The Amazing Life and Fantastic Times of Harlan Ellison
It’s true, up until a couple of days ago, I didn’t know who Harlan Ellison was. I routinely check the “Recent Deaths” page on Wikipedia, not due to some morbid fascination but more to set a web surf going, something like “Oh that actor who was in that war film has passed away, shame” and I end up visiting wiki pages on actors and writers of today linked with said film. Why am I telling you this? Well it’s because if I hadn’t agreed to write this article on Harlan Ellison, then I would’ve read straight past his listing on the 28th June without any hesitation and I wouldn’t have known about one of the most colourful Sci-Fi writers of the 20th Century.
Harlan was an amazing character, he had an abrasive and argumentative temperament. He certainly stood up for himself but then with the life that he lead in his 84 years, he had a right to have those characteristics. Harlan had more jobs and as colourful a life than anything that could be written in a Hollywood movie, I’d like to think that if they ever did do a film about Harlan, then it would be running at 180 minutes minimum because you couldn’t cram all the important scenarios in his life into any shorter movie.
According to Wikipedia, Harlan had a varying degree of jobs in his early life, Tuna fisherman, Crop-picker, Bodyguard, Short-order Cook, Taxi driver, Lithographer, Book Salesman, Actor, Door-to-Door brush Salesman, and my favourite, Nitro-glycerine Truck Driver. All this before he settled down and started writing.
Harlan had a difficult time with educational authority, he was expelled from Ohio State University for hitting a professor who claimed that Harlan had very little writing capability, and subsequently Harlan spent the next 20 years plaguing the professor with sending him every published article and story he had written. And this is a prime example of how unique Harlan was, he had the strictest confidence in his ability and with that, an abundant imagination. Harlan was ahead of his time, yes it is a lame thing to say but the reality is that he was there in the early stages of Sci-Fi and I am confident that if it wasn’t for Harlan Ellison, then Science-Fiction that we know, love, and immerse ourselves in, wouldn’t be a patch on what it is today. Harlan truly was the pioneer of Science-Fiction. With some of Harlan’s work ending up on the big screen, the small screen, in books and, later in life, audio books (some he read himself). And all of them gaining critical acclaim and awards left and right.
I can’t go on without mentioning the Star Trek connection, Harlan wrote the tele-play for one episode in the first season of the original Star Trek series, The City on the Edge of Forever. It had time travel, romance, character bonding, and tricorders. It was the first time that Kirk, Spock, and Bones went back in time. Some say that this episode instigated my favourite of all the Star Trek movies, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and I’d love to think that was the case. The City on the Edge of Forever was rated as the best of the 79 episodes in the whole seasons of the original series. And we all know what Star Trek has done for our lives, thanks to Gene Roddenbury, it has touched us all, from the drunk guy staggering home to an expected argument with his wife muttering “Beam me up Scotty” to the family that are comic-con mad and dress in authentic first season uniforms, right down to little 3 year old Samuel, understanding and conversing in Klingon. Harlan touched this franchise with his magic.
Digressing away from boldly going where no man has gone before, and back to Harlan and his amazing life. It’s near impossible to detail Harlan’s life in one small article, I just wouldn’t know where to begin, I could tell you about him being fired from his first day working for Disney because he made a derogatory remark in ear shot of a Disney member joking about how much fun it would be to write an animated Disney Porno with all our beloved characters in it. I could tell you about his five marriages, one lasting a matter of weeks, his last marriage being for the last 25 years of his life. I could tell you that he fought very hard for his rights and he wielded the legal stick when needed if he had the slightest inkling that his work was being plagiarised. And I could explain that he had more pseudonyms for his work than Marvel have comic-book characters, notably Cordwainer Smith (I might use a similar based name in the future myself) is just an awesome name. I could tell you that Harlan was convinced that James Cameron plagiarised a story he wrote for The Outer Limits called “Soldier” that influenced Cameron to write Terminator. So, no Harlan, no Arnie and no tagline “I’ll be back!!”. And then there is the novella books, Harlan wrote “Amazing Stories”, “Fantastic Sci-Fi” and an abundance of short stories that would be the subject of a sole article in itself. The screenplays, all of this is crammed in to those 84 years of life.
Harlan Ellison was a raw and immense talent, if it wasn’t for him, the planet would be a greyer place, and in a world where the reality is getting greyer by the day, I’m grateful that Harlan Ellison made my life, and my friends lives more colourful without us ever knowing and respecting the man, I for one respect him now and am grateful to be allowed to write this article, it is a privilege. And dare I say it that if there was no Harlan Allison, then there might possibly be no Cult Faction and Brett Summers could, in an alternative Sci-Fi free reality, be sitting in a train station right now in his anorak, with his flask and notebook getting all unnecessary because a cherished locomotive is about to arrive on platform 2. We have a lot to be grateful to Harlan Ellison for, so if you have a few minutes in your day, pop by Wikipedia and type Harlan Ellison into the search option. It is a thoroughly good read.