard to retain a modest demeanor. "Yes, I am," I said.
"You're not kidding? You're really Isaac Asimov?" The words have not yet been invented that would describe the ardor and reverence with which his tongue caressed the syllables of my name.
I felt as though the least I could do would be to rest my hand upon his head and bless him, but I controlled myself. "Yes, I am," I said, and by now my smile was a fatuous thing, nauseating to behold. "Really, I am."
"Well, I think you're—" he began, still in the same tone of voice, and for a split second he paused, while I listened and the audience held its breath. The youngster's face shifted in that split second into an expression of utter contempt and he finished the sentence with supreme indifference, "—a nothing!"
The effect, for me, was that of tumbling down a cliff I had not known was there, and landing flat on my back. I could only blink foolishly while everyone present roared with laughter.
The youngster was Harlan Ellison, you see, and I had never met him before and didn't know his utter irreverence. But everyone else there knew him and they had waited for innocent me to be neatly poniarded—and I had been.
By the time I struggled back to something like equilibrium, it was long past time for any possible retort. I could only carry on as best I might, limping and bleeding, and grieving that I had been hit when I wasn't looking and that not a man in the room had had the self-denial to warn me and give up the delight of watching me get mine.
Fortunately, I believe in forgiveness, and I made up my mind to forgive Harlan completely—just as soon as I had paid him back with interest.
Now you must understand that Harlan is a giant among men in courage, pugnacity, loquacity, wit, charm, intelligence—indeed, in everything but height.
He is not actually extremely tall. In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, he is quite short; shorter, even, than Napoleon. And instinct told me, as I struggled up from disaster, that this young man, who was now introduced to me as the well-known fan, Harlan Ellison, was a trifle sensitive on that subject. I made a mental note of that.
The next day at this convention I was on the platform, introducing notables and addressing a word of kindly love to each as I did so. I kept my eye on Harlan all this time, however, for he was sitting right up front (where else?).
As soon as his attention wandered, I called out his name suddenly. He stood up, quite surprised and totally unprepared, and I leaned forward and said, as sweetly as I could:
"Harlan, stand on the fellow next to you, so that people can see you."
And while the audience (a much larger one this time) laughed fiendishly, I forgave Harlan and we have been good friends ever since.*