Ellison, Harlan 1934–
Ellison, Harlan 1934–
(Lee Archer, a house pseudonym, Phil "Cheech" Beldone, a house pseudonym, Cordwainer Bird, Jay Charby, Robert Courtney, a house pseudonym, Price Curtis, a house pseudonym, Wallace Edmondson, a house pseudonym, Landon Ellis, a house pseudonym, Harlan Jay Ellison, Sley Harson, a house pseudonym, Ellis Hart, E.K. Jarvis, a house pseudonym, Ivar Jorgensen, a house pseudonym, Alan Maddern, a house pseudonym, Paul Merchant, Clyde Mitchell, a joint pseudonym, Nabrah Nosille, a house pseudonym, Bert Parker, a house pseudonym, Ellis Robertson, a joint pseudonym, Jay Solo, Derry Tiger, a house pseudonym)
PERSONAL: Born May 27, 1934, in Cleveland, OH; son of Louis Laverne (a dentist and jeweler) and Serita (Rosenthal) Ellison; married Charlotte B. Stein, February 19, 1956 (divorced, 1959); married Billie Joyce Sanders, November 13, 1961 (divorced, 1962); married Lory Patrick, January 30, 1965 (divorced, 1965); married Lori Horwitz, June 5, 1976 (divorced, 1977); married Susan Toth, 1986. Education: Attended Ohio State University, 1953–54.
ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 55548, Sherman Oaks, CA 91413-0548. Agent—Richard Curtis Associates, Inc., 171 East 74th St., New York, NY 10021.
CAREER: Freelance writer, 1954–. Part-time actor at Cleveland Playhouse, Cleveland, OH, 1944–49; editor, Rogue (magazine), 1959–60; founder and editor, Regency Books, 1961–62. Editorial commentator, Canadian Broadcasting Co. (CBC), 1972–78; president of Kilimanjaro Corp., Sherman Oaks, CA, 1979–. Creator of weekly television series (sometimes under pseudonym Cordwainer Bird), including The Starlost, syndicated, 1973, Brillo (with Ben Bova), American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. (ABC), 1974, and The Dark Forces (with Larry Brody), National Broadcasting Corporation, Inc. (NBC), 1986; creative consultant and director of television series (sometimes under pseudonym Cordwainer Bird), including The Twilight Zone, Columbia Broadcasting Systems, Inc. (CBS), 1984–85, and Cutter's World, 1987–88; conceptual consultant, Babylon 5, syndicated, beginning 1993. Host of cable magazine show, Sci-Fi Buzz, the Sci-Fi Channel, 1993; host of radio series Beyond 2000, National Public Radio (NPR), 2000; actor and voice-over talent. Has lectured at various universities, including Yale Political Union, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, London School of Economics, Michigan State University, University of California—Los Angeles, Duke University, Ohio State University, and New York University. West Coast spokesman, Chevrolet GEO Imports, 1988–89. Member of board of advisors, Great Expectations (video dating service). Military service: U.S. Army, 1957–59.
MEMBER: Science Fiction Writers of America (co-founder; vice president, 1965–66), Writers Guild of America (former member of board of directors for West chapter), Screen Actors Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Writers Guild of America Award, 1965, for Outer Limits television series episode "Demon with a Glass Hand," 1967, for original teleplay of Star Trek television series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," 1973, for original teleplay of Starlost television pilot episode "Phoenix without Ashes," and 1986, for Twilight Zone television series episode "Paladin of the Lost Hour"; Nebula Awards, Science Fiction Writers of America, best short story, 1965, for "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," and 1977, for "Jeffty Is Five," best novella, 1969, for A Boy and His Dog; Hugo Awards, World Science Fiction Convention, best short fiction, 1965, for "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman," best short story, 1967, for "I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream," 1968, for "The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World," 1977, for "Jeffty Is Five," and 1986, for "Paladin of the Lost Hour," best dramatic presentation, 1967, for Star Trek television series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever," and 1976, for film A Boy and His Dog, best novelette, 1973, for "The Deathbird," 1974, for "Adrift, Just Off the Islets of Langerhans… "; special plaques from the World Science Fiction Convention, 1968, for Dangerous Visions: Thirty-three Original Stories, and 1972, for Again, Dangerous Visions: Forty-six Original Stories; Nova Award, 1968, for most outstanding contribution to the field of science fiction; Locus Awards, Locus (magazine), best short fiction, 1970, for "The Region Between," 1972, for "Basilisk," 1973, for "The Deathbird," 1975, for "Croatoan," 1977, for "Jeffty Is Five," 1978, for "Count the Clock That Tells the Time," 1985, for "With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole," and 1988, for "Eiddons," best original anthology, 1972, for Again, Dangerous Visions, and 1986, for Medea: Harlan's World, best novelette, 1974, for "Adrift, Just Off the Islets of Langerhans…," 1982, for "Djinn, No Chaser," 1985, for "Paladin of the Lost Hour," and 1988, for "The Function of Dream Sleep," best nonfiction, 1984, for Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed, best short story collection, 1988, for Angry Candy; Jupiter Awards, Instructors of Science Fiction in Higher Education, best novelette, 1973, for "The Deathbird," and best short story, 1977, for "Jeffty Is Five"; Bram Stoker Awards, Horror Writers of America, 1988, for The Essential Ellison: A Thirty-five Year Retrospective, and 1990, for Harlan Ellison's Watching; Edgar Allan Poe Awards, Mystery Writers of America, 1974, for "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs," and 1988, for "Soft Monkey"; PEN International Silver Pen award for journalism, 1988, for column "An Edge in My Voice"; Angry Candy was named one of the major works of American literature by Encyclopedia Americana Annual, 1988; World Fantasy Awards, best short story collection, 1989, for Angry Candy, and 1993, for lifetime achievement; honored by PEN for continuing commitment to artistic freedom and battle against censorship, 1990; inducted into Swedish National Encyclopedia, 1992; selection of short story "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus to Freedom" for inclusion in The Best American Short Stories, 1993; nominated for Nebula Award, 1993, for "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus to Freedom," and 1994 for novella Mefisto in Onyx; recipient of Milford Award for lifetime achievement in editing; Bradbury Award, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, 2000.
SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
The Deadly Streets, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1958.
(Under pseudonym Paul Merchant) Sex Gang, Night-stand (San Diego, CA), 1959.
A Touch of Infinity, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1960.
Children of the Streets, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1961, also published as The Juvies.
Gentleman Junkie, and Other Stories of the Hung-Up Generation, Regency Books (Evanston, IL), 1961.
Ellison Wonderland, Paperback Library (New York, NY), 1962.
Paingod, and Other Delusions (includes "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman"), Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1965.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (also see below), Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1967.
From the Land of Fear, Belmont (New York, NY), 1967.
Love Ain't Nothing But Sex Misspelled, Trident (New York, NY), 1968.
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World (includes novella A Boy and His Dog), Avon (New York, NY), 1969.
Over the Edge: Stories from Somewhere Else, Belmont (New York, NY), 1970.
Alone against Tomorrow: Stories of Alienation in Speculative Fiction, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1971, abridged editions published as All the Sounds of Fear, Panther (London, England), 1973, and The Time of the Eye, Panther (London, England), 1974.
(With others) Partners in Wonder: SF Collaborations with Fourteen Other Wild Talents, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1971.
Approaching Oblivion: Road Signs on the Treadmill toward Tomorrow, Walker & Co. (New York, NY), 1974.
Deathbird Stories: A Pantheon of Modern Gods (includes "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs"; also see below), Harper (New York, NY), 1975.
No Doors, No Windows, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1975.
Harlan! Harlan Ellison Reads Harlan Ellison (sound recording), Alternate World Recordings, 1976.
Approaching Oblivion: Road Signs on the Treadmill toward Tomorrow: Eleven Uncollected Stories, Millington (London, England), 1976.
Strange Wine: Fifteen New Stories from the Nightside of the World, Harper (New York, NY), 1978.
The Illustrated Harlan Ellison, edited by Byron Preiss, Baronet (New York, NY), 1978.
The Fantasies of Harlan Ellison, Gregg (Boston, MA), 1979.
Shatterday (also see below), Houghton (New York, NY), 1980.
Stalking the Nightmare, Phantasia Press (Huntington Woods, MI), 1982.
Harlan Ellison Reads Jeffty Is Five (sound recording), Harlan Ellison Record Collection, 1982.
Prince Myshkin, and Hold the Relish (sound recording), Harlan Ellison Record Collection, 1982.
Loving Reminiscences of the Dying Gasp of the Pulp Era (sound recording), Harlan Ellison Record Collection, 1982.
I'm Looking for Kadak (sound recording), Harlan Ellison Record Collection, 1982.
On the Road with Ellison (sound recording), Harlan Ellison Record Collection, 1983.
The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World (sound recording), Harlan Ellison Record Collection, 1983.
The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, Bluejay Books (New York, NY), 1984.
On the Downhill Side (sound recording), H. Ellison, 1984.
Ellison Wonderland, Bluejay Books (New York, NY), 1984.
The Essential Ellison: A Thirty-five Year Retrospective, edited by Terry Dowling, with Richard Delap and Gil Lamont, with an introduction by Dowling, Nemo Press (Omaha, NE), 1986.
The Harlan Ellison Roast (sound recording), Kilimanjaro Corp. (London, England), 1986.
Angry Candy, Houghton (New York, NY), 1988.
Dreams with Sharp Teeth (includes revised editions of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Deathbird Stories, and Shatterday), Book-of-the-Month-Club (New York, NY), 1991.
Spider Kiss, Armchair Detective Library (New York, NY), 1991.
Mind Fields: The Art of Jacek Yerka, the Fiction of Harlan Ellison, Morpheus International (Beverly Hills, CA), 1994.
Slippage: Precariously Poised, Previously Uncollected Stories, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1994.
Mind Fields: Thirty Short Stories Inspired by the Art of Jacek Yerka, illustrated by Jacek Yerka, Morpheus (Beverly Hills, CA), 1994.
Chanuka Lights 1995 (sound recording), NPR, 1995.
Edgeworks, four volumes, White Wolf Pub. (Clarkston, GA), 1996–97.
Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman: The Classic Story, illustrated by Rick Berry, Underwood Books (Novato, CA), 1997.
(Author of introduction) The Outer Limits: Armageddon Dreams, Quadrillion Media (Scottsdale, AZ), 2000.
Contributor to The HR Giger Screen Saver (computer file), by H.R. Giger, Cyberdreams, 1995. Contributor of short story to I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream: The Official Strategy Guide, by Mel Odom, Prima (Rocklin, CA), 1995. Also contributor of over eleven hundred short stories, some under pseudonyms, to numerous publications, including Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Ariel, Twilight Zone, Cosmopolitan, Datamation, Omni, Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Analog, Heavy Metal, and Galaxy.
Rumble, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1958, published as Web of the City, 1975.
The Man with Nine Lives (also see below) [and] A Touch of Infinity (stories), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1960.
The Sound of a Scythe (originally published as The Man with Nine Lives), Ace Books (New York, NY), 1960.
Spider Kiss, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1961, also published as Rockabilly.
Doomsman (bound with Telepower by Lee Hoffman), Belmont (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted (bound with The Thief of Thoth by Lin Carter), 1972.
(With Edward Bryant) The Starlost #1: Phoenix without Ashes, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1975.
All the Lies That Are My Life, Underwood-Miller (Novato, CA), 1980.
Footsteps, illustrated by Ken Snyder, Footsteps Press (Round Top, NY), 1989.
Run for the Stars (bound with Echoes of Thunder by Jack Dann and Jack C. Haldeman II), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Mefisto in Onyx (novella), Mark V. Ziesing Books (Shingletown, CA), 1993.
Memos from Purgatory: Two Journeys of Our Times, Regency Books (Evanston, IL), 1961.
The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion on the Subject of Television, Ace Books (New York, NY), 1970.
The Other Glass Teat: Further Essays of Opinion on Television, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1975.
The Book of Ellison, edited by Andrew Porter, Algol Press (Brooklyn, NY), 1978.
Sleepless Nights in the Procrustean Bed, edited by Marty Clark, Borgo (San Bernardino, CA), 1984.
An Edge in My Voice, Donning (Norfolk, VA), 1985.
Harlan Ellison's Watching, Underwood-Miller (Novato, CA), 1989.
The Harlan Ellison Hornbook (autobiographical), Penzler (New York, NY), 1990.
Dangerous Visions: Thirty-three Original Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
Nightshade and Damnations: The Finest Stories of Gerald Kersh, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1968.
Again, Dangerous Visions: Forty-six Original Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1972.
(With others, and contributor) Medea: Harlan's World (includes "With Virgil Oddum at the East Pole"), Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
EDITOR; "DISCOVERY" SERIES OF FIRST NOVELS
James Sutherland, Stormtrack, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1974.
Marta Randall, Islands, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1976.
Terry Carr, The Light at the End of the Universe, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1976.
Arthur Byron Cones, Autumn Angels, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1976.
Bruce Sterling, Involution Ocean, Pyramid Books (New York, NY), 1977.
(With Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene) The Oscar (based on the novel by Richard Sale), Embassy, 1966.
Harlan Ellison's Movie: An Original Screenplay, Twentieth Century-Fox, Mirage Press (Baltimore, MD), 1990.
(With Isaac Asimov) I, Robot: The Illustrated Screen-play (see also below), Warner (New York, NY), 1994.
Also author of screenplays Would You Do It for a Penny?, Playboy Productions, Stranglehold, Twentieth Century-Fox, Seven Worlds, Seven Warriors, De Lau-rentiis, I, Robot, Warner Bros., Swing Low, Sweet Harriet, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, The Dream Merchants, Paramount, Rumble, American International, Khadim, Paramount, Bug Jack Barron, Universal, None of the Above, Blind Voices, The Whimper of Whipped Dogs, Nick the Greek, and Best by Far.
The Starlost (series), syndicated, 1973.
Brillo (series), ABC, 1974.
The Tigers Are Loose (special), NBC, 1974.
The Dark Forces (series), NBC, 1986.
The Twilight Zone (series), CBS, 1986.
(And author of introduction) The City on the Edge of Forever, Borderlands (Brooklandville, MD), 1994.
Also author of telefilms and pilots A Boy and His Dog, The Spirit, Dark Destroyer, Man without Time, The Other Place, The Tigers Are Loose, Cutter's World, Our Man Flint, Heavy Metal, Tired Old Man, Mystery Show, Astral Man, Astra/Ella, Project 120, Bring 'Em Back Alive, Postmark: Jim Adam, The Contender, and The Sniper.
Author of teleplays for series, including Star Trek, Outer Limits, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Dark Room, Circle of Fear, Rat Patrol, Amos Burke—Secret Agent, The Great Adventure, Empire, Batman, Ripcord, The Man from UNCLE, Cimarron Strip, Burke's Law, The Young Lawyers, The Name of the Game, Manhunter, The Flying Nun, Route 66, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Logan's Run, Twilight Zone, and Babylon 5.
The City on the Edge of Forever (play; based on the teleplay by Ellison), published in Six Science Fiction Plays, edited by Roger Elwood, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1976.
Demon with a Glass Hand (graphic novel; illustrated by Marshall Rogers), D.C. Comics (New York, NY), 1986.
Night and the Enemy (graphic novel; illustrated by Ken Steacy), Comico (Norristown, PA), 1987.
Vic and Blood: The Chronicles of a Boy and His Dog (graphic novel; based on Ellison's novella A Boy and His Dog), edited by Jan Strand, illustrated by Richard Corben, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1989.
I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (computer game), Cyberdreams, 1995.
(Author of preface) Mel Odom, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: The Official Strategy Guide, Prima Pub., 1995.
Also author of four books on juvenile delinquency. Contributor to Faster than Light, edited by Jack Dann and George Zebrowski, Harper (New York, NY), 1976. Columnist, "The Glass Teat" and "Harlan Ellison Hornbook," Los Angeles Free Press, 1972–73, and of "An Edge in My Voice," Future Life, 1980–81, and L.A. Weekly, 1982–83; author of syndicated film review column "Watching"; publisher of Dimensions magazine (originally Science Fantasy Bulletin).
ADAPTATIONS: A Boy and His Dog was filmed by LQJaf in 1975; much of Ellison's work has been cited as the inspiration for the motion picture The Terminator, Orion, 1984; several of Ellison's short stories have been adapted for television. The film rights to Mefisto in Onyx have been optioned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
SIDELIGHTS: Described by fellow author J.G. Ballard as "an aggressive and restless extrovert who conducts his life at a shout and his fiction at a scream," Harlan Ellison is a writer who actively resists being labeled. Though he has written or edited more than seventy books and has authored more than twelve hundred short stories, he dislikes being called prolific; though his works of fiction and nonfiction are often considered iconoclastic, opinionated, and confrontational, he bristles at the label irrepressible; and, though he has garnered numerous major awards from science fiction organizations, including several Hugo and Nebula awards, he adamantly refuses to be categorized as a science fiction writer, preferring the term magic realism to define his writing.
Ellison began his writing career in the mid-1950s after being dismissed from college over a disagreement with a writing teacher who told Ellison that he had no talent. Ellison moved to New York City to become a freelance writer and in his first two years there sold some 150 short stories to magazines in every genre from crime fact to science fiction. It was the science fiction genre, however, that most appreciated Ellison's talent—both to Ellison's benefit and chagrin. Reviewers quickly associated him with the New Wave of science fiction writers—a group that included such authors as Brian W. Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, and Robert Silverberg. James Blish, writing under the pseudonym William Atheling, Jr., proclaimed in More Issues at Hand that "Harlan Ellison is not only the most audible but possibly the most gifted of the American members of the New Wave." Donald A. Wolheim similarly said in The Universe Makers, "Harlan Ellison is one of those one-man phenomena who pop up in a field, follow their own rules, and have such a terrific charisma and personal drive that they get away with it. They break all the rules and make the rest like it."
In response to such reviews, Ellison not only denied his role in the New Wave of science fiction but rejected the notion of a New Wave entirely. "For the record, and for those who need to be told bluntly, I do not believe there is such a thing as 'New Wave' in speculative fiction," he announced in the introduction to The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World. "It is a convenient journalese expression for inept critics and voyeur-observers of the passing scene, because they have neither the wit nor the depth to understand that this richness of new voices is many waves: each composed of one writer." Still, Wolheim maintained, the nature of Ellison's fiction places him firmly among the New Wave school of writing: "In the sense that [his] short stories have most certainly charted new paths in writing, in that he has indeed found new ultramodern ways of narration which yet manage to keep comprehension,… in that he takes the downbeat view of the far future and therefore, by implication, seems to accept the view that there is no real hope for humanity…. In that sense Harlan Ellison is New Wave [and] is the best of them all."
In the more than forty years since the publication of his first book, Ellison has written essays, reviews, screenplays, teleplays, and drama; yet he is still plagued with the science fiction label. "In the earliest days when I began writing I was a science fiction fan," he once explained, "so I gravitated toward the genre, naturally; but I wrote far more mystery fiction, far more mainstream fiction than ever I wrote science fiction." Ellison also told a Publishers Weekly contributor: "I've long ago ceased to write anything even remotely resembling science fiction, if indeed I ever really did write it." His chief reason for not wanting to be lumped among other science fiction writers, Ellison once commented is that "I conceive of the mass of science fiction writers as very bad writers indeed." According to Times Literary Supplement writer Eric Korn, however, this observation serves only to place Ellison more firmly within the science fiction genre, for he believed Ellison's writing "exhibits all that is hateful about SF: the biographical and autobiographical logorrhea, the cute titles, the steamy, cosy, encounter-group confessional tone, the intrusively private acknowledgments, the blurbs and afterwords." Some critics, such as Joseph McLellan of Washington Post, have suggested that to call Ellison a science fiction writer is too limiting. McLellan maintained that "the categories are too small to describe Harlan Ellison. Lyric poet, satirist, explorer of odd psychological corners, moralist, one-line comedian, purveyor of pure horror and of black comedy; he is all these and more."
Ellison employs the term "magic realism" to describe his writing, a term that he says can be applied to the work of many other writers, including Kurt Vonnegut, John Barth, Jorge Luis Borges, and Luisa Valenzuela. In 1967, after reading a short story by Thomas Pynchon, Ellison was inspired to edit a collection of "magic realism" stories as a means of better defining the term and distinguishing it from science fiction. The result was Dangerous Visions: Thirty-three Original Stories. Specifically designed to include those stories too controversial, too experimental, or too well written to appear in popular magazines, Dangerous Visions broke new ground in both theme and style. "[Dangerous Visions] was intended to shake things up," Ellison wrote in his introduction to the book. "It was conceived out of a need for new horizons, new forms, new styles, new challenges in the literature of our times."
Critical reaction to the book was largely favorable. For example, Damon Knight, writing in Saturday Review, called it "a gigantic, shapeless, exuberant, and startling collection [of] vital, meaningful stories." Of the thirty-three stories in Dangerous Visions, seven became winners of either the Hugo or Nebula Award while another thirteen stories were nominees. The collection received a special plaque from the World Science Fiction Convention. Again, Dangerous Visions: Forty-six Original Stories, Ellison's sequel to Dangerous Visions, met with the same success as its predecessor: J.B. Post predicted in Library Journal that Again, Dangerous Visions "will become a historically important book," and W.E. McNelly of America claimed that the collection was "so experimental in design, concept, and execution that this one volume may well place science fiction in the very heart of mainstream literature."
Both Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions employ a unique format. Each story is preceded by a short introduction by Ellison, who speaks about the author and why the story was chosen for the collection. The story is then followed by an afterword from the author, who describes how the story came to be written. The format serves to personalize each story and to highlight its place in the collection. Theodore Sturgeon, writing in National Review, described Ellison's introductions to Dangerous Visions as a "one-man isometrics course [that] will stretch your laugh-muscles, your retch-muscles, your indignation-, wonder-, delight-, mad-, appall-, admiration-, and disbelief-muscles, and strongly affect your blood-pressure thing. You may have perceived that I have not used the word 'dull.' [Ellison] might numb you, but you will not be bored."
Through his fiction and, in particular, his essays, Ellison has earned a reputation as a polemic. Michael Schrage, writing in Washington Post, identified Ellison as "brash, arrogant, funny and provocative to the point of insulting." Though he noted that the essays in Ellison's collection An Edge in My Voice "may reek of ego and self-indulgence … they are very, very funny and very, very entertaining." Wolheim called Ellison "a unique sort of genius who can lead where others can never successfully follow, who can hold an audience enthralled yet never gain a convert, [and] who can in-sult and have only the stupid offended." Schrage warned, however, that "people who don't like smart-mouthed writers with a flair for caustic repartee are advised to steer clear" of Ellison.
However provocative it may be, Ellison's fiction has been ranked among America's best. Blish noted in More Issues at Hand that Ellison is "a born writer, almost entirely without taste or control but with so much fire, originality and drive, as well as compassion, that he makes the conventional virtues of the artist seem almost irrelevant." In his book-length study Harlan Ellison: Unrepentant Harlequin, George Edgar Slusser called Ellison "a tireless experimenter with forms and techniques" and concluded that he "has produced some of the finest, most provocative fantasy in America today."
Of all his short stories, one that is frequently singled out by critics and fans alike as Ellison's best is "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman." It describes a future civilization in which citizens are held responsible for every second of their day; value is determined by productivity, and tardiness is loathed above all things; in fact, if one is late for an appointment, that time is subtracted from his or her life. Promptness is enforced by the tyrannical Master Timekeeper, known colloquially as the Ticktockman. The protagonist is Everett Marm, the Harlequin, who dresses in motley, is always late, and plays pranks on his coworkers simply to make them laugh. Though in the end the Harlequin is brainwashed and subsumed by the system, his actions create ripples in the pond, planting within his coworkers the seeds of civil disobedience. The moral of "'Repent, Harlequin!'" is, according to Slusser, that "the 'real' men in society are not those who abdicate all freedom of judgment to serve the machine, but those who resist dehumanization through acts of conscience, no matter how small…. If such a sacrifice brings even the slightest change, it is worth it." "'Repent, Harlequin!' Said the Ticktockman" is one of the ten most reprinted stories in the English language.
"Many of Ellison's stories turn on the problems created by [the] conception of identity," noted Thomas F. Dillingham in Dictionary of Literary Biography. "In some cases, an unselfconscious, weak individual becomes aware of his situation and fights to throw off the false or stereotypic characteristics imposed by genes, environment, or a malevolent external force. In others, a strong character encounters an attack on his autonomy and fights to protect it. The outcomes of these conflicts are not necessarily simple or consistent solutions to these identity crises. In some cases character is destiny, but in others—where certain of the variables of character are not readily visible—it is the vehicle of a trenchant irony."
Another classic Ellison story on this theme is "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." In this tale, the world superpowers have constructed three subterranean supercomputers to oversee and run their war campaigns, but when these intelligent computers decide to unite, they form one supercomputer with a massive intellect that calls itself AM. AM, seeing the human race as flawed and impure, decides to destroy everyone on the planet. However, AM preserves five human beings whom it brings underground with the devilish purpose of making them immortal and then tormenting them for all eternity. In a final effort to retain some human dignity, one of the humans, Ted, kills the other four people so that they, at least, can escape AM's sadism. Noted Dillingham: "Ted's own fate, however, is a grisly mirror image of the harlequins: where Everett Marm is 'regularized' by the machine and returned to 'normal' existence, Ted is reduced to a subhuman physical existence, but his mind remains intact. He is a prisoner inside an inexpressive body, incapable of uttering his humanity, but doomed to witness it to himself for an indefinite period of 'life.'" Ellison later adapted "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" into a computer game for Cyberdreams.
Another popular work of Ellison's that warns against humanity's relentless pursuit of technology is the 1968 novella A Boy and His Dog, which was made into a movie in 1975. In the year 2024, shortly after the devastating climax of World War IV, Vic and his dog, Blood, wander the wastes of the American southwest. The relationship between boy and dog is unusual for two reasons: first, Blood is telepathic, allowing him to communicate with Vic; second, the roles of human and animal have been reversed—Vic is little more than a scavenger, while Blood is literate and cultured. Blood teaches his "master" reading, speech, arithmetic, and history; however, he has forgotten his animal instincts, and must rely upon Vic to hunt game and find shelter. John Crow and Richard Erlich, reviewing A Boy and His Dog for Extrapolation, described the novella as "a cautionary fable" that "demands consideration of just how consciously our own society is proceeding into its technological future."
But war and intelligent computers are not the only possible dangers that Ellison has raged against in his writings. He also sees television as something that is sapping people of intelligence, culture, and a sense of history. The essay collections The Glass Teat: Essays of Opinion of the Subject of Television and The Other Glass Teat: Further Essays of Opinion on Television fully explore these views. As he told John Krewson online in Onion A.V. Club, he warns people in these books, "'Hey, folks! This sucker [television] is gonna steal your souls and you're gonna turn into morons! Well, it's come to pass.'" Nevertheless, Ellison has written extensively for television because he recognizes it as an unavoidable medium for writers. "If I had my druthers," he told Krewson, "I would not work in television at all; but again, it's a cultural medium from which most people derive their knowledge and education. For a writer today to stay in business, just to stay a writer, means that you have to have some kind of public profile." Ellison has written for numerous television series, including The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Babylon 5. He has also been a consultant for these series and even helped create Babylon 5, in which he also had an acting role.
Possibly the most famous contribution Ellison has made to television, however, is the episode he wrote for the original Star Trek series, "The City on the Edge of Forever." In this episode, Captain Kirk of the starship Enterprise and his first officer, Spock, must go back into the past to prevent Dr. McCoy from accidentally changing the course of events back in Depression-era America. McCoy has saved the life of a woman named Edith whose strong message of peace delays the Allies from taking action against Germany, which results in the Nazis winning World War II. To put history back on the correct course, Kirk, who has fallen in love with Edith, must allow her to die in an auto accident. Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry made extensive changes to Ellison's story, which made the author furious, but he was later vindicated when his original script ended up winning Hugo and Writers Guild of America awards. In 1994, Ellison had his screenplay published in a book that was highly praised by reviewers. Ray Olson, for one, lauded the story in a Booklist review, adding that he particularly enjoyed the author's "sputtering, raging, fuming introduction in which he sets the record straight." This experience understandably turned Ellison off of writing television; however, his name today affords him such great respect that he has gained complete authority over the scripts he now writes, such as in his work for the revised Outer Limits series. "Nobody touches the script but me," he told Krewson. "If they don't like it, I give 'em their money back and I take my script back."
Ellison's stories in the 1980s and 1990s have been concerned more and more with thoughts of death and mortality, especially after the author's brush with death after a 1996 heart attack. These concerns are evident in such collections as Slippage: Precariously Poised, Previously Uncollected Stories, Angry Candy, and the four-volume Edgeworks. In the short stories in these collections, individuals again often struggle to assert their identity and humanity. One of Ellison's themes here is most pointedly revealed in his story "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore," which is about an immortal trickster figure who manipulates people and events according to his own peculiar whims. Told in segments that vacillate "wildly between moments of humor, suffering, pathos, tragedy, absurdity, and extreme violence," as a contributor to Contemporary Popular Writers observed, "the cumulative effect of these aphoristic narrative fragments is to disrupt ideas of fate, causality, or structure in human existence, and to highlight the randomness of life's events. In the end, all that is left is the responsibility of the individual."
One of the stories collected in Edgeworks, "Mefisto in Onyx," was later published as a separate novella. The protagonist is Rudy Pairis, a gifted black man with the ability to read minds. He is employed by Deputy District Attorney Allison Roche to exonerate a convicted serial killer who awaits an impending death sentence. Though Roche prosecuted the convicted murderer herself, days before his execution she doubts his guilt and persuades Pairis to probe his mind for evidence of his innocence. David Gianatasio praised the Pairis character in an Armchair Detective review. "Like most Ellison anti-heroes, Pairis's inability to fully accept his heightened mental powers—and in a larger sense, to accept himself—makes him an outcast in his own world." Gianatasio added, "Pairis's ability to accept who and what he is … is the key to his final transcendence." Tom Auer concluded in Bloomsbury Review, "This story is a page-turner, quick, lively, and entertaining, and very funny in parts, but colored throughout with a deep sense of humankind's insufferable inhumanity."
Ellison continued to defy the marketing concerns of movie producers when he published I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay, which he wrote with Isaac Asimov, after a protracted and ultimately failed attempt to produce a film version of the story. Based on Asimov's I, Robot series and elements of Orson Welles' Citizen Cane, Ellison grafts various Asimov subplots and his own material into a story about a journalist's persistent effort to interview Susan Calvin, a reclusive octogenarian, upon the death of her reputed lover, Stephen Byerly. Though commending Ellison's achievement, Locus reviewer Gary K. Wolfe wrote that "I, Robot was probably never a very good idea for a movie" because "most of the stories were intellectual puzzles based on permu-tations of the laws of robotics." However, Wolfe added, "As a potential moviegoer, there's nothing here to convince me that this relatively simple story about a lonely woman in a lost future is impossible to film." An Analog reviewer similarly concluded, "Ellison did indeed make a compelling story of Asimov's material, and the script would indeed make a grand movie."
Commenting on Ellison's style and central themes, Auer said, "Ellison's prose is powerful and ingenious, but often angry, sometimes sinister, occasionally gloomy, and often with an edge that can cut quickly to and through the heart of his subject, or that of his reader for that matter." He also observed, "The bloody truth of our violent times, a subject he writes about with regularity and ease, practically drips from some of his finely crafted pages. He also has a sense of humor, but we don't see it often, and it is frequently black as midnight when we do."
Ellison once commented: "Everything I write is concerned with the world of today…. I explain the world through which we move by reflecting it through the lens of fantasy turned slightly askew, so that you can see it from a new angle. I talk about the things people have always talked about in stories: pain, hate, truth, courage, destiny, friendship, responsibility, growing old, growing up, falling in love, all of these things. I don't write about far-flung galactic civilizations; I don't write about crazed robots; I don't write gimmick stories. What I try to write about are the darkest things in the soul, the mortal dreads…. The closer I get to the burning core of my being, the things which are most painful to me, the better is my work."
"It is a love/hate relationship that I have with the human race," Ellison continued. "I am an elitist, and I feel that my responsibility is to drag the human race along with me—that I will never pander to, or speak down to, or play the safe game. Because my immortal soul will be lost."
"I write because I cannot not write," he once explained in Bloomsbury Review. "That's what I do…. It amazes me when I get an interview with someone who says, 'You're so prolific, you've done forty-two books and thousands of short stories.' And I say, 'If I were a plumber, and I had fixed a thousand toilets, you wouldn't say that, you wouldn't say what a prolific plumber I am.' That's what I do.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
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Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973; Volume 13, 1980; Volume 42, 1987.
Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
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Ellison, Harlan, editor, Dangerous Visions: Thirty-three Original Stories, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967.
Ellison, Harlan, The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, Avon (New York, NY), 1969.
Platt, Charles, The Dream Makers: The Uncommon People Who Write Science Fiction, Berkley, 1980.
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Onion A.V. Club, http://theavclub.com/ (September 17, 1998), John Krewson, "The World Is Turning into a Cesspool of Imbeciles."