Harlan Ellison, a scion of the Golden Age of science fiction, has died at age 84.
Ellison’s work often challenged characterization—and sometimes coherency—even as the author also railed against publishers and media companies that devalued his and others’ contributions.
He leaves behind an astonishingly large oeuvre of books, short stories, TV episodes, published but unproduced screenplays, and lawsuits. His best known work is the original script for “The City on the Edge of Forever” for the original Star Trek series. The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, and others substantially rewrote it, angering Ellison, who later published a version of his original with Roddenberry’s written comments.
In 2009, Ellison sued CBS Paramount Television for 25% of profits from everything related to the episode since 1967, which included a talking Christmas-tree ornament. It was reportedly settled out of court later that year. One of his best-known works, the novella A Boy in His Dog (1969), later made into a movie, features a feral teenager, sexual violence, and a telepathic dog.
An erudite and voluble man, Ellison appeared on talk shows, sci-fi convention panels, in DVD commentary, and even pounding away on a typewriter as part of live events at bookstores, where he wrote new stories on the spot. He was known for a temper, and perhaps as widely disliked as liked, even among his friends. One of his best-known rants appears as part of his biographical film Dreams with Sharp Teeth, in which he explains how media companies pay every professional in the chain of production, but expect free services from writers.
Here are a few of his best-known works.
Dangerous Visions (1967)
This edited anthology, which included 33 stories by past and future award winners, changed the face of science fiction. It introduced grittier themes and sex, and pushed back on the space operas that defined the previous age.
“The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967)
This Star Trek episode (CBS, Netflix) is widely credited with being the best in any of its series. In this episode, the crew lands on a planet with a portal through time created by a long-gone race. Dr. McCoy has accidentally injected himself with a drug that causes temporary madness, leaps through to Earth in 1930, and changes the course of history, eliminating the starship Enterprise. Captain Kirk and second-in-command Spock journey through the gateway to reset the previous timeline, which leads to the death of a critical (but fictional) historical figure played by Joan Collins.
“Jeffty Is Five” (1977)
This short story is about a boy, Jeffty, who never ages beyond five. The story evinces a kind of horror out of the lack of reason or inquiry into why he remains stuck, and why his radio only picks up programs from when he first turned five. Jeffty was based in part on Joshua Andrew Koenig, the son of Star Trek actor Walter Koenig, born in 1968 and who died in 2010 of apparent suicide.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (1967)
The title of this short-story collection story tells of a future in which a computer has managed to kill off all but a few humans, keep them immortal, and torture them eternally. The story has an eerie familiarity to the endless news cycle.
Deathbird Stories (1975)
The title tale from this collection of short stories about the death of old deities reveals that Earth was given over to an angry, insane god. And now, the time has come for humanity to reclaim it and bring itself to an end.