Science-fiction author Harry Harrison—best known for his 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!, the basis of the film Soylent Green—died today of undisclosed causes. He was 87.
Although Make Room! Make Room! (and its reconfiguration as the 1971 short-story Roommates) was Harrison’s calling card to the world at large, he was already legendary within the sci-fi world. In addition to numerous standalone books (like the recently reissued proto-steampunk novel A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!), he wrote many popular series—including Deathworld and Bill, The Galactic Hero, the latter a parody of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. His most beloved creation, though, was The Stainless Steel Rat: The long-running series, which ran from 1961 to 2010, stars intergalactic grafter “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, and it helped establish the picaresque—which, up to that point, had been mostly the domain of fantasy—to science fiction.
Harrison began his career in comics, which he began drawing for various publishers in New York City following a stint in the Army during World War II. Eventually he teamed up with the legendary artist Wally Wood, and worked with him (mostly uncredited) on Wood’s masterful work for EC Comics—namely the groundbreaking titles Weird Fantasy and Weird Science.
Although Soylent Green helped cement his reputation, Harrison himself was unsatisfied with it. When the Charlton Heston-starring film was released in 1973, he confessed that he “fought [the studio] tooth and nail on [the script],” mostly because of radical changes to his original fable of overpopulation and urban malaise. Most significantly, Soylent Green’s infamous twist ending was never in Make Room! Make Room!, and it was one of many alterations that Harrison disliked. Mostly, though, he was disappointed that the final product wasn’t rigorously science-fictional enough—just one example of Harrison’s lifelong devotion to the genre.
Author Michael Carroll, webmaster of Harrison’s official site, eulogized him in decidedly Harrison-esque fashion: “Rest in peace, my friend. You touched the lives of millions with your exciting adventures, packed with unlikely but always hilarious and thrilling escapades and frequently rather dodgy, but loveable, characters... and, you know, your fiction was pretty damn good too!”
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