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17:23

Harry Harrison obituary | Books | The Guardian

Harry Harrison, who has died aged 87, was a writer from the world of American comics and science-fiction magazines of the 1950s. An amazingly prolific author, who gradually took on more serious themes as he matured, Harrison is probably best known for the book that inspired the Hollywood film Soylent Green (1973). Directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Charlton Heston and Edward G Robinson, Soylent Green was an uncompromising view of a world a quarter of a century into the future, in which massive overpopulation has created a critical food shortage. The solution is an alleged soya/lentil substitute – the plot concerns the discovery of the true nature of the stuff.

The original novel was called Make Room! Make Room! (1966). Harrison said wryly that the film “at times bore a faint resemblance to the book”. It was a serious, thoroughly researched novel, written at a time when there was little discussion of the population time-bomb. Although overpopulation was a common theme in far-future science fiction, Harrison’s idea was to depict a near-future society (year 2000) that many of us, or our children, would live to see. It marked a change of direction for Harrison, although it was an early sign of a trend in his work that was not to emerge in full until some years later.

His most popular and best-known work is contained in fast-moving parodies, homages or even straight reconstructions of traditional space-opera adventures. He wrote several named series of these: notably the Deathworld series (three titles, starting in 1960), the Stainless Steel Rat books (12 titles, from 1961), and the sequence of books about Bill, the Galactic Hero (seven titles, from 1965). These books all present interesting contradictions. While being exactly what they might superficially seem to be, unpretentious action novels with a strong streak of humour, they are also satirical, knowing, subversive, unapologetically anti-military, anti-authority and anti-violence. Harrison wrote such novels in the idiom of the politically conservative hack writer, but in reality he had a liberal conscience and a sharp awareness of the lack of literary values in so much of the SF he was parodying. …

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