Harlan Ellison died in his sleep early yesterday. An extremely prolific writer of speculative fiction, he had, by his own estimate, written nearly 2000 essays, scripts, and short stories. I was a fan of his for two main reasons. The first, was that he was, by all accounts, a pain in the ass. He was brilliant, and he knew it, which is usually all it takes. He penned an episode of Star Trek in 1967 called “”The City on the Edge of Forever” which was and remains regarded as one of the best episodes of the show to ever air. The episode won awards. The shooting script for the episode, however, contained several edits by Gene Roddenberry, yet Ellison was the only name on the writing credits for the show. This pissed him off and was the beginning of a decades-long fight with Roddenberry. He eventually sued in 2009 and won an undisclosed amount from Paramount studios. He would go on to sue James Cameron for stealing the idea of The Terminator from him, and he won that one too. Harlan Ellison was fired from Disney Studios after one day of work for wanting to make a porn starring Disney’s animated characters.
The second reason that I was an Ellison fan was his wonderful habit of showing up at bookstores in the morning, setting up a table and his typewriter in the storefront window, and writing a story to completion by the close of business, sticking finished paged (which rarely showed any kind of correction or revision) onto the window as he completed each one. People began accusing him of already having the idea and the story prewritten, so he began asking people for ideas. Robin Williams gave him nothing more than the phrase “computer vampyre,” which was enough to inspire Ellison to write the story “Keyboard.” I regret to have missed one of his store-front writing days at the Booksmith in San Francisco by one day in 1994.
He was 84.