RIP Harry Harrison: Stainless Steel Rat scurries no more
Hopefully he won't become Soylent Green
Obituary It's been a bad summer for SF. In June, Ray Bradbury slipped the surly bonds of Earth, and now legendary icon Harry Harrison has passed away at age 87.
"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!" said Michael Carroll, admin of Harrison's official website.
Among the SF community, Harrison, whose real name was Henry Maxwell Dempsey, is probably best known for the creation of James Bolivar DiGriz – aka the Stainless Steel Rat – who became a non-terminally violent antihero for the corporate age. The dozen-book series began in 1961 and the tales of "Slippery Jim," along with wife and twin sons, were only concluded in 2010.
He also earned support for taking a poke at Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers worldview with his Bill, the Galactic Hero series. Later books in the series were written by other authors and edited by Harrison, something he said he regretted.
For Hollywood, Harrison was the creative spark behind Soylent Green, which was very loosely based on his Nebula Award-winning novel Make Room! Make Room! (a story he dedicated to his children, Todd and Moira). In it he envisaged a massively overpopulated planet and its degrading effect on society. No spoilers, but the ending to the film is fairly well-known.
Harrison was one of the authors from the golden age of science fiction, where short story writers could make a living selling to the magazine market. He began his career as an illustrator and editor of comics and SF journals before transitioning into a full-time career as a novelist.
He was a life-long proponent of the global-language-that-isn't, Esperanto, and his fiction took a distinctly atheistic and dystopian point of view. For this El Reg hack, the To the Stars novels have the most resonance; a series of tales with an all-too-familiar theme in modern SF.
Harrison enjoyed nearly fifty years of marriage to his wife Joan, who passed from cancer in 2002. He is survived by two children. ®
I'm not usually bothered when someone pops off at such an advanced age, but I'm genuinely sad about HH going. No more Slippery Jim.
On screwing bankers and their ilk as a benefit to mankind ...
“We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment...”
― Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat
"I whistled under my breath as I went to work. This was by no means my first bank robbery, and I had no intention of making it my last. Of all the varied forms of crime, bank robbery is the most satisfactory to both the individual and to society. The individual of course gets a lot of money, that goes without saying, and he benefits society by putting large amounts of cash back into circulation. The economy is stimulated, small businessmen prosper, people read about the crime with great interest, and the police have a chance to exercise their various skills. Good for all. Though I have heard foolish people complain that it hurts the bank. This is arrant nonsense. All banks are insured, so they lose nothing, while the sums involved are minuscule in the overall operation of the insuring firm, where the most that might happen is that a microscopically smaller dividend will be paid at the end of the year. Little enough price to pay for all the good caused. It was as a benefactor of mankind, not a thief, that I passed the echo sounder over the wall. A large opening on the other side; the bank without a doubt."
He also claimed to have ghosted "Vendetta for the Saint" for Leslie Charteris, which does explain some of his favourite topics, particularly Bugatti, creeping into the text.
For mine, he was always at his strongest in his satire of other people's work. "Bill the Galactic Hero" has already been mentioned, but also "Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers" is a clever, if somewhat over the top, pastiche of E. E. Smith's work, particularly the Skylark series.