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Mailing Date:
28 February 2006

Locus Magazine
Harry Harrison: When the World Was Young
Harry Harrison was born in Stamford, Connecticut, served in the US Army Air Corps in the '40s, and worked as a comics illustrator before turning to writing. He lived in Mexico, the US, and Europe, before settling in Ireland in 1975.

Harrison's first story, "Rock Diver", appeared in 1951, and his first novel Deathworld (1960) established him as a writer of smart, fast-moving adventure fiction. It was followed by two sequels. The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), about far-future outlaw Slippery Jim DiGriz, and Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965), which parodies military SF, also launched popular series.

Harrison is more serious in his Eden trilogy, in which dinosaurs developed intelligence and came into conflict with early humans, beginning with West of Eden (1984). He's also written alternate history, in series beginning with The Hammer and the Cross (1993) and Stars and Stripes Forever (1998). His numerous standalone novels include Make Room! Make Room! (1966), basis of the Nebula Award-winning
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film Soylent Green; The Technicolor Time Machine (1968); Captive Universe (1969); A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (1972); Skyfall (1976); The Jupiter Plague (1982); and The Turing Option with Martin Minsky (1992), among many others. His seven story collections range from War with the Robots (1962) to retrospective volume 50 in 50 (2001).

Harrison has edited anthologies, including the Best SF series with Brian Aldiss (1967-76) and the Nova original anthology series (1970-74), and published criticism. He was the first president of World SF (1978-1980), and was inducted into the SF Hall of Fame in 2003.
Excerpts from the interviews:

“In the old days I'd do eight or nine short stories a year between novels, because you made your reputation in the magazines. People read them and they loved to comment. John Campbell would pay you a penny a word extra if you won the AnLab poll -- a lot of money in those days.

“My generation of writers were all fans. The field was very small and we met in the old-fashioned way: We wrote letters to the editor with addresses on them. Everyone in New York, the Futurians and then the Hydra Club, was very enthusiastic and very generous, and part of fandom. Not all made it professionally, but a lot of us grew up to be science fiction writers. After that period, fandom was never the same. In another generation, Tom Disch had never heard of fandom. Every rocket scientist I know read science fiction, but the later ones don't know about fandom.

“We started really young. When Ray Bradbury came to the First World SF Congress from the West Coast, he was too young to drive, so the guy who was over 21 drove the car. In the Queens Science Fiction League, we were all 13 or 14 years old and Sam Moskowitz was the old man -- he was 18! We were all Depression-era kids. No one had any money. The only light in the gray years of the Depression was science fiction. Now it's 'Come and play. Make some money. Write films, television....' Completely different.”


“Over time the [Stainless Steel] Rat grew up, and got very pacifistic. In the first book he killed one person, but no one else dies in the whole damn series. It was the anti-Jerry Pournelle and Jim Baen kind of story, where it's 'Kill! Kill! Kill!' Bill, the Galactic Hero was my first book of that sort. I'd been in the army and hated it. Though almost all my books are anti-military, anti-war (the Deathworld series very much so), I try not to repeat myself. I may do a trilogy for one theme, but the next one is completely different.

Make Room! Make Room! may still be my best-known book. That was meant to reach the average reader. There's only one new scientific concept in there, 'memory wire,' which is barbed wire, dropped from a helicopter, that opens up. It was really the first book, fiction or non-fiction, about overpopulation. The idea came from an Indian I met after the war, in 1946. He told me, 'Overpopulation is the big problem coming up in the world' (nobody had ever heard of it in those days) and he said 'Want to make a lot of money, Harry? You have to import rubber contraceptives to India." I didn't mind making money, but I didn't want to be the rubber king of India! But I started reading a bit about overpopulation, and got the idea for the book. It stayed in my head as I watched the population trend going the wrong way. The thing took about eight years to write because I had to do a lot of research which was worth it.”


“In science fiction, like no other field, there have been writers who were good editors, people like John Campbell, Fred Pohl, and Tony Boucher. But when Campbell asked me if I'd edit Analog after he died, I couldn't face the thought. Later I did some 'Year's Best' anthologies. For ten years, I was reading every magazine every month, but one day I went 'Aaah!' and couldn't open another magazine. I got Bruce McAllister (very nice guy, good friend and a good editor and writer) for my first reader, and I'd pick about one story out of three from what he gave me. I don't know how people like David Hartwell keep reading it, after all these years.”

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