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RIP Harlan Ellison, the Legendary Scifi Author Behind One of Star Trek's Greatest Episodes

Ellison at a 1972 meeting with writers John Furia, Jr., David W. Rintels, and Richard M. Powell discussing censorship in media.
Ellison at a 1972 meeting with writers John Furia, Jr., David W. Rintels, and Richard M. Powell discussing censorship in media.
Photo: Jeff Robins (Associated Press)

Harlan Ellison, the iconic yet controversial writer behind dozens of beloved speculative fiction and scifi works, has passed. He was 84.

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The news announced on social media today by Christine Valada, a close friend of Ellison and his wife Susan, at her request:

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Ellison’s work across multiple genres—from horror to scifi to speculative fiction, across a career studded with awards from the Nebulas to the Hugos and beyond—created a highly influential bibliography for the writer, from the chilling “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” to one of the most gutwrenchingly depressing post-apocalyptic stories ever, “A Boy and His Dog.But it also lead to a career studded with controversies, mostly driven by the litany of lawsuits he pursued over his life lashing out against movies and TV shows he deemed too close to his own works, from the original Terminator to, more recently, 2011's In Time.

While his vast roster of award-winning books and stories created a legion of fans, there’ll be some who remember Ellison primarily for his television work—in particular, the iconic Star Trek episode “The City on the Edge of Forever. A time-travel tale of romance and heartbreak, it is frequently cited as one of the best episodes of any Trek series—and is not without some behind-the-scenes controversy of its own when it came to Ellison.

The writer was infamously furious with changes made to his first script (which won a Writer’s Guild Award in 1968, while the shooting script took the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in the same year), and went on to sue CBS and Paramount in 2009 for royalties related to the episode. Under Ellison’s supervision, the original teleplay was adapted into a new comic by IDW in 2015.

Ellison is survived by his wife, Susan. [Deadline]

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DISCUSSION

johnseavey
johnseavey

The first time I met Harlan Ellison was in 2001. I was meeting my girlfriend (now wife) for the very first time at DragonCon in Atlanta, along with her then four year old daughter. DragonCon offered childcare back then, but it wasn’t going to be open for a little while yet, and Harlan was doing a live reading. I had just discovered his work at the time, and was very excited, so we talked it over and decided that Little Girl could sit still and be patient for a little while.

(Important note: Little Girl had, at the time, the blondest and curliest hair you have ever, ever seen.)

Harlan prefaced his reading by explaining that his story was based on a painting, and he walked up and down the aisles showing the painting to everyone so that they had the image in their head before he started to read. When he walked past us, he stopped dead in his tracks and shouted, “OH MY GOD IT’S SHIRLEY TEMPLE.” Then he looked at us and said, “Careful. She grew up to be a Republican.”

We chuckled, he kept walking, and Little Girl looked up at her mom and said, “He’s silly.” She chuckled back and, knowing Harlan’s reputation as a ferocious curmudgeon, said, “You tell him that.”

And of course, because karma takes its due from all of us, she jumped up, ran to the front of the room where Harlan was just finishing his walk around the room, and said, “You’re silly!” before we could catch up to her.

There was a dead silence. This was Harlan Ellison, after all. The man who mailed someone a dead woodchuck. The man who threw someone’s cigarette in their purse when they wouldn’t put it out. The man who has a thousand stories, big and small, of behavior that nobody else could get away with. And here was a four-year old telling him he was silly. To. His. Face.

He sighed. His shoulders drooped. “And all this time, I thought I was profound,” he said, before doing a goldfish impersonation for her and letting her go back to her seat. I know the man had his sins, but that is how I will always, always remember him.