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The City on the Edge of Forever [Hardcover]

Harlan Ellison
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

December 1995
The original teleplay that became the classic Star Trek episode, with an expanded introductory essay by Harlan Ellison, The City on the Edge of Forever has been surrounded by controversy since the airing of an “eviscerated” version—which subsequently has been voted the most beloved episode in the series’ history. In its original form, The City on the Edge of Forever won the 1966–67 Writers Guild of America Award for best teleplay. As aired, it won the 1967 Hugo Award. The City on the Edge of Forever is, at its most basic, a poignant love story. Ellison takes the reader on a breathtaking trip through space and time, from the future, all the way back to 1930s America. In this harrowing journey, Kirk and Spock race to apprehend a renegade criminal and restore the order of the universe. It is here that Kirk faces his ultimate dilemma: a choice between the universe—or his one true love. This edition makes available the astonishing teleplay as Ellison intended it to be aired. The author’s introductory essay reveals all of the details of what Ellison describes as a “fatally inept treatment” of his creative work. Was he unjustly edited, unjustly accused, and unjustly treated?
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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From Booklist

Ellison has had it--up to here! He wrote the original teleplay for the first Star Trek TV series' most popular episode (in which Kirk and Spock leap through a time gate into 1930s Chicago in order to prevent history being changed) and then watched, patiently fuming, for 30 years as Gene Roddenberry, that blankity-blank-blank, told everyone what an incompetent job Ellison had done and how much he had to labor to realize the script that was finally filmed. Yet since Ellison's original won a Writers Guild Award, the highest honor TV dramatists bestow, how incompetent could it have been? The answer, verified by the script's reappearance here alongside two prefatory treatments and two scenes Ellison added at Roddenberry's request, is "not at all." Seconding that assessment, four other ST writers and four original cast members weigh in. But what makes this the ST book of the year (maybe all time) is Ellison's sputtering, raging, fuming introduction in which he sets the record straight, by God! Invective doesn't come any better these days. Both ears and the tail, Harl! Ray Olson

About the Author

Harlan Ellison has been called “one of the great living American short story writers” by the Washington Post. In a career spanning more than fifty years, he has won more awards than any other living fantasist. Ellison has written or edited seventy-four books; more than seventeen hundred stories, essays, articles, and newspaper columns; two dozen teleplays; and one dozen motion pictures. He has won the Hugo Award eight and a half times (shared once); 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 Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America twice; the Georges Melies Fantasy Film Award twice; two Audie Awards (for the best in audio recordings); and he was awarded the Silver Pen for Journalism by PEN, the international writers’ union. He was presented with the first Living Legend Award by the International Horror Critics at the 1995 World Horror Convention. Ellison is the only author in Hollywood ever to win the Writers Guild of America award for Outstanding Teleplay (solo work) four times, most recently for “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” his Twilight Zone episode that was Danny Kaye’s final role, in 1987. In 2006, Ellison was awarded the prestigious title of Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Dreams With Sharp Teeth, the documentary chronicling his life and works, was released on DVD in May 2009. 
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Quite the character, Mr Ellison is. Aug. 28 2014
By Bootsy Bass TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is not just his script and re-writes for city On The Edge of Forever. They take up maybe a third of the book. The rest is his writing about the TRUE story of his script and Star Trek and Gene Roddenberry ( who does not come out looking good at all.....I never did trust his image). Very interesting. Their are also short pieces by other "players" in the Star Trek universe at the time explaining their version and or involvement in the whole sordid mess.

If you are expecting straight fiction....not here....by another book. If you are interested in the being that is Harlan Ellison this is a MUST buy.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The legend explained. Aug. 24 2012
By D - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
For most of my life there has been the legend of the original script. Of course, everyone heard Roddenberry's explanation that the script just wasn't Star Trek, Scotty was selling drugs and so on, and most Trekkers bought into it. Why not? Gene said it. It must be true.
But in that story there was always the knowledge that Harlan is not a fool and had worked with Gene on Star Trek and helped gather top flight writers to submit scripts for the show. Surely he knew what Star Trek 'was'.
Here is Harlan's story of the creation of the script, and also a couple drafts of his script. What became an award winning script. A legendary script. And a true masterpiece.

Except....

I actually do have a problem with it. It's not Star Trek. Not the Trek I know.

Let me explain.

No, Scotty doesn't sell drugs. But someone on the ship does, sort of. A low ranking member of the crew, never before seen is the macguffin in the script. He goes into the past and changes it. Kirk and Spock chase after him through time.
Is this Star Trek? Sure. Why not? Not as good as chasing a character we know well through time, but...okay.

We are not done yet.

(we are skipping over the space pirates crap, Harlan didn't really want it in his script, he wrote it because he was asked to show what was happening on the Enterprise while the heroes are down on the planet, thankfully that bit was tossed)

Kirk spends most of the script knowing full well Edith Keeler must die. It's not found out in act three, it's not a blindside that the woman he loves must die, he falls in love with her knowing she should die.
And then fails to let her die.

There it is. Kirk is fallible. He is going to let her live and change everything he has ever known so she may live. Kirk fails and Spock has to fix it. Kirk is not just fallible. Hell, he needs to turn in his hero card.
How are you ever supposed to root for Kirk after that? Sure, a normal person, perhaps you, perhaps me, may make the decision to let the world we know cease to exist for the love of a woman, but Kirk is bigger than that. Plus, he has to be back next week saving the galaxy once again. That hero card has to stay in the wallet.

He has to act. Or in this case stop someone else from acting. He has to make this tremendous sacrifice knowing how much it is going to hurt. That is the heroic act Kirk needs to give the viewers for them to believe in him next week when an angry styrofoam creature threatens the ship and Kirk pulls out the hero card once again.
As beautifully written as Harlan's script is, it is not quite Star Trek. McCoy as the Mcguffin is better. Sure, the method of getting him hopped up was clumsy but the payoff when Kirk stops him from saving Edith allows us to experience what we know as the Kirk/Spock/McCoy dymanic at its finest.

Again, we should find out Edith needs to die AFTER Kirk falls for her, not before.

It is said that any story should be about the most important event in a person's life. But with episodic tv you have to come back next week and do it again. Not every episode can be THE event of a character's life. Harlan's script is. By far.

Were this script filmed as a movie with a different ship and crew it would probably live forever in the annals of great science fiction films. Yes the script is that good. But for episodic tv with the characters we already know it did need some tweaking. Not much, just some. So yes, essentially it needs watering down. Harlan's beautiful script needs to be changed to fit that little screen that may or may not be in color. In a strange sort of way it was too good for episodic tv.

Gene Roddenberry did Harlan no favors and Harlan has every right to be quite angry. Gene is not the angel some purport him to be, most of us fans know that. (He wrote 'lyrics' to the Star trek theme music to get royalty money, for example, he knew they would never be used but he wanted half the money.) Gene's claims that Harlan's script was horribly flawed are obviously lies. To be honest, a few tweaks were all that was probably necessary. Even rewritten several times over the magic that Harlan created is still there for us to see in what most fans consider the greatest Star Trek episode ever. Harlan tends to believe his script needed no changes at all, every change was sacrilege and how dare they change a word, after all it won an award!. Well, probably not , but he views the filmed version as a rape of his work. Gene felt he had to throw in his usual preachy the future is perfect scene, and then steal the credit for the script when it became the greatest episode ever. As the years and the conventions grew passed Gene's lies got bigger until myth of the original script had taken on a life of it's own.
Which is too bad. Harlan deserves better. Much better. Gene was a hack writer. Harlan is an artist.

Harlan's script is incredible. But the episode as filmed worked better within the framework of what we know is Star Trek. A bit more heavy handed, a bit less intellectual, but more honest to the characters of Kirk and Spock, and also McCoy. And yes, the best episode ever. Thank you Harlan.

And finally. Why did the portal look like a lopsided rock doughnut? He answers this question.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ellison Rants June 9 2013
By G. L. Hester - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Interesting enough read, if you're into "The City on the Edge of Forever" - arguably the best episode of the original Star Trek television series. This "book" is little more than an essay of Ellison ranting on about the evils of Gene Roddenberry and the production staff of Star Trek essentially taking his idea and re-writing it to the point where it is barely recognizable from Ellison's version. Since it is the "best" episode of the series, then it is Ellison's conjecture that everyone basically threw him under the bus and took credit for his work. The book contains his original final draft of his script, and a couple of revisions.

But that's about it. Ellison is jaded by the experience - he apparently hasn't made as much off his work than everyone else, and they have all been telling "lies" about him all these years. True enough - Hollywood is a horrible place to do business.

Was he shafted? Of course he was - just look at the latest writer's strike and find out how writers are just plain abused in that industry. Does he deserve to be angry? Absolutely! Imagine creating something so powerful as the "best" episode of Star Trek and having everyone not only take credit for it, but acclaim to thousands at conventions that you can't put two words together.

After reading Ellison's script, and being intimately familiar with the aired version, I agree with both sides. Ellison's script is a mess - which he blames on Roddenberry forcing him to put in elements that he did not want. But as a story it just doesn't work. There are characters we haven't seen before and won't see again. There is a drug that's introduced in the teaser but not heard about again (cf. Chekhov's gun.) The antagonist's motivation for escaping into the past is sloppily forced toward the McGuffin. Then there's Spock's speech in the denouement which is more suited for McCoy, but still doesn't fit because the Kirk/Keeler relationship was just not developed during the story.

The aired version is superior to Ellison's, but that doesn't mean he deserved the treatment he received.

I bought the Kindle version - which contains web links to illustrations. Annoying, but I guess it keeps the footprint on the Kindle to a minimum. Check this out if you're into Trek history and can take some real bad attitude.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If the rant had been put at the end of the script instead of the beginning, maybe another star would be warranted. March 18 2014
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
I read as much of the rant as I could stand, then skipped to the script. I wish I hadn't read a word of the prologue at all, and had simply tried to judge the work on it's own merits, but unfortunately the self regard and bitterness of Ellison may have spoiled all of his writing for me. I am glad I didn't purchase this book, but instead used my local library's digital collection. Many of Ellison's books are in my to read list, but I will not make the mistake of reading his prologues again.

About the script, each word I read was colored by the silly bitterness of someone who considered themselves an artist, but doesn't realize that art has to be accessible and entertaining when put into the public forum of film, and even to a degree in writing. If I hadn't read the prologue, maybe I would have felt differently.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A look at what-might-have-been for the most famous Star Trek episode May 27 2013
By Craig - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I can't imagine this book has broad appeal to anyone other than fans of Star Trek or Harlan Ellison, but it's a must-read if you fall into either of those categories.

If nothing else, this book is an interesting study in how TV politics worked in the 1960's.

It's hard to say which is better--Ellison's script which won a Writer's Guild Award, or the altered/rewritten shooting script that actually aired on television and won a Hugo Award.

These rewrites were very contentious, and Ellison feuded with the show's creator Gene Rodenberry for 30 years. After the episode became a cult phenomenon, both parties waged a war of public opinion in the press and at conventions for years. Ellison here provides a 30,000 word essay defending his version and detailing every slight, every lie, every deception from Rodenberry. Ellison comes across as vain and petty. Rodenberry comes across as self-aggrandizing and willing to take credit for others' work. It's all very silly, in the end, considering how similar the two scripts ended up.

But which is better?

Several neat concepts from Ellison's Prologue and First Act were excised due to time, cost, or political correctness including: crew members doing drugs aboard the USS Enterprise; a murder; and the ancient cryptic alien race, the Guardians of Forever.

The Second and Third Acts were similar in both versions. In both, Kirk and Spock travel back to 1930's America to restore the past to its original timeline; Kirk falls in love with a woman but then learns she was supposed to die in order for history to be corrected.

The aired version shored up several weak points in Ellison's script: (1) a temporarily deranged Dr. McCoy replaces the unknown drug-dealing murderer Beckwith, (2) Kirk meets Edith Wheeler earlier, and the audience watches him fall in love before they learn of her importance to the timeline, (3) Spock's shows more ingenuity in investigating the alternate timeline and figuring out how to resolve the future, (4) Several cheesy flashbacks to a alternate "pirate ship Enterprise" are dropped.

The ending is where the two scripts diverge the most. As aired, the ending turned Kirk into a Tragic Hero. He allows Edith, the love of his life, to die in order to save the Enterprise and the universe. It was poignant but predictable.

Ellison's intended ending was richer, more nuanced, and probably also harder to convey on television. Ellison had Kirk freeze at the last second, unable to act, unwilling to sacrifice this woman to save the future. On the other hand, the evil Beckwith acting on split-second instinct actually tries to save her--to do something good for a change--not realizing how it will impact the future. Emotionless Spock steps in to restrain to Beckwith and allow Edith to die.

Both scripts have their strengths, but I'd give a slight edge to Ellison's original.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting artifact March 29 2011
By Anony Mouse - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book has over 70 pages (in the hardcover edition) of introductory essay in which the author complains about Gene Roddenberry "and his minions," the "Bimbo Queen Joan Collins," and the Star Trek universe in general, and how they mistreated his screenplay by revising it. The intro is not particularly well-written, coherent, or entertaining. He is just mad, and the essay is just sad and bitter. The original screenplay is interesting to read, to see what all the fuss was about.

The original screenplay does not fit in the Star Trek universe very well, and does not make a very good story for a number of reasons. Here are the reasons in order of importance (spoilers follow, if you can spoil something that started off this bad): 1. A drug dealer who is killing people while trying to evade capture by Kirk and Spock would not suddenly and in the presence of Kirk and Spock attempt to save Edith Keeler. Supposedly Kirk and Spock prevent Beckwith from saving Edith, and the timeline is restored and all is well. 2. The explanation given for the fate of Beckwith when he escapes from Spock and jumps back into the time vortex is just plain stupid. You can't dial in the same exact time when you go back into the vortex or you'll create a fracture and end up burning repeatedly and eternally in a supernova. Come on! 3. The crew calls up to the Enterprise to ask to beam up, they are beamed up to a ship called the Condor, and the Condor captain says "Welcome to the Condor. Whoever you are, you shouldn't have come aboard." Well how dumb is that. How about if you didn't want us on board, you shouldn't have beamed us up. In two separate shifts. 4. Rand uses her tricorder to produce feedback and blows up the transporter console with a shower of sparks that throws the technician "half across the room," and yet after a short fight where the Enterprise crew locks the Condor crew out in the corridor, Rand is able to repair the damage she caused in a few seconds. Ridiculous. 5. The scenario with Rand defending the transporter room while Kirk and Spock go back to the planet and back into the vortex was cut back to one time, but was never resolved. 6. A suitable explanation of why Edith must die was not covered adequately. The conjecture was simply too thin and unsubstantiated. Beckwith never established a relationship with Edith.

With more holes than a block of Swiss cheese, I don't know how this script could have received a Writers Guild award. It must have been pretty slim pickings that year. If it was the "Readers" Guild maybe they would have actually read it, and decided not to give out an award that year at all.

Everything about the final televised version was much better. The final televised version was not included in this book.

I'm glad I bought a used copy.
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