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Harlan Ellison's The City on the Edge of Forever

June 12, 2017

Harlan Ellison is a writer whose personal infamy matches his professional fame. He’s won heaps of awards, written across all mediums and genres, and left behind a body of work whose size is equal to its influence.

Two of his more than 1700 stories--”I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” and “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”--are among the most reprinted in all of science fiction, and he wrote what most consider the best episode of Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever”.

The dissenting opinion comes from Ellison himself. His original script, written for the show’s first season, won the Best Episodic Drama on Television Award from the Writer’s Guild of America, but what viewers saw diverged from Ellison’s vision. Several elements were changed by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and writer Dorothy Fontana, leaving Ellison furious and Star Trek without any further contributions from him. The rewritten episode went on to win the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.

As the episode’s legend grew, Roddenberry repeated a number of falsehoods about Ellison’s story, leaving Ellison to privately stew. He remained largely silent on the subject over the years, aside from a few snide asides in essays and columns, but in 1996 he released his definitive statement on the controversy. The exhaustively titled Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: the Original Teleplay that Became the Classic Star Trek Episode contains multiple drafts of Ellison’s screenplay, commentary by the author, and essays by Star Trek luminaries like Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, and writer Dorothy C. Fontana.

Here, Ellison turns 30 years of frustration and sadness over what he felt was a neutering of his work into a 70-page essay filled with enough vitriol to make even the most hardened Trekkie scream for the head of Gene Roddenberry. This book is more than just behind the scenes dirt, though. Ellison’s nonfiction is always worth a look, but when it’s fueled by righteous anger--as his work often is--it’s electric. You can hear it for yourself in the downloadable audio version of this book, available on Overdrive, or you can see Ellison's unaltered screenplay come to life in the graphic novel adaptation. Just click on the links below, and turn your Summer Challenge into an Ellison Wonderland. 

Comic book panel of man expressing horror avatar


Jeremy Estes has worked for Nashville Public Library since 2008. He loves comic books and dislikes the term “graphic novels”. He hosts Panel Discussion, a comics book club for adults, on the first Wednesday of the month at 12pm at the Main Library.