Picard acknowledged Harlan Ellison’s legacy and long-term impact on Star Trek with a small but poignant tribute.
Star Trek is no stranger to sneaking in references and tributes to the classic works that made his vast galaxy possible, or recognizing the pop culture of the time. Picard, the franchise’s last live-action entry in decades, is no different. One of his references is a tribute to one of Star TrekOriginal screenwriters and a full-fledged science fiction legend, Harlan Ellison. It’s a quick mention, but in “Absolute Candor” the android Soji claims to have been a passenger aboard the Ellison en route to the Beta Quadrant.
Soji’s belief that she was aboard the Ellison becomes one of the first stumbling blocks to suggest to her and Romulan spy Tal Shiar Narek that Soji is not as human as she thought. . With stories like “Shatterday” identity theft under his belt, the reference to Harlan Ellison is a poignant tribute to a man who, despite his grunts, is among the reasons why Star Trek became so loved. Harlan’s stories often focused on the fears and frailties of humanity, and what the concept of identity can mean to an individual. But for Star Trek fans, he was originally the chatty voice behind the classic Star Trek episode, “The City on the Edge of Eternity.”
This episode had a controversial production, with Ellison later attempting to remove his name from the final work. He and Gene Roddenberry never fully reconciled, but Roddenberry remains Approached him to help with the 1979 script Star Trek: The Movie. Ellison gave up quickly, but not because of Roddenberry. According to his version of events, told to Stephen King in the non-fiction Dance of Death, Harlan suggested an adventure through time and space, and as a classic hiking, he asked questions about humanity’s right to survival. But when another producer suggested putting the Mayans in the dawn of time, Ellison checked in with a caustic lack of grace.
It wasn’t the only time Gene Roddenberry recognized Ellison’s profession as a writer. Harlan created The lost star for Canadian channel CTV in the early 1970s, but numerous production issues and a clash between Harlan and producers drove him out, with the series listed under his insulting pseudonym, Cordwainer Bird. In his collection of essays Hunt down the nightmareHarlan writes that Gene Roddenberry was offered a 50% stake in the show if he replaced Ellison. Roddenberry almost laughed Starlost ‘The showrunners stayed on the phone, but when they asked him who to call next, he said, “Harlan Ellison. If you hadn’t screwed him up so badly, he might have done a good job for you.”
Harlan Ellison was a cantankerous but loyal friend and mentor to a number of promising writers. Among the current generation of creative stars are Sens8 creator J. Michael Straczynski, who got close enough to the Ellisons to become Harlan’s executor after his death in 2018, and will complete Ellison’s editorial work on The last dangerous visions. Ellison acted as a creative consultant for Straczynski’s sci-fi classic Babylon 5, and the revival in the 1980s of The twilight zone.
It’s hard to overstate the impact of Ellison’s work on sci-fi, with stories like “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” traversing the video game world, with its nihilistic AI, AM, voiced by Ellison himself. Details of her stories have often been found in the movies, such as a heated lawsuit between Ellison and James Cameron over the origins of The Terminator proven. And today, even Loki it looks like it contains a hint of Ellison, with his timekeepers determined to make sure no mischief gets lost in the time-varying authority.
Naming a ship for Harlan Ellison is a small monument to what he left behind. But there is also a bit of symbolism, although this is unintentional. By virtue of the enduring power of fiction, Harlan Ellison will always fly into the depths of the imagination. And it’s just that Star Trek, above all, remembers how Harlan helped pave his space ways.
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