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Remembering Writer Harlan Ellison


The science fiction writer Harlan Ellison has died. He wrote short stories, screenplays, novels, TV scripts, even comics and won multiple awards over a nearly 60-year career. NPR Books editor Petra Mayer has this remembrance.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Love him or hate him, Harlan Ellison was a legend. Even as a teenager, he once ran away from home and actually joined the circus, though that only lasted a few months. Ellison moved to New York City in 1955 and went on to write classics like "I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream," episodes of the TV show "The Outer Limits" and the script for what a lot of fans consider to be the best episode of "Star Trek" ever made, the Hugo Award-winning "City On The Edge Of Forever." That's the one where Captain Kirk goes back in time and falls in love, but then he has to let her die in order to prevent the Nazis from winning the war.


DEFOREST KELLEY: (As Admiral McCoy) Do you know what you just did?

LEONARD NIMOY: (As Captain Spock) He knows, Doctor.

MAYER: True to form, Ellison spent years fighting with the show's creator and editor over changes to his script. He was famously cantankerous. He sued AOL over unauthorized copies of his work being posted online and went after James Cameron because of similarities between his stories and the original "Terminator" movie. Here's Ellison in the 2008 documentary "Dreams With Sharp Teeth," talking about his unofficial motto, pay the writer.


HARLAN ELLISON: How dare you call me, want me to work for nothing? Well, it would be good publicity. I said, lady, tell that to someone a little older than you who has just fallen off the turnip truck.

MAYER: Ellison wasn't just talking about himself here. He did want all authors to get paid fairly, and he did pay it forward. He mentored the author Octavia Butler and bought some of her early work. But sometimes Ellison's behavior left a lot to be desired. Onstage at the 2006 Hugo Awards, he groped author Connie Willis as she introduced him. Belligerent, boorish, brilliant - Harlan Ellison died at home in his sleep on Thursday. He was 84.

Petra Mayer, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF EVOCATIV'S "SEASONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.