RIP, Harry Harrison

RIP, Harry Harrison, author of Make Room, Make Room (which was the basis for the movie Soylent Green) and the absolutely hilarious and indispensable Stainless Steel Rat books. I only met Harry once, when he was put on a panel with me about "Campbell Award winners." He quickly figured out that all the panelists except him were there for winning the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, while he'd won the Campbell Award for Best SF Novel of the Year (the two awards are named for the same person, John W Campbell, but are otherwise unrelated and awarded on totally different bases). He was gracious and humorous and sweet, and then he left to have a drink.

Harrison was 87 years old, and his cause of death isn't given on the official announcement. He was one of the field's greats. I hope he went peacefully, and wish the most sincere condolences on those who knew him and loved him personally, speaking as someone who admired him and his work from afar.

RIP, Harry Harrison


  1. RIP.

    I never read too much of his work (a few of the Stainless Steel Rat books, mostly), but I got Spaceship Medic through the school book club as a kid (not sure how old I was, 7 or 8?), which I loved, and was one of my first routes into SF. Many thanks, Harry!

    1. I loved Stainless Steel Rat.  I was a teen – so that stuff was prime for me when I read it.  But in a copy of New Worlds, that I’d picked up for some Moorcock on the cover, I got the bonus serialization of something I recall more fondly. Everybody ought to read Bill, The Galactic Hero.

      It’s not just a precursor to “Hitchhiker” comedy – but Swiftian and barbed against military adventurism.  Bill was written during the Vietnam conflict, and that context can’t be dismissed.  Lampooning Starship Troopers also served to expose the basic absurdity in the underlying assumptions and falsehood that fuel the wars of empire.

      The Chingers!  My god!  He nails it. 

      The US has never fought anybody from a non-first world country, that weren’t six-inch ant-people – blown by propaganda into 20-foot ravenous and inhuman threats to existence.

      Harry, goodbye and thanks.

  2. I loved “Make Room, Make Room” and it led me to his wonderful Eden series.  Thanks for enriching our lives, Harry.

    1. I learned of the Eden series while perusing the SF section of a bookstore years ago making sure I had read all of the Stainless Steel Rat series.

      Re-read them about 10 times now, they eclipsed the Stainless Steel Rat as my favourite Harrison works.

  3. I will sincerely miss Harry’s contributions to one of my all time favorite collections of literature. And Harry, I’m glad it’s unlikely we’ll be processing you for sustenance. RIP  James “Slippery Jim” Bolivar DiGriz – The Stainless Steel Rat. And, my most heartfelt condolences to Harry’s family, friends, and my fellow fans.

    -A sad UGEplex
    ‘Juz ah nutha Unexplained Genetic Expression in da ‘plex

  4. Something I didn’t know until I read that io9 article and the wikipedia entry; he started out as an illustrator, and did issues of WEIRD SCIENCE and WEIRD FANTASY.

    And he wrote some newspaper comic strips, mostly of a scifi variety.

    And one WEIRD SCIENCE story he did, “Dream of Doom”, later ended up as an uncredited story on the TV show PERVERSIONS OF SCIENCE.

    Also, in apparently one of his few non-science fiction novels, he ghost-wrote a THE SAINT novel; VENDETTA FOR THE SAINT.      Which, since it was used in the Roger Moore series, and actually released theatrically in Europe, is — sort of — another uncredited movie credit.

    For the record, before we get a lot of “Soylent Green is people!” comments:    The cannibalism aspect is not part of his original MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! novel

    He writes here about the experience of the SOYLENT GREEN movie:
    Frustration that it didn’t bear much resemblance to his book, but also a grudging admiration that the movie works, despite that.     Also, he did have some input into the movie; his lunch with Edward G. Robinson seems to have influenced his performance.

  5. Harry was an Esperanto speaker and quite a few names and places in his books are puns in the language. Also, I think it was implied that the culture of the Stainless Steel Rat used Esperanto.

      1. Rano? Kie? Actually, I wonder if the use of Esperanto in “Red Dwarf” wasn’t due to the fact that it was better known in SF fandom than elsewhere because both Harry and Forrest Ackerman were speakers of it.

          1. He stars in a movie in Esperanto. It’s been in my Netflix queue for eight years, but I keep moving it down.

          2. @Antinous_Moderator:disqus I watched it on TCM (late Friday night/early Saturday morning they show B-movies and old educational short films and so on, for stoners presumably) a year or so ago.

            It’s worth it just to see Shatner chewing the scenery in a different way, but you can probably just watch a few clips on youtube to get a taste. I wouldn’t bother watching the whole thing.

          3. That’s what I figured and why it’s been in the queue for the better part of a decade.

        1. Harrison was one of the first people to suggest that it should be made the language of the stars, and several volumes of his books contain the main character teaching some backwoods yokel esperanto so that they don’t sound like a rube.

  6. Fare thee well, Harry, I’m sure you’ll entertain wonderfully wherever you go ….
    Another SF great passes, so few are left ……

  7. I read Harrison mostly as a pre-teen, and I absolutely loved the Stainless Steel Rat series. To me he was right up there with Asimov, Heinlein, PKD and Philip Jose Farmer as my favorite authors of the time. I am going to use his passing as an excuse to re-read some of his work, and maybe even find a novel or two that I haven’t read yet. Anyone got a recommendation?

    1. Yes! The To the Stars trilogy. Its been almost twenty years since I read it, but in many ways its still a plausible scenario for a dystopian, imperial Earth – and not a scenario that relies on any exotic premise to make it work, just proper hard-sci-fi extrapolation. What happens to democracy if ecological crisis overwhelms our civilization?

      I’m not a sci-fi writer, but if I were, HH would do my head in. He made the job seem so easy.

      1. I don’t think I read those – at least I don’t remember reading them. Looks like the first one is Homeworld, is available as an ebook, though perhaps not the others. Deathworld, which I am also unfamiliar with, is apparently free as an ebook. Not sure if those are related.

        1. Deathworld is separate to all intents and purposes. 

          What I mean is, Deathworld and the Stainless Steel Rat series, (among others) are set tens of thousands of years into the future, in a Milky Way galaxy shaped by the events of the To The Stars series, which is set just a few centuries from now.

          1. ‘To the Stars’ is comprised of ‘Homeworld’, ‘Wheelworld’, and ‘Starworld’ – (I have it in paperback, all the novels back-to-back in one volume).
            Also, I’d recommend his ‘Eden’ trilogy – East of Eden, Winter in Eden, and Return to Eden – about tribal humans facing off against intelligent ‘other beings’ on our planet.

        2. Please check your links, and if they don’t work, fix them. Copying and pasting frequently inserts spaces and line breaks.

          1. That’s because I fixed them. Both of them had an extra space and a line break inside the opening tag.

  8. Harry Harrison was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I reread the Deathworld books last summer and they still hold up.
    I wish someone would turn more of his books into movies. The Stainless Steel Rat books would be great on the big screen.

  9. I have just heard of the death of Harry Harrison. He was not only an advocate of an international language, but spoke Esperanto fluently. I first met him at the London Esperanto Centre in 1987. And, yes, we did converse in that language as well!
    Esperanto owes Harry a great debt of gratitude, due to the “Stainless Steel Rat” books as well as his support to the online course
    His memory will live on for many years, including now, on the internet.

  10. Deathworld is a personal favourite of mine; quite pulpy, with a wonderful Golden Era feel. I’ve never got around to reading the Stainless Steel Rat books; maybe now would be a good time.

  11. Harry Harrison’s books  figured prominently in one of my most fondly remembered summers as a young teenager. I was guilted into helping my newly widowed grandmother around her increasingly too difficult to manage home… Summer hours spent mowing lawns, repainting the garage, fixing windows, etc. were made bearable by a stack of books which featured Harrison prominently – Stainless Steel Rat, Make Room! Make Room!, the To the Stars books and more which I don’t remember now. He’ll not be forgotten in this nerd’s heart.  

  12. RIP.  His Stainless Steel Rat books got me though a difficult part of my life, teaching me to face adversity with a sense of humor and with confidence, and that there are always solutions if you are willing to think diagonally enough.  As works of fiction, they also taught me a lot about plot.  Harrison wasn’t the fanciest prose stylist, but he really understood how to tighten a plot, and maintain suspense.

    As a person, he was full of curiosity, and therefore a restless traveller.  He loved Esperanto largely, I think, because it gave him the ability to travel the world–not because Esperanto is the universal language that it was designed to be, but because there are pockets of Esperanto enthusiasts all over who are happy to meet with you while you travel.  He was also a passionate and committed pacifist and atheist.

    If you’ve never read any of his work, you should check him out.  Some of his old Galaxy stories never had their copyright renewed, and are available on Project Gutenberg or Archive Org.

  13. I started with Deathworld, and went on to read the SSR, Bill The Galactic Hero, East of Eden.  Even tried to learn Esperanto one time.  RIP, Harry.

  14. just yesterday, I saw a thread on a book-themed  website by a kid who had just discovered the SSR books and loved them.  So it goes.  As beautiful a tribute as any.

  15. Just another voice adding to the “RIP” chorus.

    I’ve a hard time thinking anyone will replace either him or Asprin in the field of writing funny and compelling fantasy or science fiction. With those two and Zelazny being dead I have little reason to even think about fiction anymore. 

  16. Harrison was one of the great SF short story writers, as well. I still have the 1968 ‘If’ magazine I bought in the fall of that year, and Harrison’s “Or Battle’s Sound” was there, a disturbing and seminal space war story – my intro to his work, and a better one couldn’t have been found. 

  17. I still read The Stainless Steel Rat once a year or so.. The first handful of those books are so much fun.. This is a hard loss for me. Especially having also lost Joel Rosenberg this year. I feel like all “my” authors are going away. 

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