RIP, Harry Harrison

For those of you who have not yet heard, science fiction Grand Master Harry Harrison passed away yesterday, from causes that are not yet determined as far as I know. Here’s the announcement from his own Web site; here’s an i09 article on the subject. Those folks outside of science fiction circles probably know him best as the author of Make Room! Make Room!, which was the basis of the classic science fiction film Soylent Green. Those inside science fiction arguably know him best for his sardonic and comic Stainless Steel Rat series of books. However you know of him, it’s a loss for the genre: Harrison had his own voice and his own style. SFWA doesn’t give out Grand Master status just for kicks and giggles; you better believe Harrison’s work earned that title.

Many other people who knew him far better than I did will say much more significant things about him than I will, but I still have a story about him, which is that he was the first science fiction writer I ever had a peer-t0-peer conversation with. It took place at Torcon 3, the 2003 Worldcon, which was the very first science fiction convention I ever attended. One of the first things I did when I arrived was to make a beeline to the SFWA Suite, which is a place for SFWA members to hang out and socialize and maybe have a snack. Well, I was a brand-spanking new SFWA member (as soon as I got my Old Man’s War contract from Tor, I faxed a copy to SFWA so I could prove I was eligible to be a member), so I wanted to meet my fellow science fiction writers.

When I got to the lounge, there was an older fellow sitting at one of the tables by himself, so I sat down and said something along the lines of, Hi, I’m John Scalzi, I’m a new member of SFWA. And he said, hello, I’m Harry Harrison. And I thought, Holy CRAP, because, you know, Harry Harrison. Within a minute of sitting down in the SFWA Suite, I was talking with one of the living legends of the genre. He was gracious enough to give me some of his time and to suffer my interminable rambling, because even though I referred to this as my first peer-t0-peer conversation, come on. My first novel wouldn’t be released for two years yet; meanwhile Harry Harrison had dozens to his name. The fact he treated me like a peer, however, was something I appreciated and noted well for future reference.

Yes, I was a fan of Harry Harrison’s. When SFWA named him a Grand Master, I was very well pleased. I think it’s worth noting that in his storied career, Harrison never won a Hugo (he was nominated twice, in the Novel category) and had a share in only a single Nebula (for Soylent Green, adapted from his book). The measure of someone’s influence and stature as a writer is not always immediate; the Grand Master award was a fine way of noting that Harrison’s work and reputation built over an entire career. And that’s an encouraging thing.

If you’re a fan or have a memory of the man, Harrison’s official news blog has opened up a comment thread for remembrances and messages of condolences to his family. It’s here. Go on by and pay your respects.

55 thoughts on “RIP, Harry Harrison

  1. Dying is easy.

    Comedy is hard.

    Comic science fiction is damn near impossible, but Harry Harrison make it look effortless.

  2. I’ll put in my vote for his “Stars and Stripes” alt. history novels. Great stuff. But really, with a body of work like Harrison’s, it’s hard to pick a favorite…

  3. What are the criteria for the Grand Master award? How did Harry Harrison become considered?

    I am asking this because I honestly do not know. I tried looking it up on the SFWA website but all I found were the by-laws for selecting a Grand Master. Also, I should read Harrison’s work.

  4. Additional props for the Stainless Steel Rat, and I loved the Eden trilogy as well. I also still remember reading The Technicolor Time Machine as a kid and loving it. Even the Bill the Galactic Hero books (which I didn’t expect to like because they seemed *too* over the top, but bought solely because Harrison wrote them) were enjoyable funny reads.

  5. I loved Bili, the Galactic Hero. That was the first thing of his that i read. Later, I read part of the Stainless Steel Rat series. But I look at his page on Wikipedia, and see a lot of books I never heard of. I am way behind.

  6. I remember the Stainless Steel Rat as a pargon of the hyper-idealistic non-utopian future. “What’s that, you say? In the future, somehow religion will go the way of the dodo, we’ll all hang up our petty tribalistic natures, start speaking Esperanto instead of natural languages with their messy associations, etc? Great! So here’s what we’ll be fighting and backstabbing each other about instead…”

    Of course, the real trick was making it funny, to boot.

  7. I have a paperback omnibus of his “Deathworld” novels on my shelf. I remember picking it up at a local Giant because I loved his Stainless Steel Rat books. These were two sides to Harry Harrison for me. I adored them both.

  8. What a loss. Harry’s short story collection PRIME NUMBER was the first SF book I ever purchased, and it was a gateway drug leading me to so much of his other excellent work, as well as a strong influence in my SF TV writing. Waaaay back when I was a teenager, I often dreamed of adapting “The Streets of Ashkelon” for television, a mental exercise which usually ended by admitting to myself that no TV network would ever have the cojones to air it… and that’s probably still true.

    Half a century later, I finally got to meet Harry Harrison at a UCLA book signing, and had to decide which of his books to bring… and I wound up choosing my ancient, faded, battered paperback of PRIME NUMBER, just so I could tell him what it had meant to that starry-eyed filmmaker-wannabe teenage geek.

    Thank you, Harry. Rest in peace.

  9. I have fond memories of Star Smashers. But personally my favourite – though I haven’t re-read it since my teens – was The Technicolor Time Machine, about a run-down film company that gets their hands on an authentic time machine and uses it to film a Viking epic starring actual Vikings. Somewhere, in some other universe, that would have been a terrific movie.

  10. Wow. I LOVED “Bill, the Galactic Hero.” How can you not love an SF novel where when the guy gets an arm blown off in battle, the incompetent doctors sew it back on on the wrong side???? And the “Deathworld Trilogy” is one of my favorite SF series of all time.

  11. Whoops, no. It was TWO TALES AND EIGHT TOMORROWS, not PRIME NUMBER; the latter was probably the secondSF book I ever bought. Mea culpa; it’s early, I’m still on my first cup of coffee, and I’m still boggled by the news,

  12. The Stainless Steel Rat was the first Science Fiction book I ever read. I was 7 I believe. While I’m sure there was a lot that went straight over my head, it made me want to read every other book on my dad’s bookshelf. Which I eventually did. RIP Harry.

  13. I think there’s a trend; a lot of people started reading sf in general because they had read one of Harry’s books and wanted more.

    And having expressed my condolences all I need to do now is decide whether to reread the Deathworld or the Stainless Steel Rat books first…

  14. Like many others, I got my first taste of sf though Harrison’s books. It was Deathworld, I think I was 11, and it forever changed the course of my life. Sadly, it took me over 8 years to find out which book that was again when I started thinking back to how I got into sf in the first place. Spent a long time tracking down a copy of Silverberg’s Planet of Death, on the mistaken assumption that it was the book I had been looking for. Finally, I found out where I had been led wrong and tracked down a lovely tattered copy of Deathworld, so like the one I had read all those years before. I even managed to get it signed a couple of years ago. That book will always hold a place of honor on my shelf.

  15. I own a single volume that contains three Stainless Steel Rat books in it. I read it when I was in high school and enjoyed it immensely. There was one part that stood out to me then and still stands out now. At one point Jim had to think like a psychopath. He took some drugs that would make him feel temporarily psycho. Over the next few chapters, Jim (who narrates the books in first person) gets more and more crazy. It’s a gradual change that, as a reader, I barely noticed until the chapter when the drugs wear off and Jim goes back to his old self. At that point, I looked back at what I had just read and was amazed at how Harrison could carefully change his character so drastically without me, or Jim, actually seeing the change happen. At that point, I decided that Harry Harrison was one of the best authors that I had ever read. Unfortunately, I never found a chance to read any of his other work. I didn’t even realize how much he had written. It’s always sad to see someone with that sort of talent go, but when they leave behind that much published work, you know that a large part of them is now pretty much immortal.

  16. Respects paid. I’ve read a few of the Stainless Steel Rat stories and loved the protagonist. Harry truely had a flair for creating memorable characters.

  17. I really enjoyed the stainless steal rat stories but I didn’t know anything about the author and don’t know if I ever read any of his other stuff. I’ll have to look him up I probably missed out on some good reading. RIP

  18. I also really loved the SSR and Deathworld series. Whenever I watched a crappy $100 million SF/Action/Thriller movie, I always wondered why no one had made SSR into a great one. That first chase scene in the first book would be so amazing on film!

    I’ve never read Make Room, Make Room!, so I guess I’ll add another book to my “to buy soon” list.

    RIP, HH.

  19. 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 http://www.lernu.net

    His memory will live on for many years, including now, on the internet.

  20. I was sorry to read this and headed over to leave a comment. I also liked his Deathworld books a lot. I’ve probably still got them on a bookshelf.

  21. The very first SF magazine I ever bought was the April 1972 issue of Analog, featuring part 1 of Harry Harrison’s A TRANSATLANTIC TUNNEL, HURRAH. I still love that book. I was delighted with the way Liz Gorinsky and Tor’s art department repackaged it for its recent reissue.

  22. I also remember Technicolor Time Machine very fondly. I could probably walk into the Austin (MN) Public Library, walk to the shelf and pick it out blindfolded had they not torn down the old library. (Although the new one they built to replace it is, in fact, very, very nice.)

  23. I had long thought Slippery Jim was finished, having gone off into the starless night. Then, last Saturday, in my local bookstore, I saw and bought “The Stainless Steel Rat Returns”. It had been ages since I had read the older Rat stories. So, before starting the new book, I dug through the boxes in the basement to find the old ones to reread first.

    The SS Rat books are easy reads. I had finished rereading them all last night and had started in on The SS Rat Returns before going to sleep.

    Now this. Synchronicity’s a bitch.

    RIP Harry. My condolences to his family and friends.

  24. The Stainless Steel Rat was the first SF novel I remember reading, and it was a gateway drug into SF for me.

    I met Harry at Evolution the 1996 Eastercon in London. I was standing between him and the bar and he stood behind me and shouted, ‘Outta my way Fanboy Scum…”, he then noticed that the bar stools were saddles and shouted to his friends, ‘hey look, the birthplace of 10,000 hemoroids.’

    We spoke later and he signed a copy of The Stainless Steel Rat that I ran off to the Dealers Room to find.

    Thanks Harry.

  25. I have always had a weak spot for Harry Harrison’s fiction (I have not had the pleasure of meeting him in the flesh, unfortunately), as his stories and novels were one of the first things that introduced me to SF (through my father, who devoured SF as he travelled the world).

    I have particularly fond memories of the first couple of Stainless Steel Rat and Bill, the Galactic Hero novels, Make Room! Make Room! and several of his short fiction (The Streets of Ashkelon in particular).

    Thankfully, SFWA did the right thing and made him Grandmaster in 2009, when he was 84 years old. As far as I understand, the recipient of a Grandmaster Award for SFWA needs to be *alive* to get the nod (please do correct me if I’m wrong).

    In 2011, to my surprise, no awards for Grandmaster was given. Last November I met Gene Wolfe at the World Fantasy Convention in San Diego: he’s 81 years old, and needs to be pushed around in a wheelchair.

    So shoot me, kill me, and hang me out to dry: but is SFWA going to honour him with a Grandmaster Award before he dies, or are we just going to skip him like another unimportant, non-influential SF writer like Philip K. Dick?

    Hey John, aren’t you still the President of SFWA? Also toastmaster at Chicon? Or do you think Gene Wolfe is not worthy?

  26. ShineAnthology:

    I have absolutely no intention of discussing any future possible choices for Grand Master either here or in any other public forum. Ever.

    Moreover, I find your choice to use a thread for the memory of one man to campaign for someone else for Grand Master to be ill-timed and in extraordinarily bad taste. Don’t do it again.

    Likewise, for everyone else, further discussion of this particular topic in this thread will get excised. Thank you.

  27. I never read anything by Harry Harrison I did not enjoy, sometimes — make that frequently — immensely. His seemingly effortless writing style had to come with the expenditure of a great deal of effort and talent, and made me cherish his stories, for, no matter how bad a day I might be having, reading a Harrison novel would raise my spirits, fill me with optimism. My favorites? The Stainless Steel Rat series, which is one of those rare series that can’t be copied, the source material would shine through anyone else’s version. I loved “Bill, the Galactic Hero” and “A Trans-Atlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!” and the Deathworld novels and the spy spoof “Montezuma’s Revenge” and most especially I think, “The Technicolor Time Machine.” I never had the honor of meeting Harry Harrison, but I truly miss him already.

  28. The funniest version of “warp drive” or any other made-up version of space travel was “Bloater Drive.” The best part that it was just as logical as any other made-up version of FTL. Okay, the best best part of it was when the Galactic Hero’s now marble-sized home planet goes by his face, and he waves and sobs “BYE, MOM!”

  29. Harry Harrison is one of my top 10 favorite SciFi authors and I have enjoyed his stories immensely over the years. Enough so that I introduced my twin children to SciFi by reading several of the Stainless Steel Rat stories to them when they where 6 or 7. It was a lot of fun seeing them laugh and laugh over stories that had so entertained me as well.

    A melancholy parting for me, Harry Harrison, but you have left a wonderful legacy. I will raise a shot of Syrian Panther Sweat in your honor tonight. I only hope I survive the experience.

  30. Rather than re-post here what I put in Harry’s Official News Blog August 15, 2012 at 6:04 pm, let me add one anecdote. It was a highlight of our science fiction marriage that my wife and I found ourselves, by invitation, in Harry Harrison’s Penthouse suite at a southern California con where he was GoH. My wife and I were seated on the bed where he reclined, and as he declaimed profundities and witticisms, he kept phoning Room Service, until long after midnight, for more gourmet snacks, more chilled good champagne.
    My wife, at one point, waxed nostalgic about Dan Dare, the British science fiction comic hero starting in April 1950, created by illustrator Frank Hampson who also wrote the first stories (Venus and Red Moon stories), and a complete storyline for Operation Saturn. Sir Arthur C. Clarke acted as science and plot adviser to the first strip.
    “I wrote for Dan Dare!” said Harry.
    No party since then has done more to give us the feeling of being inches from the center of the science fiction cosmos.
    I wonder if his notes for the book that he was working on, which we discussed over beers at both Glasgow Worldcons, about the analog computers that he operated in The War, will see the light of day?

  31. I ran into Harry Harrison in the bar at my first Chicago World Con. I know that I “burbled” about how much I loved his “Bill the Galactic Hero”, “Deathworld” and “Stainless Steel Rat” book. He was tremendously gracious and I’ve always remembered that experience. The really great ones are truely great in all ways…

  32. I loved the SSR and the Deathworld trilogy, but I think the story that made the biggest impression on me was his brilliant short story “By the Falls”, which I read in one of Terry Carr’s great “New Worlds of Fantasy” anthologies.

    Thanks, Harry.

  33. Reblogged this on Collectables and commented:
    For those of you who are into science fiction. Harry Harrison was one of the best. Now he’s gone, along with Ray Bradbury. Sad year.

  34. “Grand Master”, indeed; there isn’t a “Grand Jester” award, which he’d also deserve. So, so many great stories, little dated because they’re about people, not gadgets. So many hours of laughing. Thank you, fellow Harry.

  35. I was lucky enought to meet Harry because one of my journalism professors in Florida is a sci fi writer and runs a symposium every year. He came and spoke to my magazine feature writing class (because Dr. Wilber does what he wants), and I was very excited to meet him. I’m not sure anyone else in the class knew who he was, but I was somewhat starstruck.

  36. Met him in London in about 1974, at a series of lectures at the ICA by SF writers, including John Brunner, Alan Garner, Christopher Priest, Robert Sheckley, and others (Phil Dick was supposed to appear, but was too sick to travel). Harry was friendly, clever, kind, to young and old fans alike. I love his work, including less well-known books like A Trans-Atlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! that foreshadowed steampunk by 3 decades or more. Harry’s work was always entertaining, and managed to make a lot of subtle political and social points at the same time, without ever becoming polemical. I’m going to have to get out my collection and revisit his wonderful worlds again.

  37. Always a fan of Bill the Galatic Hero, my service in Marines always reminded me of the grand job of “Fuse tender First Class”! Ah the joys of technological warfare. Needless to say I wasn’t a grunt. But I loved his writing from junior high on…

    BTW why do you write “peer-t0-peer” with a zero?

  38. Spaceship Medic was one of the first SF books I ever read.

    I partly blame it for my going to medical school. Sad lack of tension-filled meteorite and plague-related spacecraft adventures in real life (so far).

    RIP, Harry.

  39. As an SF and comics fan this has been a bad week for me. First on the comics side, when Joe Kubert passed, and now just days later Harry Harrison is gone.

    I can’t remember what I read first, but I do remember that I read a lot of old Harry Harrison paperbacks in the late seventies and early eighties. I love the Stainless Steel Rat and repeatedly devoured the Deathworld Omnibus. (I must have had the same copy for twenty or thirty years and read it dozens of times. To this day I am amazed I didn’t rip the thin pages to shreds.)

    What I take from my memories of Harry Harrison is that he could write anything and write it well. The last books of his I read were the Hammer and the Cross series, which I came upon fairly late.

    He will be missed.

  40. Wow. What a tough year for SF fans. Anne McCaffrey passed away in Nov 2011. Ray Bradbury passed away earlier this year and now Harry Harrison. This world will be a little bit less bright without them. This year’s slogan should be “The Stainless Steel Rat for President”

  41. I would vote for the Stainless Steel Rat! ^_^

    R. I. P., Harry Harrison. I’ll always remember the Rat as my introduction to a universe where the heroes don’t have to be Dudley Do-Rights or well-meaning farm youths.

  42. Many many years ago I was reading a Harrison book in the back of math class. We had a substitute teacher, The fellow drifted to the back of the class to nab me. “What book are you reading in my class,” he demanded. I proudly showed him “The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World,” completely validating his every belief about These Young People Today.

    Thanks Harry!!

  43. Sigh… now I’m gonna have to dig out my copy of Bill, the Galactic Hero… and the tales of Slippery Jim DeGriz.

  44. What a coincidence, I’m just re-reading “The Deathworld Trilogy”. A fun romp, but I believe the collected stories in “One Step From Earth…” were Harrison’s finest work.

    He was one of The Greats. Thanks Harry, for all the good reading.

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