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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Harlan Ellison and the Amazing Arrogance Machine

So, apparently Harlan Ellison is a complete dick.

For those unfamiliar, Harlan Ellison is a writer of fiction and comic books, mostly in the realm of Science Fiction (but don't call it sci-fi - he hates it when you call it Sci-Fi), or "speculative fiction," as he likes to call it.

I was first introduced to Ellison through a book at my high school's library. "Six Science Fiction Plays" included Ellison's original script for the most famous Star Trek episode of all, "City on the Edge of Forever." It had space drugs. It had a secondary character who turns out to not be important at all. And there were future space pirates, too. I don't judge 'em folks, I just tell 'em.

It also included a rambling introduction by Ellison in which he claims that the producers ruined his script by having Kirk let Edith Keeler SPOILER ALERT die. Yeah, because you can really let Star Trek continue by fucking up history and having the Nazis win WW2. In Ellison's script, Kirk was supposed to suddenly forget about saving the universe, and it had to take Spock to physically stop him from saving Edith Keeler. The characterisation that was necessary to achieve this result involved Spock behaving like an ass-hat throughout, and Kirk attempting to sacrifice billions of lives for his own sake.

The changes that Roddenberry et al had to make made the episode thought-provoking and poignant. It made you ask: is one man really so powerful? Can the death of one person affect history to such an extent? If time travel is possible, how do we deal with questions of free will, or good and evil, or individualism and the tyranny of the common good? In a world where time travel is possible, there is no easy morality - sometimes, great evil actually leads to great good. And how do you behave as a hero in that situation? As Daniel Greenfield wrote in "Star Trek and the City on the Edge of Forever Controversy" at :

...the story is devoid of heroes and villains, but focuses squarely on the terrible decisions that have to be made for time to roll on as it does.

The episode, as scripted by Ellison, was too simplistic, and didn't take into account this altered morality. It also depicted Kirk and Spock as behaving completely out of character. Thus, it was changed. And Ellison has been bitching about it ever since, even in a book called "Harlan Ellison's City on the Edge of Forever," described thusly by Greenfield:

In it Harlan Ellison would repeat the thesis that "The City on the Edge of Forever" was the greatest Star Trek episode, something for which he took credit for, and that its butchery was a crime against literature. Bolstering his claim with cartoons and pop culture references and letters to TV Guide, Harlan Ellison shifts from argument to tirade and back in the blink of an eye, the vast bulk of it directed at Roddenberry until he finally lambastes Gene Roddenberry for dying before the book could be published. (Emphasis mine)

Ellison has also apparently violated the terms of a prior lawsuit with Fantagraphics books, by refusing to post

...the 500 word Statement by Gary Groth that Harlan Ellison agreed to run on his website — unedited and unaltered — according to the settlement agreement signed by both parties... (The Comics Jounal)

And there's this, of course:

Harlan Ellison groping Connie Willis on stage at the Hugos wasn't funny and it wasn't okay. I understand (from third parties; I haven't spoken to her about it) that Connie Willis's position is that Ellison has done worse and she can handle him, but I really didn't want to watch it and neither, I think, did a lot of other people in the audience. Up to then the comedic schtick aspects of the Hugo presentation had been genuinely funny. After that, I think, many of us just wanted it all to stop. (Patrick Nielson Hayden,

Now, there's this news: SPOILER ALERT (regarding the new Star Trek film) a "leak" about the plot of the new movie claims that the "Guardian of Forever" is involved. Ellison has gotten his panties twisted into a bunch once more, claiming that he owns all of the elements created for the episode. Technically, he doesn't: the "Guardians of Forever," as written in Ellison's script, were bald headed aliens who guarded the portal. In the televised script, this has been altered to be the portal itself. It's movie magic! He did, indeed, create Edith Keeler - but Edith Keeler isn't in this movie. This wouldn't be an issue if Harlan was trying to get residuals for his episode (say, in a method like his buddies in the WGA are doing as we speak), but instead he's trying to assert total ownership over something that was heavily reworked by Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman - something that he claims, over and over again, to have nothing to do with. And did I mention he's a total dick?

This is not to say that he isn't a good writer. I'm judging the man, not his work. Honestly, I haven't read anything by Ellison other than the script in that book I picked up so long ago (about 6 years, methinks), so I can't comment - I just know I won't be buying them, because I don't want him to receive any royalties or residuals by way of my wallet.

Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. He is, after all, lawsuit-happy. And crotchety.

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