deal of Ellison's career has been spent within the science fiction
genre and community. His most famous stories have been published
within that genre, and he has won multiple Hugo and Nebula awards.
He was also very active in the science fiction community (he was
a founder of the Cleveland Science Fiction Society and edited its
fanzine as a teenager) and gives colorful and confrontational talks
at science fiction conventions.
fantasy work, however, is usually better aligned with surrealism
or magical realism than space opera-type science fiction. There
is also a strong ethical current that runs through his work, half
of which is nonfiction, which includes social activism and criticism
of the arts.
is fiercely protective of his work and has sought (and won) legal
action against copyright infringements.
Ellison was born in Cleveland, Ohio, United States, on May 27,
1934. His Jewish-American family subsequently moved to Painesville,
Ohio, but returned to Cleveland in 1949 following the death of
Ellison's father. Ellison frequently ran away from home, taking
odd jobs — including by the time he was eighteen, by his
own account, "a tuna fisherman off the coast of Galveston,
itinerant crop-picker down in New Orleans, hired gun for a wealthy
neurotic, dynamite truck driver in North Carolina, short order
cook, cab driver, lithographer, book salesman, floorwalker in
a department store, door-to-door brush salesman, and spent ten
years as an actor (off and on) with the Cleveland Play House".
briefly attended Ohio State University before dropping out. In
1955, Ellison moved to New York City to pursue a writing career,
primarily in science fiction. Over the next two years, Ellison
published more than 100 short stories and articles.
1957, Ellison decided to write about youth gangs. To research
the issue, he joined a street gang in the Red Hook, Brooklyn area,
under the name "Cheech Beldone". His subsequent writings
on the subject include the novel Web of the City/Rumble and the
collection The Deadly Streets, and comprise part of his memoir
Memos from Purgatory.
was drafted into the army and served from 1957 to 1959. Afterwards,
living in Chicago, Illinois, Ellison edited Rogue magazine. As
a book editor at Regency Books, Ellison published novels and anthologies
by such writers as B. Traven, Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Bloch and
Philip José Farmer.
early in his career, in the late '50s, he wrote a number of soft
porn stories, such as "God Bless the Ugly Virgin" and
"Tramp", later reprinted in Los Angeles based girlie
journals. This was the beginning of his use of the Cordwainer
Bird pseudonym. This name was later used in July and August of
1957, in two journals each of which had accepted two of his stories.
In each journal, one story was published with author Harlan Ellison,
the other with author Cordwainer Bird. Later, as discussed in
the Controversy section below, the pseudonym was used on material
by him with which the editing of or use of he disagreed.
moved to California in 1962, and subsequently began to sell scripts
to such television shows as Burke's Law, Route 66, The Outer Limits,
Star Trek and Cimarron Strip. His Memos from Purgatory was adapted
into an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Ellison's scripts
"Demon with a Glass Hand" (for The Outer Limits) and
"The City on the Edge of Forever" (for Star Trek) won
Best Original Teleplay awards from the Writers Guild of America;
both are often cited as one of the best of their respective series.
the late 1960s, Ellison wrote a column about television for the
Los Angeles Free Press. Titled "The Glass Teat", the
column addressed political and social issues and their portrayal
on television at the time. The columns have been reprinted in
two collections, The Glass Teat and The Other Glass Teat.
continued to publish short pieces, fiction and nonfiction, in
various publications, and some of his most famous stories were
written in this period. "'Repent, Harlequin!' said the Ticktockman"
is a celebration of civil disobedience against repressive authority.
"I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" is an allegory
of Hell, where five humans are tormented by an all-knowing computer
throughout eternity. "A Boy and his Dog" examines the
nature of friendship and love in a violent, post-Apocalypse world.
It was made into the film A Boy and His Dog in 1975 starring Don
has won the Hugo Award eight and a half times; the Nebula Award
three times; the Bram Stoker Award, presented by the Horror Writers
Association, five times (including the Lifetime Achievement Award
in 1996); the Edgar Award of the Mystery Writers of America twice;
the Georges Méliès fantasy film award twice; and
was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by International PEN,
the international writers' union. He was presented with the first
Living Legend Award by the International Horror Guild at the 1995
World Horror Convention. He is also the only author in Hollywood
ever to win the Writers' Guild of America Award for Most Outstanding
Teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for "Paladin
of the Lost Hour" in 1987. In March 1998, the National Women's
Committee of Brandeis University honored him with their 1998 Words,
Wit, Wisdom award. In 1990, Ellison was honored by International
PEN for continuing commitment to artistic freedom and the battle
rather famous and popular film can also be credited to Ellison,
though he had to go to court to get the credit. Some aspects of
the story for The Terminator were sufficiently similar to two
episodes of the TV series The Outer Limits — both written
by Ellison — that Ellison sued James Cameron. Ellison settled
for several hundred thousand dollars, and the film's end credits
now include the simple statement: "Acknowledgement to the
works of Harlan Ellison." The episodes in question were called
"Soldier" and "Demon with a Glass Hand".
Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream" was turned into a computer
game with the same title, with Ellison providing the voice of
the god-computer AM.
also edited the influential science fiction anthology Dangerous
Visions (1967), which collected stories commissioned by Ellison,
accompanied by his commentary-laden biographical sketches of the
authors. He challenged the authors to write stories at the edge
of the genre, and Dangerous Visions is widely considered the greatest
and most influential SF anthology of all time. Many of the stories
went beyond the traditional boundaries of science fiction pioneered
by respected old school editors such as John W. Campbell, Jr.
As an editor, Ellison was influenced and inspired by experimentation
in the popular literature of the time, such as the beats. A sequel,
Again Dangerous Visions, was published in 1972. A third volume,
The Last Dangerous Visions, controversially will probably never
screenplay for his projected television series The Starlost was
also given a Writers Guild Award, though the actual series was
so altered by the producers that Ellison had his name removed
from the credits. Ellison was the first writer to win this award
served as creative consultant to the science fiction TV series
The Twilight Zone (1980s version) and Babylon 5. As a member of
the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), he has voiceover credits for shows
including The Pirates of Dark Water, Mother Goose and Grimm, Space
Cases, Phantom 2040, and Babylon 5, as well as making an onscreen
appearance in the Babylon 5 episode "The Face of the Enemy".
two years beginning in 1986, Ellison took over as host of the
radio program Hour 25 on KPFK after the death of Mike Hodel, the
show's founder and original host. It has been reported that his
inadvertent use of an expletive on air caused his departure from
1992 novelette "The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore"
was selected for inclusion in the 1993 edition of The Best American
was hired as a writer for Walt Disney Studios, but was fired on
his first day after being overheard by Roy O. Disney in the studio
commissary joking about making a pornographic animated film featuring
Disney characters. He recounted this incident in his book Stalking
the Nightmare, as part 3 of a section entitled "The 3 Most
Important Things in Life".
does all his writing on a manual Olympia typewriter.
Ellison has provided vocal narration to numerous Audiobooks, both
of his own writing and others. Ellison has helped narrate books
by authors such as Orson Scott Card, Aurthur C. Clarke, and Terry
Pratchett. Ellison is currently married to Susan, his fifth wife,
and they live in Los Angeles, California. In 1994 he suffered
a heart attack and was hospitalized for quadruple coronary artery
bypass surgery. In 2006, Harlan Ellison will receive the title
of Grand Master given annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy
Writers of America.
Ellison has a reputation for being abrasive and rude (a dust jacket
from one of his books described him as "possibly the most
contentious person on Earth") and he is fiercely litigious.
These traits have attracted a degree of controversy, especially
among science fiction and fantasy fans. His friend Isaac Asimov
remarked of Ellison that "Harlan uses his gifts for colorful
and variegated invective on those who irritate him—intrusive
fans, obdurate editors, callous publishers, offensive strangers."
His outspoken reputation earned him a spot on the fledgling Sci-Fi
Channel where he was given an opportunity to express his views
on whatever he chose to talk about. Ellison's segments, of which
some transcripts are available, were broadcast from 1994 to 1997.
Some found this ironic, as Ellison has derided the term "sci-fi"
as a "hideous neologism" that "sounds like crickets
fucking," a comment to which Forrest J. Ackerman, who coined
the term, responded by producing buttons bearing the slogan, "I
love the sound of crickets making love."
Guest of Honor at the 1978 WorldCon (Iguanacon) in Phoenix, Arizona,
Ellison vowed that he would not spend a penny in a state which
had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. During the convention,
he used a recreational vehicle instead of staying in a convention
hotel. He was also a participant in the 1965 March from Selma
to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King, Jr..
Last Dangerous Visions, the third volume of the anthology series,
has become something of a legend in science fiction as the genre's
most famous unpublished book. Originally announced for publication
in 1973, other work demanded Ellison's attention and the anthology
has not seen print to date. He has come under criticism for his
treatment of some writers who submitted their stories to him,
of which some estimate to be nearly 150 (many of the authors have
died in the subsequent three decades since the anthology was first
announced). In 1993 Ellison threatened to sue New England Science
Fiction Association (NESFA) for publishing Himself in Anachron,
a short story written by Cordwainer Smith and sold to Ellison
for the book by his widow, but later reached an amicable settlement.
Noted British SF author Christopher Priest has critiqued Ellison's
editorial practices in a widely-disseminated article titled The
Book on the Edge of Forever. Priest documented a half-dozen
instances in which Ellison promised TLDV would appear within a
year of the statement, but did not fulfill those promises. Ellison
has a record of fulfilling obligations in other instances, including
to writers whose stories he solicited, and has expressed outrage
at other editors who have displayed poor practices.
the 1980s, there was a widely-publicized incident in which Ellison
allegedly assaulted author and critic Charles Platt at the Nebula
Awards banquet. Platt did not pursue legal action against Ellison,
and the two men signed a "non-aggression pact" later,
promising never to discuss the incident again or have any contact
with one another. In later years, however, Ellison often publicly
boasted about the incident. Platt, too, has been less than absolute
in adhering to the agreement.
has on occasion used the pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird"
to alert members of the public to situations in which he feels
his creative contribution to a project has been mangled beyond
repair by others, typically Hollywood producers or studios. (See,
e.g., Alan Smithee.) The "Cordwainer Bird" moniker is
a tribute to fellow SF writer Paul M. A. Linebarger, better known
by his pen name, Cordwainer Smith. The origin of the word "cordwainer"
is shoemaker (from working with cordovan leather for shoes). The
term used by Linebarger was meant to imply the industriousness
of the pulp author. Ellison has said, in interviews and in his
writing, that his version of the pseudonym was meant to mean "a
shoemaker for birds". Since he has used the pseudonym mainly
for works he wants to distance himself from, it may be understood
to mean that "this work is for the birds". Stephen King
once said he thought that it meant that Ellison was giving people
who mangled his work a literary version of "the bird".
recently gained attention for his April 24, 2000 lawsuit against
Stephen Robertson for posting four of his stories to the Usenet
newsgroup alt.binaries.e-book without authorization. Included
as defendants in the lawsuit were AOL and RemarQ, internet service
providers whose involvement was running Usenet servers carrying
the group in question and for failing to stop the alleged copyright
infringers in accordance with the "Notice and Takedown Procedure"
outlined in the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Robertson
and RemarQ settled the lawsuit with Ellison, though he pressed
on with his suit against AOL. The AOL suit was settled in June
2004 under conditions which were not made public.
mentions his disbelief in, among other places, the introduction
to his book Strange Wine. His story "The Deathbird"
presents an alternate take on the biblical account of creation,
wherein the snake is a Prometheus figure sent to deliver humanity
the wisdom it will need to overcome the tyrannical rule of the
insane being who calls himself God.
Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show Ellison is purported to have said "I
am so far beyond atheism, there isn't a word in the English language
dictionary to describe me."
an early class, one of the students asked me if I believed in
God. I replied, 'I don't think so.' And then proceeded to wail
on the theme, using material from this column of some weeks ago,
in which I observed the perpetuation of insanity on this planet
through the mediums of Arabs-vs-Jews, Catholics-vs-Protestants,
Southern Baptists-vs-Everyone. I said I felt if 'God created man
in his *own* image, in the image of God created he them,' (Genesis
2:27, King James's italics, not mine) then *we* were God. And
when Man (*my* cap, not King James's) in his most creative, his
most loving, his most gentle and most human, then he is most God-like.
The student said he would pray for my immortal soul. He also asked
for my address, so he could send me some literature on the subject
of God. I thanked him politely and told him I'd gotten all the
literature I could handle on the subject from a certain Thomas
Ellison, from "The Glass Teat", Article #29
the clue book for the computer version of I Have No Mouth, and
I Must Scream, Harlan is interviewed by J. Michael Straczynski(?)...
[...] do you believe that we are alone in the universe?
Do I believe we are alone...How could I know? Look, I'm an atheist.
People say to me, do you believe in God? No, I don't believe in
God. Because all the Gods that they offer me are completely as
crazy as AM in this game. Every god that I've ever heard of, with
the exception...if I had to pick a religion, I'd pick Buddhism.
Buddhism is a kindly religion. It says you got a chance...it's
got humor, it's got wisdom, it says to be nice to each other.
All the rest of them have gods that want to beat the crap out
of you if you defy the rules. I don't believe that, I'm not an
imbecile, I'm not a moron. I have to have some proof of something.
When I look at Fundamentalists, I just want, I don't know, hit
them in the kisser with a pie. But in fact they rule most of this
country, which is kind of sad. I know we're really going to get
in trouble on this tape. They're going to edit the hell out of
this, god...you know the president of Cyberdreams will see this
and his hair will stand on end. I am a pragmatist, I believe in
Ockham's razor which says, 'go with the most logical answer, it's
probably right.' Occasionally you get fooled, occasionally you
get fooled. But we know there is no pelucidar in the center of
the earth. We've gotten back seismic readings. We know. We know
very well that...that ain't a face on Mars. I don't give a damn
how many people, 'It's a face on Mars.' You know, your Momma's
face is on Mars. All it is, is a shadow or whatever it is...a
rock structure. There's no life on Mars. We may, eventually, someday
find life or it may find us, but that's a long way off. It would
seem to me it is more in our, more to our benefit to worry about
how, learning how to live with each other, which we haven't learned
how to do very well, since the dawn of recorded history...than
worrying about how the hell were going to deal with creatures
with pointy little heads that come down here and want to give
us enemas. I hate being so rational, I know that people would
love to have me say that, 'I believe that Whitley Streiber did
get taken aboard a flying saucer.' No, I think Whitley Streiber,
probably a very nice man, is self-delusional. I mean he really
believes that by this time, and also it's made him quite a lot
of money. But I don't think he did it for the money, I think he
really actually believes that. The same way that Joan of Arc thought
God talked to her. But God has more important things to do than
talk to little French girls in jail. And has more things to do
than give you hair growing on the palm on your hand if you masturbate.