Harlan Ellison, giant of American literature, is dead at 84. Close friend of the family Patton Oswalt broke the news on Twitter, followed by a friend of Ellison’s wife Susan Christine Valada who told the world that Ellison passed away in his sleep. “For a brief time I was here, and for a brief time, I mattered,” she wrote, quoting the author.
It’s hard to quantify Ellison’s legacy. He was an incredible talent and a prolific author who shaped pop culture in ways that will take decades to unravel and understand. He won 11 Hugo Awards, 6 Bram Stoker Awards, and 5 Nebulas. He wrote the award-winning episode of Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever,” helped create Babylon 5, and wrote for The Outer Limits, a science fiction television show in the style of The Twilight Zone.
Ellison was an eccentric bastard who frustrated his friends, confounded his enemies, and eschewed popularity in favor of credibility. He was present when author Lester del Rey gave L. Ron Hubbard the idea for scientology. “I’m a snake on a rock,” he told an audience once. “Don’t fuck with me and I won’t bite you. Fuck with me and you’re going to hang around with me on your neck for the rest of your natural life.”
He was also an asshole. In 2006, he groped author Connie Willis’ breast when she introduced him at the Hugo’s. His non-apology was almost as insulting as the televised moment of sexual assault. He once mailed a dead gopher to an editor he was feuding with. He hated people for not paying writers and sued James Cameron for using his Outer Limits episode “The Soldier” as the basis for The Terminator. Ellison won. Way back in 2001, he sued a fan who had posted some of his stories to a Usenet group.
Ellison often touched subjects no one else would. His short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream was the basis for one of the most disturbing video games of all time. Released in 1995, it’s one of the first—and to this day only—video games to deal with Nazi war crimes and talk seriously about the Holocaust. He wrote nine novels, hundreds of short stories, and dozens of screenplays.
Without his “Repent Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman, we would have no V for Vendetta. Without The City on the Edge of Forever, we would have no Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. Without A Boy and His Dog we would have no Mad Max.
I’d tell him to rest in peace, but I don’t think he will. I just hope he gets to see Mr. Bug Goes to Town one last time before his soul overwhelms whatever plane it has ascended to.
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