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Creator: Harlan Ellison

"Darkness falls early. From the horizon comes the wail of creatures pretending to be human. The red tide has come in, and shapeless things float toward the shore. He stands before the altar of Art, naked and with fists raised, and he vows: I will not be lied to.

Hello. My name is Harlan Ellison and I am a writer."

Introductory paragraphs of Ellison's first An Edge In My Voice column

Harlan Ellison® (yes, he's made his own name a registered trademark) is a famously grumpy science fiction wri- erm, that is, writer, who is strongly associated with the New Wave Science Fiction movement of the 1960s. His work has won eight and a half Hugo Awards, three Nebula Awards (plus a lifetime achievement award), five Bram Stoker Awards (including a lifetime achievement award), two Edgar Awards, and four Writers Guild of America Awards for Most Outstanding Teleplay — more awards than almost any other living writer — but it's his personality that everybody remembers about him. For some reason.

He suffered severe Internet Backdraft when he groped Connie Willis in public (to many of his fans, a serious What the Hell, Hero?, considering his well-known loathing of sexists; Ellison himself has described it as a failed attempt to cross the line twice).

Works by Harlan Ellison with their own trope pages include:

Other famous works:

  • "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "Soldier", episodes of The Outer Limits. James Cameron used them as the basis of creating The Terminator (by accident, so Jim claims), and Ellison caught him red handed and got a cash settlement and an official acknowledgment in the credits.
  • "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman", Hugo- and Nebula-Award-winning 1965 short story. Which, he writes in an intro to the story in [not sure what anthology], that he wrote it all in one sitting, the night before he had to hand it in for a writing-workshop.
  • "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream", Hugo-Award-winning 1967 short story and the 1995 computer game based on it, which he wrote and starred in as the voice of AM.
  • Editor of Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions, ground-breaking sf anthologies published 1967 and 1972; The Last Dangerous Visions was announced in 1973, and he still insists that he'll get around to releasing it one of these days.
  • "The City on the Edge of Forever", Hugo-Award-winning 1967 episode of Star Trek: The Original Series
  • "The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World", Hugo-Award-winning 1968 short story
  • "A Boy and His Dog", Nebula-Award-winning 1969 short story made into Hugo-Award-winning 1974 film
  • Phoenix Without Ashes, a screenplay written in 1972, which became the 1973 TV series The Starlost. The series suffered so badly from Executive Meddling that he insisted on being credited only under a derisive pseudonym. ("By Cordwainer Bird" means you know it's a turd!). With Edward Bryant, it was expanded into a novel shortly after; and in 2010, the original screenplay was adapted into a comic book miniseries.
  • Harlan Ellison's Watching, a movie review column for the Los Angeles Free Press and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
  • The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat, a two-book collection of television and social criticism.
  • Was hired by Warner Bros. in the late 1970s to write a film adaptation of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot; the script (which is available in book format) is highly-regarded by those who have read it, but the project fell apart after Ellison accused a studio exec of having the intellectual capacity of an artichoke. Isaac Asimov loved the script, and it was most certainly Truer To The Text than the actual I, Robot. Ellison considers it nothing less than one of the great tragedies of his life that the film was never made, and his dear friend Issac never got to see it.
  • Was also given a crack at the script for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. His take forced the Enterprise crew to choose whether to destroy an alternate universe in order to rescue their own, but (as usual) an executive wanted to toss in his own two cents - in this case, a good deal of space-Mayan mysticism. Ellison told him to go soak his head, and the script was eventually written by another writer.
  • "Jeffty is Five", a Hugo- and Nebula-Award-winning 1977 short story.
  • Conceptual consultant on Babylon 5 (and made a couple of guest appearances)
  • "Funny Money", collected in Batman: Black And White Vol.2. Find it. Borrow, steal, kill. FIND IT.
  • Spider Kiss (aka Rockabilly), a 1961 novel about a sociopathic teen idol and the publicist who has to keep the singer's drunken rampages out of the scandal sheets. His only full-length novel, and also the only novel given a spot in the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Two third season episodes of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: "The Sort of Do-it-Yourself Dreadful Affair" (Season 03, Ep. 02) and "The Pieces of Fate Affair" (Season 03, Ep. 23). The latter was, for a long time, the series' "Missing Episode", as Ellison had unwisely parodied a number of his literary acquaintances, and used several friends' names for characters, resulting in a lawsuit against Ellison and the removal of the episode from syndication packages until 1985. (Ironically, the friends themselves didn't have a problem with it!)
  • A still unproduced and recently published TV pilot script The Dark Forces which Ellison describes as his version of Doctor Strange.

Things he's famously grumpy about include, but are certainly not limited to:
  • People who discount all science fiction as being no better than the worst of film and TV sci fi ("that hunchbacked, gimlet-eyed, slobbering village idiot of a bastardized genre").
    • In fact, as of Dream Corridor, he hates the label "science fiction writer", which he sees as too limited, and really doesn't like the label "sci-fi writer".
  • People who ask him about the jellybeans in "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman".
    • Which were lampshaded in the story itself.
  • People who ask him when The Last Dangerous Visions is going to be published.
  • Similarities between his Outer Limits episodes and the film Terminator, which led to a lawsuit and a credit for him in subsequent releases of the movie.
  • The changes made to his script for "The City on the Edge of Forever" before it was filmed. It's worth remembering that his original version of the script won him one of his Writers Guild of America Awards — but on the other hand, it was the final broadcast version of the episode that won the Hugo. (It's also been suggested that his version of the episode, had it been filmed, would have murdered the budget and then been murdered in turn by Standards and Practices.)
    • William Shatner said he attempted to talk to Ellison during the ordeal to try and calm things down. According to Shatner, Ellison responded by yelling at him.
    • Apparently Paramount has taken the tactic of declaring most, if not all, elements of the story off-limits for the Expanded Universe after Ellison sued them (and the Writers Guild of America) for 25% of the royalties for every time they were used from 1967-2009. Paramount settled out of court.
    • Ellison's own book about the controversy includes both versions of the script. Comparing both, one is reminded of the words of J. Michael Straczynski, with whom Ellison would later work on Babylon 5; "You wait a week or two, then the writer comes in, and you expect to hear a great story about your characters... And what you get is a story about an outside character who comes in and has adventures, a story in which your regular characters are passive participants or downright irrelevant."
  • The Starlost.
  • Penny Arcade.
  • Star Wars, because people consider it a good science fiction story but it doesn't really examine the effect of the setting on humanity as a whole. He also feels that the film has no humanity or soul, and feels it "keeps people stupid" and ruined the public cultural perception of science fiction. It's especially evident in his infamous rant "Luke Skywalker is a Nerd and Darth Vader sucks runny eggs", collected in his book "Watching".
  • His height.
  • Jesse Jubilee James, firefighting llama cowboy.
    • Which was more than justified, considering that what this Janna person did was, for all intents and purposes, Mind Rape one of his friends. For nearly 2 years.
  • Racism, as best illustrated in "From Alabamy, With Hate".
  • Anything not on this list.
  • The longtime blackballing of A.E. van Vogt for the SFWA Grand Master Award. note 
  • Cultural illiteracy.
  • Snopes (possibly because they relayed the rumor about his being fired from Disney).
  • Mistreatment of writers by studios. Which is ironic, because he also is rather contemptuous of TV.
  • Attempts to persuade him that he should do something for free that he feels entitled to be paid for.
  • This movie. Ask him about it if you get the chance.
  • Wikipedia. He terms it "dangerous and hurtful crap".
  • The film Saving Mr. Banks, which hit rather close to home for him by falsely portraying PL Travers as approving of the film adaptation of Mary Poppins.

Harlan Ellison isn't really grumpy all the time, and he does have friends, and there are also stories demonstrating that he's capable of being a wonderful human being. He also appeared as a grumpy caricature of himself in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, giving a lecture that concluded "... and that's why nothing good has been written since the 1970s". The stories about Grumpy Harlan Ellison are a lot funnier, though (example: allegedly once mailing an executive roadkill — fourth class — along with a recipe for gopher stew).

For an in-depth look at the man's genius, madness, and general assholery, check out the documentary on his life and career: Dreams with Sharp Teeth. The film features commentary by Robin Williams, Neil Gaiman, Ronald D. Moore and others who have known, worked with, or have been influenced by Ellison and his writings.


Trope Namer:

  • And I Must Scream:
    • The eventual fate of the last living human character in the titular work, reduced to a mobile protoplasmic blob.
    • The fate of the antagonist in "Broken Glass", as his mind is trapped in continuous torture inside the mind of the main character, leaving him in a vegetative state in the real world.

Other works by Harlan Ellison provide examples of (subjectives can be found here):


Anne McCaffreyDamon Knight Memorial Grand Master AwardMichael Moorcock
R. A. LaffertyWorld Fantasy AwardJack Williamson
Greg EganSpeculative Fiction Creator IndexM.C. Escher
Bret Easton EllisAuthorsJames Ellroy

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