Harlan Ellison

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Harlan Ellison, c. 2000

Harlan Jay Ellison (born May 27, 1934) is a prolific writer of short stories, novellas, essays and criticism. His literary and television work has received many awards. He wrote for the original series of Star Trek, edited the award-winning short story anthology series Dangerous Visions and served as creative consultant to the science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (1980s version) and Babylon 5.

A great deal of Ellison's career has been spent within the science fiction genre and community. Most of his most famous stories have been published within that genre, and he has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards. He was also very active in the science fiction community (he was a founder of the Cleveland Science Fiction Society and edited its fanzine as a teenager) and has made appearances at science fiction conventions. However, Ellison is disdainful of the label, explaining that his fiction is closer to surrealist fantasy or magical realism than science fiction. All the same, Ellison has also garnered a controversial reputation, being fiercely protective of his work and of any copyright infringement.


Ellison was born in Cleveland, Ohio, United States, on May 27, 1934. His Jewish-American family subsequently moved to Painesville, Ohio, but returned to Cleveland in 1949 following the death of Ellison's father. Ellison frequently ran away from home, taking odd jobs — including, by his own account, "a tuna fisherman off the coast of Galveston, itinerant crop-picker down in New Orleans, hired gun for a wealthy neurotic, dynamite truck driver in North Carolina, short order cook, cab driver, lithographer, book salesman, floorwalker in a department store, door-to-door brush salesman, and spent ten years as an actor (off and on) with the Cleveland Play House" by the time he was eighteen.

Ellison briefly attended Ohio State University before dropping out. In 1955, Ellison moved to New York City to pursue a writing career, primarily in science fiction. Over the next two years, Ellison published more than 100 short stories and articles.

In 1957, Ellison decided to write about youth gangs. To research the issue, he joined a street gang in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, under the name "Cheech Beldone". His subsequent writings on the subject include the novel Web of the City/Rumble, the collection The Deadly Streets, and comprise part of his nonfiction memoir Memos from Purgatory.

Ellison was drafted into the army and served from 1957 to 1959. Afterwards, living in Chicago, Illinois, Ellison edited Rogue magazine. As a book editor at Regency Books, Ellison published novels and anthologies by such writers as B. Traven, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch and Philip José Farmer.

He moved to California in 1962, and subsequently began to sell scripts to such television shows as Burke's Law, Route 66, The Outer Limits, Star Trek and Cimarron Strip. His novella Memos from Purgatory was adapted into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Ellison's scripts "Demon With a Glass Hand" (for The Outer Limits) and "The City on the Edge of Forever" (for Star Trek) won Best Original Teleplay awards from the Writer's Guild of America.

During the late 1960s, Ellison wrote a column about television for the Los Angeles Free Press. Titled The Glass Teat, the column addressed political and social issues and their portrayal on television at the time. The columns have been reprinted in two collections, The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat.

He continued to publish short pieces, fiction and nonfiction, in various publications, and some of his most famous stories were written in this period. "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman" is a celebration of civil disobedience against repressive authority. "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" is an allegory of Hell, where five humans are tormented by an all-knowing computer throughout eternity. "A Boy and his Dog" examines the nature of friendship and love in a violent, post-Apocalypse world. A Boy and His Dog was made into a film in 1975 starring Don Johnson.

He has won the Hugo Award eight and a half times; the Nebula Award three times; the Bram Stoker Award, presented by the Horror Writers Association, five times (including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996); the Edgar Allen Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America twice; the Georges Melies fantasy film award twice; and was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN, the international writers' union. He was presented with the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Guild at the 1995 World Horror Convention. He is also the only author in Hollywood ever to win the Writers' Guild of America Award for Most Outstanding Teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for "Paladin of the Lost Hour" in 1987. In March 1998, the National Women's Committee of Brandeis University honored him with their 1998 Words, Wit, Wisdom award. In 1990, Ellison was honored by International PEN for continuing commitment to artistic freedom and the battle against censorship.

A rather famous and popular film can also be credited to Ellison, though he had to go to court for it. Some aspects of the story for "The Terminator" were sufficiently similar to two episodes of the TV series The Outer Limits — both episodes written by Harlan Ellison — that Ellison sued James Cameron. James Cameron admitted in an interview that Ellison's work inspired the movie. Cameron settled out of court and acknowledged Ellison's work in the film's credits with the end credit stating simply: "Acknowledgement to the works of Harlan Ellison." The episodes in question were called "Soldier" and "Demon With A Glass Hand".

"I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" was turned into a computer game with Ellison providing the voice of the of the god-computer AM.

He also edited the extremely influential science fiction anthology Dangerous Visions (1967), which collected stories commissioned by Ellison, accompanied by his commentary-laden biographical sketches of the authors. He challenged the authors to write stories at the edge of the genre, and Dangerous Visions is widely considered the greatest and most influential SF anthology of all time. Many of the stories went beyond the traditional boundaries of science fiction pioneered by respected old school editors such as John W. Campbell, Jr. As an editor, Ellison was influenced and inspired by experimentation in the popular literature of the time, such as the beats. A sequel, Again Dangerous Visions, was published in 1972. A third volume, The Last Dangerous Visions, has yet to see print, and the delay has created some controversy (see below).

The screenplay for his projected television series The Starlost was also given a Writers Guild Award, though the actual series was so altered by the producers that Ellison had his name removed from the credits. Ellison was the first writer to win this award three times.

Ellison served as creative consultant to the science fiction TV series The Twilight Zone (1980s version) and Babylon 5. As a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he has voiceover credits for shows including Pirates of Darkwater, Mother Goose and Grimm, Space Cases, Phantom 2040, and Babylon 5, as well as making an onscreen appearance in the Babylon 5 episode "The Face of the Enemy" (Episode: #4.17).

For two years beginning in 1986, Ellison took over as host of the radio program Hour 25 on KPFK after the death of Mike Hodel, the show's founder and original host. It has been reported that his inadverdant use of an expletive on air caused his departure from the show.

Ellison's 1992 novelette "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore" was selected for inclusion in the 1993 edition of The Best American Short Stories.

He was hired as a writer for Walt Disney Studios, but was fired on his first day after being overheard by Roy O. Disney in the studio commissary joking about making a pornographic animated film featuring Disney characters. He recounted this incident in his book Stalking the Nightmare, as part 3 of a section entitled "The 3 Most Important Things in Life".

He does all his writing on portable, manual Olympia typewriter.

He is currently married to Susan—his fifth wife—and they live in Los Angeles, California.

In 1994 he suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for quadruple bypass surgery.


Ellison has a reputation, justified or not, for being abrasive and rude, and he is fiercely litigious.

These traits have attracted a degree of controversy, especially among science fiction and fantasy fans. His friend Isaac Asimov remarked of Ellison that "Harlan uses his gifts for colorful and variegated invective on those who irritate him—intrusive fans, obdurate editors, callous publishers, offensive strangers." His outspoken ways obtained him a spot on the fledgling Sci-Fi Channel where he was given an opportunity to express his views on whatever he chose to talk about. Ellison's segments, of which some transcripts are available, were broadcast from 1994 to 1997. (This was in itself somewhat ironic, as one of Ellison's most vocal peeves over the years has been the use of the phrase "sci-fi" as verbal shorthand for his preferred "science fiction.")

As Guest of Honor at the 1978 WorldCon (Iguanacon) in Phoenix, Arizona, Ellison vowed that he would not spend a penny in a state which had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. During the convention, he used a recreational vehicle instead of staying in a convention hotel. He was also a participant in the 1965 March from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King, Jr..

The Last Dangerous Visions, the third volume of the anthology series, has become something of a legend in science fiction as the genre's most famous unpublished book. Originally announced for publication in 1973, other work demanded Ellison's attention and the anthology has not seen print to date. He has come under criticism for his treatment of some writers who submitted their stories to him, of which some estimate to be nearly 150 (many of the authors have died in the subsequent three decades since the anthology was first announced). In 1993 Ellison threatened to sue New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) for publishing Himself in Anachron, a short story written by Cordwainer Smith and sold to Ellison for the book by his widow, [1] but later reached an amicable settlement. [2] Noted British SF author Christopher Priest has critiqued Ellison's editorial practices in a widely-disseminated article titled The Book on the Edge of Forever. [3] Priest documented a half-dozen instances in which Ellison promised TLDV would appear within a year of the statement, but of course those promises were unfulfilled. Ellison has a record of fulfilling obligations in other instances, including to writers whose stories he solicited, and has expressed outrage at other editors who have displayed poor practices. This high demand on the ethics of others, however, has not resulted in Ellison returning TLDV stories to their authors or their estates.

In the 1980s, there was a widely-publicized incident in which Ellison allegedly assaulted author and critic Charles Platt at the Nebula Awards banquet over a critical comment Platt made about a dying editor while the editor was being honored at a convention. Platt did not pursue legal action against Ellison, and the two men signed a "non-aggression pact" later, promising never to discuss the incident again or have any contact with one another. In later years, however, Ellison often publicly boasted about the incident. Platt, too, has been less than absolute in adhering to the agreement. This story is apocryphal and without any substantiation by those who claim it happened; i.e., court case numbers, documentation, etc.

Ellison has on occasion used the pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" to alert members of the public to situations in which he feels his creative contribution to a project has been mangled beyond repair by others, typically Hollywood producers or studios. (See, e.g., Alan Smithee.) The "Cordwainer Bird" moniker is a tribute to fellow SF writer Paul M. A. Linebarger, better known by his pen name, Cordwainer Smith. The origin of the word "cordwainer" is shoemaker (from working with cordovan leather for shoes). The term used by Linebarger was meant to imply the industriousness of the pulp author. Ellison has said, in interviews and in his writing, that his version of the pseudonym was meant to mean "a shoemaker for birds". Since he has used the pseudonym mainly for works he wants to distance himself from, it may be understood to mean that "this work is for the birds". Stephen King once said he thought that it meant that Ellison was giving people who mangled his work a literary version of "the bird".

Ellison recently gained attention for his April 24, 2000 lawsuit against Stephen Robertson for posting four of his stories to the Usenet newsgroup alt.binaries.e-book without authorization. Included as defendants in the lawsuit were AOL and RemarQ, internet service providers whose involvement was running Usenet servers carrying the group in question and for failing to stop the alleged copyright infringers in accordance with the "Notice and Takedown Procedure" outlined in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Robertson and RemarQ settled the lawsuit with Ellison, though he pressed on with his suit against AOL. The AOL suit was settled in June 2004 under conditions which were not made public.

Books of short stories


Published screenplays and teleplays

See also Phoenix without Ashes, the novelization by Edward Bryant of the screenplay for the pilot episode of The Starlost, which includes a lengthy afterword by Ellison describing what happened in the production of that series.


Anthologies edited

Selected short stories

Awards won

Bradbury award

The Bradbury Award in 2000 went to Harlan Ellison and Yuri Rasovsky.

Bram Stoker Award

Hugo Award

Locus Poll Award

Nebula Award

Additional reading

External links


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