J. Michael Straczynski says…
J. Michael Straczynski says, literally. This article is BY J. Michael Straczynski, republished with permission in Dark Matter issue 4, July 2011.
I don’t have to tell you who Harlan Ellison is, or that he wrote some of the most seminal episodes of science fiction television in the history of the form. His scripts for The Outer Limits, Star Trek, Twilight Zone and others have won countless awards and are considered landmarks of the genre.
A while back, I got wind of a top-secret project being developed by Publishing 180, the company that publishes the Babylon 5 script books, involving Harlan’s scripts for these series. (Important note: I do not own any part of P180 nor do I receive any financial remuneration of any kind from this project. My involvement here is strictly as a fan and admirer.) I now hold in my hand a preliminary copy of that book, and I wanted to give everyone a heads-up because folks, this is a doozy.
The book, entitled Brain Movies, contains Harlan’s scripts for “Soldier,” and “Demon With a Glass Hand” from The Outer Limits, “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and “Crazy as a Soup Sandwich” from the Twilight Zone, “Memo from Purgatory” from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, “The Face of Helen Bournouw” and Harlan’s near-legendary manifesto on how to write good science fiction, written exclusively for incoming writers on Babylon 5. (The scripts for Paladin and Demon received the prestigious Writers Guild Award.)
In many cases, the book contains both the script and the treatment for the script, something almost never seen outside the studio. Most amazing of all, the book contains not just the shooting script for Harlan’s Hitchcock episode, it contains an earlier draft filled with his handwritten annotations and changes.
When an episode is broadcast, you don’t get to see the writer’s mind at work, don’t have the opportunity to experience the moment he decided to make a line of dialogue or a scene go thisway instead of thatway, how a turn of phrase was altered in just the right way at the last moment, you see only the end product. By including the draft with the handwritten annotations, you can see the creative process being enacted right before your eyes. The opportunity to see inside the writer’s mind is unspeakably rare.
Best of all, these are not re-typeset versions of the script, they are painstakingly scanned reproductions of the ORIGINAL SCRIPTS, exactly as they were written.
And for the budding science fiction writers out there, what better than having Harlan Ellison break down in his manifesto how to write effectively in the genre, how to avoid various kinds of traps and make your writing better?
The value of this book to up-and-coming writers, academics, collectors, fans, and just plain folks who love science fiction television is inestimable. This isn’t just a book of scripts, it’s an important piece of history.
When I heard that Harlan was going to include the B5 manifesto (entitled “A Terrifying List of Things Not to Do When Writing For Babylon 5”), I offered to write an introduction to the volume, entitled “Touching Magic.” That introduction is now also in the book.
Last, and maybe coolest of all, because of the presence of B5 material, they are doing a limited number of books that are dual autographed by both myself and Harlan. With only one prior exception, this is the only time that Harlan and I have autographed something together, and never before for a published book. Once those signed editions are gone…they’re gone.
Because Publishing 180 is a boutique publisher, they do not generally release information on its upcoming titles until right before publication. But this volume is so important, so extraordinary, that I asked if I could give the B5 fans out there, and the fans of Harlan Ellison who are also in that group, a heads-up on this event. This way we reduce the risk of missing the chance to get one of the double-signed editions.
The book will go on sale in a couple of weeks – I think it’s somewhere around the 20th and those already on the B5 mailing list will get the announcement automatically – but I’ll be sure to post the info here the second it goes online. If you want to be sure not to miss it, a signup page will be up soon at www.harlanellisonbooks.com.
Reprinted with permission from J. Michael Straczynski.