There are a lot of things that I dislike in the world. But one thing I really hate are stories that are absolutely false. Even more, I hate stories that are so false, they actually hurt the reputation or even livelihood of other people.
That happened over the past couple weeks with Andrew Niccol, the writer and director of “In Time.” To be honest, I have not watched the movie, despite me being a fan of “Gattaca” and “The Truman Show.” It has more to do with my aversion to rude people in movie theaters than much else, but even with mixed reviews, I do plan on sitting down to watch it someday.
I also have never read Harlan Ellison’s short story, “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman.” I’m sure it’s a wonderful story, since Ellison is a celebrated writer, and I’m probably missing out on that.
However, whether “In Time” is derivative of “Ticktockman,” that will ultimately be for a judge (or settling attorneys) to decide. Hearing general descriptions from Ellison’s complaint, it sounds like there might be something there. But to be honest, you can make anything sound similar the more you broaden the strokes.
So I really don’t have an opinion one way or the other. I would like to err on the side of Niccol, only because I don’t feel he needs to rely on other writers like Ellison to create stories. But hey, I can’t judge it, as I am not being given all the details.
What I do know, however, is that there was not a settlement made between Ellison and Niccol. I know that because I had to hear it directly from the attorneys from both sides, the studio that created “In Time,” and the Writers Guild of America. And sadly, all of that came at least a week after the original story appeared on Yahoo, with no attribution.
I have to take some of the blame for furthering the story. I saw the Yahoo report, put trust in the writer, and didn’t fully vet the story. And I wasn’t the only one. Blastr, the news site for Syfy as well as the Orlando Sentinel among others also picked up the story, feeling the same bit of confidence that I did in having Yahoo as a source.
But we are all human. Well, at least I know I and the Sentinel reporter are. I think they’re human at Blastr (just kidding, Scott, sheesh!). And posting thousands and thousands of stories in our lifetimes so far, we are bound to make mistakes here and there.
This was one of them. And as soon as we learned of the error, I know I quickly went into action to clean it up, and make sure the proper information is out there.
Why? Because you, as a reader, already have a hard time trusting the things you read online. We have spent the last 13 years or so making sure that you can trust us. That doesn’t mean we’ll be spot-on accurate 100 percent of the time. But in the rare instances where we make a factual mistake, you know we will quickly correct the problem.
Of course, I always go one step further. A story like this doesn’t happen by accident. It is always sourced from somewhere, and it’s likely that original source knew the story was false. That angers me, because if I wanted to publish fiction, I would write fanfic (not that there’s anything wrong with that, Vic and Amber). Even worse, this lie could very well damage the reputation of Andrew Niccol, especially the original story published on Yahoo that was quite explicit that Niccol stole from Ellison, when nothing like that has come close to being proven or acknowledged.
Niccol is in the public eye, yeah, yeah, so he should be used to it. No. That doesn’t excuse it. Integrity is important to many of us, and I’m very sure that Niccol is in that group. Niccol has put his heart and soul in creating great stories, just as Ellison had. If he’s guilty of stealing, then he should be ostracized for it. But right now, all there is here are accusations — unproven allegations. And Niccol has every right to be presumed innocent until some conclusion tells us we should believe otherwise.
I don’t think that Ellison went out planting a story. I mean, he is very unorthodox, but I don’t exactly see that as one of his moves. I don’t know where the story came from. Maybe it was just from some prankster who wanted to see if he can create something that would get legs and move through the Internet. To me, it’s disgusting.
But I will tell you what. Ellison did have an obligation — a moral one, if not a legal one — to let his fans and readers who were congratulating him on his “victory” that the story was not true. No matter what your lawyer says to not talk about the case, by staying silent when something damaging like this is being spread is to become an accessory to it. Plain and simple.
If the tables were reversed, and it was Niccol suing Ellison, and something came out saying Ellison stole, I would expect Niccol to do the same thing, no matter what his lawyer said about commenting on the case. Telling people that a reported conclusion to the case is false is not commenting on the case. It is not interfering with the case. It is making it clear that the information is completely wrong, and that a case is still ongoing.
Ellison, on his official website, picked a post in his message board area to respond to, among posts congratulating him specifically on his so-called “In Time” win. He didn’t acknowledge those posts, and said absolutely nothing, even though he knew that it wasn’t true. I’m sorry, but as an outsider, that looks to me like he was acknowledging the truth of those congratulations with his silence.
It’s just my opinion, and hey, I have the right to it. Just as Ellison has the right to his. And trust me, neither of us have ever been afraid to express it.
I don’t think this makes Ellison a bad person. And I know he’s stubborn. But maybe, if this type of thing comes up again, he can make sure that we’re all pushing forward with the truth, and not a lie. Especially when he has the power to stop that lie dead in its tracks.