Harry Harrison, writer whose book became Soylent Green, dies at 87

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Dec 17, 2012

Harry Maxwell Harrison, the science fiction author best known as the author of the 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!, which was made into the 1973 film Soylent Green, passed away at age 87. Harrison also wrote many other well-known science fiction novels in more than five decades as an SF author, most notably in series such as The Stainless Steel Rat, Deathworld and Bill, the Galactic Hero.

In addition to more than 50 novels, he wrote numerous shorter works, collected in such volumes as The Best of Harry Harrison (1976) and 50 in 50 (2001), and edited more than 30 science fiction anthologies.

Harrison actually began his science fiction career as an illustrator, including working on the classic EC Comics of the early 1950s (working primarily with Wally Wood) and providing spot illustrations for science fiction magazines such as Galaxy, and later writing the Flash Gordon newspaper comic (working with Dan Barry). After serving in the military in the 1940s, he had briefly attended art school, where he met a number of prominent comics artists.

He had entered the world of science fiction as a teenaged fan in the late 1930s, when he became one of the founders of the Queens chapter of the Science Fiction League, a New York-based fan organization, and contributed to fanzines of that period. Later he would become a member of the Hydra Club along with other young science fiction professionals, who included Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Lester del Rey, L. Sprague de Camp and Damon Knight.

He also began writing short science fiction stories in the 1950s, with his first story, "Rock Diver," appearing in the August 1951 issue of the science fiction magazine Worlds Beyond. He wrote and edited widely in the 1950s, including for "true confessions" magazines. His first science fiction novel was Deathworld (1960), set on a planet teeming with dangerous predatory life forms, which was followed by two sequels. His second novel, The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), began a light science fiction adventure series that Harrison continued for 13 more novels over the next 30 years. His satirical Bill, the Galactic Hero (1965) was followed by a period of more ambitious novels on serious themes, including Make Room! Make Room! (1966)—one of the finest novels on the theme of overpopulation—Captive Universe (1969) and In Our Hands the Stars (1970). Make Room! Make Room! became the basis for the popular science fiction movie Soylent Green in 1973.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Harrison also edited an impressive array of anthologies, including many best-of-the-year anthologies, several best-of-the-decade anthologies, and the short-lived but highly respected Nova series of original anthologies. He also edited, with Brian Aldiss, the ground-breaking nonfiction book Hell's Cartographers: Some Personal Histories of Science Fiction Writers (1975).

In the 1980s, Harrison wrote a major new trilogy, set in an alternate reality where intelligent dinosaurs evolved parallel to humans, beginning with West of Eden (1984), and continuing with Winter in Eden (1986) and Return to Eden (1988). In the 1990s, he wrote the fantasy trilogy The Hammer and the Cross, followed by the alternate history Stars and Stripes trilogy.

After moving from New York in the 1950s and living for periods in Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark and San Diego, Harrison and his family moved to Ireland in the mid-1970s, where he had lived since. He was predeceased by his wife, Joan Merkler, in 2002, and is survived by two children, son Todd and daughter Moira.

Harrison has won many awards and other honors in the field, including the 1973 Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation for Soylent Green, which also won a Golden Scroll Award and was nominated for the Hugo Award in 1974, losing to Woody Allen's Sleeper. Two early novels were nominated for Hugo Awards, Deathworld (1961) and Planet of the Damned (1962), and his short story "By the Falls" was nominated for a Nebula Award in 1971. He also won a Sidewise Award for Alternate History for his Stars and Stripes trilogy.

He was inducted in 2004 into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in Lawrence, Kan., and also won the Inkpot Award for Outstanding Achievement in Science Fiction and Fantasy at Comic-Con International in San Diego that same year. He became a European Grand Master in 2006, and in 2009 he was presented the Damon Knight Science Fiction Grand Master Award by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, perhaps the greatest honor for any science fiction author.

(via harryharrison.com)

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