Harry Harrison, the author of such sci-fi series like “Stainless Steel Rat” and “Bill the Galactic Hero," passed away on Aug. 15. He was 87.
Harrison's 1966 novel "Make Room! Make Room!" — which paints a future society crumbling under the weight of excessive population and resource depletion — is credited as the basis for the 1973 dystopian film "Soylent Green."
Unlike the movie, however, Harrison's book did not include any mentions of cannibalism. According to Newsday
, that macabre plot line was introduced in the “Soylent Green” script "to sensationalize the problem central to the story."
"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
While the themes depicted in "Make Room!" have yet to come to pass (Harrison set his post-apocalyptic world in 1999), the warnings regarding population booms and unsustainable pillaging of the Earth still ring true. In this excerpt, the character Sol talks about how mankind innovated its way into a corner.
"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."
Beyond the stark future painted in "Make Room!", Harrison was known for the humorous and satirical characters he created in "Stainless Steel Rat" and "Bill, the Galactic Hero" (which satirized "Starship Troopers").
"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," wrote Harrison's webmaster Michael Carroll. "... and, you know, your fiction was pretty damn good too!"