The phrase “rest in peace” seems somewhat inappropriate when it comes to the death of legendary author Harlan Ellison. Not only didn’t Ellison, who died in his sleep last Thursday, June 28th, at the age of 84, believe in the afterlife, but in the off chance that there is some sort of existence after death, Ellison would almost certainly enter it kicking, screaming, and possibly contemplating a lawsuit against the ruler(s) of the Hereafter for never providing any evidence that the Great Beyond existed.
It’s hard to be ambivalent about Harlan Ellison. Chances are you either loved the guy or hated him. Although he was best known for his successful work in the realm of science fiction (penning, among others, scripts for The Outer Limits and perhaps the most popular Star Trek episode of all-time, ‘City on the Edge of Forever’), Harlan would have your head if you dared call him a “sci-fi writer”. He preferred to be called a writer of speculative fiction. Much of his work had little to do with science, but always had something to do with the human condition – and usually the dark and dangerous places that most authors of his day were afraid to touch.
If Ellison will be remembered for anything beyond his stories, it will certainly be for his cantankerous nature – not the least of which was his willingness to sue anyone and everyone who dared tried to steal his work without consent. The most famous of these legal battles was his fight with director James Cameron over ‘The Terminator‘, which Ellison claimed was a ripoff his ‘Outer Limits’ script for the episode ‘Soldier’. The parties eventually settled, and part of that settlement was that all versions of Cameron’s film must now say “Acknowledgment to the works of Harlan Ellison” before the end credits.
Ellison once described his writing career as being a “professional liar,” which no doubt came into play when he told stories about himself and his life. While some of the stories were true (yes, Harlan did indeed mail a dead gopher to a book publisher), almost all of them were certainly embellished to some degree. Stories from others added to his legend. (No, he did not throw a fan down an elevator shaft.)
Because he made his nickels and dimes in the world of short stories, Harlan Ellison never really became known as the Great American Writer he probably deserved. His work has never been easy to find at the local bookstore (assuming one still exists in your neighborhood), but thanks to the internet and places like Amazon, as well as videos of Ellison (both old and new) popping up on YouTube (his famous “Pay the Writer” rant being arguably the best of the lot), he established a whole new legion of fans (and, yes, detractors) in recent years.
Ellison was still active into his 80s, appearing at conventions, making videos for his YouTube channel, and writing (including occasional posts to his fan forum at harlanellison.com). Sadly, a stroke in 2014 slowed him down and the once verbose and often vitriol-spewing Ellison had been all but inactive (at least publicly) in the last year or two.
But even now the great Harlan Ellison is not silent. His stories and writings will live on. Now, he belongs to the pages.