Monday, May 11, 2015

Authors Being Dicks: Harlan Ellison & The City on the Edge of Forever

A long time ago I had bought the original version of the famous Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever" on sale from Amazon.  I got around to reading it a little over a month ago.  I thought it'd just be the script with a brief introduction.

Instead the first 28% of the book is author Harlan Ellison ranting about how everyone from Gene Roddenberry on down screwed him, how Star Trek fans are idiots, and how his version of the episode was so much superior to what aired.  Which OK he made some good points, but it just went on and on and on.  The worst part was he kept saying, "Read it for yourself!  Read it!"  I wanted to scream, "How can I when you won't shut the fuck up?!"

It's a good reminder of how unattractive it can be when authors go on a rampage.  Which is ironical coming from someone who has been involved in many a flame war.  But then my flame wars are confined to out-of-the-way message boards and blogs; it's something else when you're putting it in a book that is being pushed by Amazon for thousands of people to buy.  It'd be like--to a much lesser extent--I dedicated the first quarter of my next book to how much I hate Andrew Leon.  Any reader picking that up would think at best that I'm an asshole and at worse deranged.  (Which you probably already think both.)

And OK maybe Ellison is right that Roddenberry (and others) badmouthed him for years without him saying much, but why bother including your whole little expose (smear campaign) in the book?  You want to do that, write an op-ed or have a magazine interview.  Besides, if you really think your version is so much better, why not let it speak for itself?  With maybe a brief introduction on what changes were made and why.  Going on for probably a hundred pages though just wears the reader down and it certainly didn't make me like him as a person.  I mean he has a point but going on that long he just sounds like a dick.

It's like when I read John Irving's autobiography as part of Trying to Save Piggy Sneed and he wrote about going to the White House in the 80s and some ex-football player (Joe Namath?  Joe Thiesmann?  Someone like that) kept saying how awesome it was to be in the White House and how much this annoyed Irving.  The story was supposed to make me think the football player was an idiot, but really I just thought the author sounded like a dick.  I mean come on, if I were at the White House I'd be pretty impressed too.  It served as inspiration for a short story about a guy who goes to meet his literary hero and finds out the guy is a dick.  So something good came from it.

From my long history of flame wars, I could see where sometimes Ellison let himself get caught up in exaggerations to try to make his point.  Most notably how he kept saying that in the episode that aired, Bones McCoy "injected himself" with something that made him go crazy.  In reality he had just injected Sulu with something, the ship hits turbulence, and the syringe stabs him.  Though in the 23rd Century you'd think accidental discharge would be harder.  Stuff like that makes it harder to believe some of the rest of it, though I suppose that's why he felt the need to include memos, fax pages, etc. as if he were exposing Nixon on Watergate.

He also makes this big deal that in his script Spock was going to call Kirk "Jim" and how poignant that would be.  The thing about that is by the time the episode aired, Spock had called Kirk "Jim" a whole bunch of times.  I mean when he wrote the episode he probably didn't know that, but writing the book years later shouldn't he have recognized that?

Anyway, my point is unless you're writing a tell-all book, don't spend a quarter of your book raging about past wrongs.  It's really unattractive for an author.  If you feel the need to spew venom, do it anonymously on a message board, or in blog comments.


  1. Is the episode in question the one where they go through the time portal and end up back in time. There's like an arch called "The Guardian of Forever?" If so, I liked that episode but it's been many years since I've seen original trek and my mind is rusty.

    1. That's the one. You can watch it on Netflix.

  2. It sounds like it needs extra product description such as "Includes bonus rant by author" :)

  3. *spews venom* (See what I did there?)



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