Remembering a sci-fi visionary
Harlan ellison was, famously, a man who didn’t mince his words. You could argue – and he argued a lot – that no other author in the field of science fiction (incidentally, a term he loathed) uses words with such terrifying force and power. He fired them off like typeface missiles: in novels, short stories, think pieces, volumes of film and television criticism, screenplays and – perhaps most famously – to lawyers, instructing them to take those he thought had plagiarised his work to court. You didn’t want to cross Ellison. But if you were on his good side, by god, was he entertaining.
The young Ellison started off big – running away to join the circus as a teenager – before learning to make a living tapping the keys of his beloved typewriter (he never switched to a computer, despite knowing how to use one, preferring the old ways). He even turned writing into a performance art, composing stories in store windows in front of crowds.
And what things he showed us: I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream. “Repent, Harlequin!” Said The Ticktockman. A Boy And His Dog. Star Trek’s iconic episode “The City On The Edge Of Forever”. He also edited Dangerous Visions (1967) and its sequel, a collection of cutting-edge stories that shaped the future of sci-fi by proving that the genre could push every boundary going.
Most of all, though, he liked to spew forth words. JN
Ellison was one of SF’s most exciting writers.