The good news is: I still love Harlan Ellison.
The bad news is: There is no bad news.
Shortcut #59: Harlan Ellison’s I, Robot: The Illustrated Screenplay
When asked, I always bring Harlan Ellison up as one of my favorite writers (along with Zelazny, Farmer, Brust, Delany, and Mieville, to name the lucky, the proud, the few (okay, I admit I have too many favorite authors)). But there’s a significant difference between the way these guys are favorites.
For the truth is that Ellison is the only one whose writing doesn’t have to absolutely wow me (nearly) every time I read him. The thing is, I would read pretty much anything Ellison deigned to throw in front of me. He’s the only writer for whom I was willing to lay out as much money as it would take to collect his entire ouevre (back when White Wolf was putting out all of his works in beautiful, glorious hardback).
The things is that I have been disappointed by individual stories. Ellison is a writing giant whose voice and ideas sometimes outstrip the language (and sometimes the reverse) but, no matter what, his writing always entrances me. He has a gift for titles (try topping “Repent, Harlequin!” Said the Ticktockman) and for characters and for strange, fascinating situations.
But what I love most about Ellison’s writing is that it is unbearably and unquestionably human. It is powered by a love for humanity, for all of our flaws and every bit of our genius. And knowing all of this, because of my love for Ellison’s writing, it took me a few years to finally crack open his screenplay for I, Robot.
This is not because I was afraid it would be bad, but simply because I don’t want to burn through the works of those authors I treasure. Waiting increases the anticipation and the pleasure in the reading (as long as the reading lives up to the dream of the reading). And, I’m here to say, the wait was worth it.
In the introduction to the book (and, really, I would read Ellison writing about damn near anything) Ellison talks about the long process of writing the screenplay (it took a solid year) and the failure to get it produced during Asimov’s lifetime (in fact, this book was an attempt to drum up support among consumers for an I, Robot movie using Ellison’s script. Instead, we got Will Smith). He also talks about how, for him, his screenplays are his novels (stated after people complained about Ellison never writing novels).
It’s obvious when you read I, Robot that this is the case. Ellison’s voice shines through like a beacon through the text, text that, in accordance to what I had believed about screenplays, would be dry and dull. It’s not just the ideas and the dialogue that give the screenplay life, it’s every single word written down. In the direction notes, Ellison talks directly to us (okay, to the director) in a way that makes it clear that, whatever form he uses, Ellison is always telling a story. It’s amazing, and moving, and beautiful.
And the screenplay is, too.
It seems far too late for this screenplay to be filmed, if only because it would take someone like Danny Boyle or Darren Aronofsky to make it real, but the book solves that dilemma for you. Get it. Read it. Watch the movie unfold in your mind.