The news came of the death of writer and screenwriter Harlan Ellison: the cause hasn’t been released but he died yesterday in his sleep.
I already wrote a homage to Harlan Ellison on the occasion of his 80th birthday which includes various biographical and bibliographic information. However, it’s more than ever a case where this data can only provide a limited idea of who this author was and what influence he had in the field of science fiction and speculative fiction in general.
Harlan Ellison was very prolific with short fiction so it would take an encyclopedia to offer comprehensive information on his production, estimated at around 1,800 works of short fiction. That’s just the beginning because a crucial part of his career is linked to his often stormy relationships with the people he worked with.
Harlan Ellison also worked extensively on television and his name is also linked to some legendary shows and to some disputes. Among his best-known scripts there’s the one of “Star Trek” original series’ episode “The City on the Edge of Forever” but the version eventually used is very different from the one he wrote. This led to a clash with the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry, who was asked not to use his name, in vain. The Writers Guild somehow agreed with Ellison by awarding his screenplay. He wasn’t a forgiving person so he and Roddenberry didn’t talk to each other for years.
This and other Harlan Ellison’s clashes with producers and publishers were not due to whims but to his belief that he was doing a job that deserved to be respected. He thought he was behaving professionally when he wrote his works and claimed that producers and publishers were to do the same. In recent years his activity dropped considerably but he worked hard for many years and if he felt that someone copied his work he didn’t hesitate to sue them.
Harlan Ellison’s character was certainly not easy but behind his disputes there was an artist who worked in various ways, sometimes not easy to notice immediately. He wrote very few novels so his visibility has always been lesser than that of many colleagues and the fact that he became famous and appreciated for the courage of his works says a lot about his importance in the field of science fiction.