Harlan Ellison, 1934–2018
The combative writer who became a sci-fi master
Born in Cleveland, Ellison was bullied at school for his Jewish heritage and short stature, an experience that “made him feel like an outsider and fueled his anger,” said The New York Times. Expelled from Ohio State University for punching an English professor who belittled his writing talent, Ellison moved to New York City, where he began selling stories to publications like Galaxy and Fantastic Science Fiction and pumping out novels and novellas. “For the next 20 years,” said The Washington Post, “he sent the professor a copy of everything he published.” Eager to break into the lucrative screenwriting trade, Ellison relocated to Los Angeles in 1962 and wrote for shows including The Alfred Hitchcock Hour and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
Over time, he became known as much for his “indignant and ingenious fury” as for his writing, said The Economist. He sued the producers of the movie The Terminator, accusing them of plagiarizing “Soldier,” his 1964 script for TV’s The Outer Limits. During a contract dispute, “he mailed 213 bricks to a publisher, postage to be paid by the recipient.” He once accused a studio executive “of having the intellectual capacity of an artichoke.” For Ellison, who saw himself as a champion of the underdog, that rage was essential to his art. “You can’t allow yourself to be frightened,” he said in 2004, “not if you want the writing to have heat and reason and passion.” ■