"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.
Works by Harlan Ellison with their own trope pages include:
Other famous works:
Things he's famously grumpy about include, but are certainly not limited to:
- "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 Isaac 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. For the record, Ellison's only writing credit on a feature film is The Oscar. He will not thank you for reminding him of it.
- "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 UNCLE: "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.
- 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". Which feeds back into the distinction between "science fiction" and "sci-fi".
- 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".
- 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.
- The mindset that ideas can be trivialized by the medium they're represented in.
- 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, since Harlan was one of Travers' friends. He was also furious that "they turned a warm, conscientious, empathic woman and turned her into an Ice Queen".
- Anything not on this list.
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.
- 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.
- The fate of Kostner in Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes, who is tricked by the soul of a dead prostitute into transferring his soul into the slot machine that previously trapped the woman, leaving him a weary purgatory that will be burned into scrap metal.
Other works by Harlan Ellison provide examples of (subjectives can be found here):
- Adam and Eve Plot (parodied)
- The Anti-Nihilist: A Central Theme in many of his stories, especially "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore."
- The Atoner: "With Virgil Oddum At The East Pole"
- Black and White Morality: Intentionally avoided and openly disparaged by Harlan, who explains how childish and inapplicable to reality it is in his "Luke Skywalker is a Nerd" rant.
"But that's the point! Is the single defense I get when I alienate myself at dinner parties by my negativity. It's supposed to be mindless, I'm told. And then those professional types who are safe in loving Star Wars where they might be attacked for reading the latest Robert Silverberg or Thomas Disch sf novel, explain to me as carefully as one would a retarded child, that Star Wars is a return to the worship of the Eternal Verifies: honor, truth, fighting Evil. All black and white. Try black and white in a world of credit cards, punk rock, mastectomies, Watergate, the rise of homegrown Nazism, Anita Bryant, and the terrifying fact that more than half of all serious crimes in the United States are committed by people between the ages of ten and seventeen—-and that includes rape, murder, robbery, aggravated assault and burglary."
- Blatant Lies
- Boldly Coming: "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?"
- Cursed with Awesome: "Seeing" revolves around a woman whose mutated eyes allow her to see in ways that normal eyes (and brains) can't begin to process. She hates her vision because it's made her life miserable.
- Death by Sex: Implied for humanity as a whole at the end of "How's the Night Life on Cissalda?"
- Development Hell: The Last Dangerous Visions
- Drugs Are Bad: "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin"
- Earn Your Happy Ending: "Paladin of the Lost Hour."
- Earth That Was/Mercy Kill: "The Deathbird".
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: "How Interesting: A Tiny Man".
- Gainax Ending: "How Interesting: A Tiny Man" was published with two possible endings. One is more straight and tragic, the other makes your head hurt as it can almost understand it.
- God Is Evil:
- Probably the best way to explain "The Region Between."
- He wrote a whole collection - Deathbird Stories- around this trope.
- Grand Theft Me: "Mefisto In Onyx". (But done by the protagonist.)
- Humans Are Bastards/Humans Are Morons
- In Medias Res
- Jerkass: He is to writing what Quentin Tarantino is to film - a man with great ideas, but impossible to work with. Case in point, he once managed to get kicked out of a convention at which he was the Guest of Honor.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: For all his faults, he is an outspoken supporter of human rights, often helps out struggling writers and is a fiercely loyal and devoted friend.
- Jewish Mother: Taken to a horrifying extreme in "Mom"—the titular mother comes back as a disembodied voice after she dies just so she can continue nagging her son.
- Large Ham:
- His voice acting in I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. (TEEEEEEEEDDDD!)
- Also, debateably, his whole life. As Neil Gaiman said (In Dreams with Sharp Teeth) "I think all of Harlan's work is actually a giant piece of performance art, called...Harlan Ellison."
- Laugh Track: In-story in "Laugh Track". The ghosts of those whose laughter was recorded are now trapped in it, and one of them gets out and starts jeering at the awful comedies it's being used for. (An explicit comparison is made to the idea of a soul-stealing camera.)
- Magical Negro: Explicitly averted in "Paladin of the Lost Hour" and "Mefisto In Onyx".
- Mind Rape: Made very literal in "Broken Glass"—the antagonist is a telepathic voyeur/rapist who watches the main character's torrid fantasy and then assaults her fantasy version of herself.
- Mind Screw: His latest short "How Interesting: A Tiny Man".
- Missing Episode: The Last Dangerous Visions
- Odd Job Gods: "Deathbird Stories" has several.
- Oh, Crap: The ending of Sleeping Dogs.
- Our Gods Are Greater: "Deathbird Stories" is all about a supposed new pantheon of gods and how they affect the lives of people they encounter.
- Our Werewolves Are Different: "Footsteps"
- Religion of Evil: "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs"
- Rock Monster: The title character of "Rock God"
- Sacred Cow: Considers it nothing less than his mission in life to go after these, heaping sneering contempt on Star Wars, Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings and all those who enjoy them. He does love the Land of Oz books, however, and wrote glowing introductions to the American editions of Doctor Who novelisations.
- Shown Their Work:
- Space Jews: In "I'm Looking For Kadak".
- Unreliable Narrator: Many of his stories about his interactions with Hollywood/other writers have gotten called into question by the rest of the science fiction community. Ellison is one of those people who won't let the truth get in the way of a good story; take anything he says with a salt mine.
- What Could Have Been: His script for a film adaptation of I Robot.
- Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things: Wrote an essay on it (sci fi/fantasy literature, specifically), called "Xenogenesis", which included a number of examples of the awful things that have been done to him and other writers by fans.