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

michaelmunro
Michael Munro

Harlan Ellison’s anecdote about his involvement in the original Star Trek movie, as quoted by Stephen King::

  • “Paramount had been trying to get a Star Trek film in work for some time. Roddenberry was determined that his name would be on the writing credits somehow. The trouble is, he can’t write for sour owl poop. His one idea, done six or seven times in the series and again in the feature film, is that the crew of the Enterprise goes into space, finds God, and God turns out to be insane, or a child, or both. I’d been called in twice, prior to 1975, to discuss the story. Other writers had also been milked. Paramount couldn’t make up their minds and had even kicked Gene (Roddenberry) off the project a few times, until he brought in lawyers. Then the palace guard changed again at Paramount and Diller and (Michael) Eisner came over from ABC and brought a cadre of their buddies. One of them was an ex-set designer named Mark Trabulus.

    Roddenberry suggested me as the scenarist for the film with this Trabulus, the latest of the know-nothing duds Paramount had assigned to the troublesome project. I had a talk with Gene about a storyline. He told me they kept wanting bigger and bigger stories, but no matter what was suggested, it wasn’t big enough. I devised a storyline and Gene liked it, and set up a meeting with Trabulus for December 11, 1975. That meeting was canceled, but we finally got together on December 15th. It was just Gene and Trabulus and me in Gene’s office on the Paramount lot.

    I told them the story. It involved going to the end of the known universe to slip back through time to the Pleistocene period when Man first emerged. I postulated a parallel development of reptile life that might have developed into the dominant species on Earth had mammals not prevailed. I postulated an alien intelligence from a far galaxy where the snakes had become the dominant life form, and a snake-creature who had come to Earth in the Star Trek future, had seen its ancestors wiped out, and who had gone back into the far past of Earth to set up distortions in the time-flow so the reptiles could beat the humans. The Enterprise goes back to set time right, finds the snake alien, and the human crew is confronted with the moral dilemma of whether it had the right to wipe out an entire life form just to insure its own territorial imperative in our present and future. The story, in short, spanned all of time and all of space, with a moral and ethical problem.

    Trabulus listened to all this and sat silently for a few minutes. Then he said, ‘You know, I was reading this book by this guy named Von Daniken and he proved that the Mayan calendar was exactly like ours, so it must have come from aliens. Could you put in some Mayans?’

    I looked at Gene; Gene looked at me; he said nothing. I looked at Trabulus and said, ‘There weren’t any Mayans at the dawn of time.’ And he said, ‘Well, who’s to know the difference?’ And I said, ‘I’m to know the difference. It’s a dumb suggestion.’ So Trabulus got very uptight and said he liked Mayans a lot and why didn’t I do it if I wanted to write this picture. So I said, ‘I’m a writer. I don’t know what the fuck you are!’ And I got up and walked out. And that was the end of my association with the Star Trek movie.