R.I.P., Harlan Ellison

One of the many dispatches from Ellison Wonderland.

The crickets are already chirping merrily by the time I arise at 5:15.

“Won’t be long now,” they sing. “Soon the world will be in the mandibles of its rightful heirs, the insects.”

Harlan Ellison won’t be there to see that day, and write about it. The prolific and famously pissy author of speculative fiction checked out yesterday at 84.

A winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, Ellison may be best known for “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which many call the best “Star Trek” episode ever. Gene Roddenberry and his drones took the liberty of editing the mortal shit out of his script and Ellison was very much not amused. Legal action followed, as did a settlement, and he eventually released his own version of the script as a book.

He went after and won a settlement from James Cameron, too, saying “The Terminator” nicked bits from two “Outer Limits” episodes he wrote. I always thought that franchise had roots in “I Have No Mouth, & I Must Scream,” a tale of a globe-spanning supercomputer that became self-aware, even godlike, and wiped out the human race, save for a handful of people it kept alive and immortal to torture throughout eternity for blessing it with sentience to no particular purpose.

“He could not wander, he could not wonder, he could not belong. He could merely be.”

“A Boy and his Dog” was another you might know. And there were more, many, many more.

In the foreword to “I Have No Mouth, & I Must Scream,” he called his stories “assaults,” adding: “And science fiction saved me from a life of crime. Honest.”

I hear you there, Harlan. I may not have become a Writer of Stature the way you did, but even swinging a metaphorical bat in the literary bush leagues beats banging on the jailhouse bars. Thanks for doing so much more than “merely be.”

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9 Responses to “R.I.P., Harlan Ellison”

  1. Pat O'Brien Says:

    I have learned something this morning. Thanks! I bought the re-mastered Star Trek blu-ray set, all three seasons, a few months ago. I will have to look up that episode. I will also check the Friend’s of the Library used book store to see if they have any of Harlans work.

    It rained here yesterday! Decent rain, but I’m not sure how much.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Ellison may have hated it, but I thought it was pretty damn good for TV, especially considering when it was made.

      “Star Trek” would have been a very different universe if the Federation had been based in Ellison Wonderland.

  2. mooremediaone Says:

    Thanks for the history, the news feeds about this weren’t as elaborate in their explanation.

    I miss paperback books, just say’n.

  3. khal spencer Says:

    Word, O’G.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Ah, and Boy and his Dog is available in its entirety on the Innertubes. We watched it as undergrads when it came out.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I read a lot of science fiction — pardon, “speculative fiction” — as a sprout, when I should’ve been reading “literature.” I think it greatly colored my outlook, which came to be something about like: “There’s a better world out there somewhere … and we’re unlikely to get there from here.”

  4. Libby Says:

    Thank you for this eloquent and elegant post, Patrick. I was familiar with the name but nothing else.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      You’re welcome, Libby. Ol’ Harlan cranked out a ton of word count and didn’t take no shit from no body.

      “Pay the writer!” he hollered. I’ve had to do that a time or two myself.

      He and Jim Harrison had that in common. Harrison was fond of noting that some Hollywood bigwig had dismissed him once as “just a writer,” as though it were possible to make a movie without one.

      Though, come to think of it, maybe it can be done. You seen all these superhero movies? Like brightly colored widgets stamped out in anonymous factories.

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