While science fiction writer Harry Harrison never had the a high profile career like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clark or Ray Bradbury, he none the less is still a legend who helped define the decades that made science fiction one the best genre’s for social commentary. Harrison died on August 15 of undisclosed causes at the age of 87.
Most might be unaware that his 1966 novel, Make Room! Make Room! Became the 1973 thriller Soylent Green, a dystopian film that starred Charleston Heston.
“He believed science fiction was important, that it caused people to think about our world and what it could become,” Tor Books’ publisher Tom Doherty wrote in a blog post.
That novel and film was about population that has exploded since the turn of the 20th Century. And while the novel was set in 1999, the books themes resonate today as they did when the book was released 46 years ago: there are too many people, and not enough resources. As pointed out by one of the characters in the book:
“I’ll tell you what changed. Modern medicine arrived. Everything had a cure. Malaria was wiped out along with all the other diseases that had been killing people young and keeping the population down. Death control arrived. Old people lived longer. More babies lived who would have died, and now they grow up into old people who live longer still. People are still being fed into the world just as fast — they’re just not being taken out of it at the same rate. Three are born for every two that die. So the population doubles and doubles — and keeps on doubling at a quicker rate all the time. We got a plague of people, a disease of people infecting the world. We got more people who are living longer. Less people have to be born, that’s the answer. We got death control — we got to match it with birth control.”
Still, Harrison was not all doom and gloom, and his Stainless Steel Rat series and Bill, The Galactic Hero series proved that he had a wicked sense of humor with those satirical novels. Those books were a parody really of the typical space operas of the day, and he brought a knowing, very subversive, and anti-military, anti-authority and anti-violence tone to them (the Bill series was really a parody of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Trooper).