Harry Harrison

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Harry Harrison in Moscow, 2008

Harry Harrison (12 March 1925 – 15 August 2012) was a science fiction writer.

He was best known for his humorous SF, which includes The Stainless Steel Rat series, the Bill the Galactic Hero series, and the stand-alone novels The Technicolor Time Machine and Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers.

He also wrote serious SF, including Make Room! Make Room!, which inspired the film Soylent Green (although the film's most famous plot element was not in the book); the Deathworld trilogy; the To The Stars trilogy; and the West of Eden trilogy.

Works written by Harry Harrison include:
Harry Harrison provides examples of the following tropes:
  • All Trolls Are Different: In One King's Way, second volume of The Hammer and the Cross trilogy, a troll or "marbendill" is a large intelligent humanoid that sometimes feeds on human flesh, lurks in the water to pull unwary boaters under, but otherwise is rather likeable, actually. Distinguished from humans by, among other things, a much lower sex drive; human behavior in that regard rather amuses them.
  • Alternate History
    • In A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!, America lost the War of Independence and remained part of the British Empire. (Also, an earlier military defeat changed Spanish history enough that Christopher Columbus couldn't get funding, leaving American to be discovered by John Cabot in 1497.)
    • The Stars & Stripes series envisions the Trent incident from the American civil war blowing up into a full-scale war between the United States and the British Empire. A navigational error brings the Confederacy in on the Union side, ending the civil war, and resulting in the British getting their asses handed to them by Generals Lee, Grant, Sherman, and Stonewall Jackson.
    • The trilogy The Hammer and the Cross has a more organized and benevolent form of the Norse religion coming into conflict both with the more traditional Norse religion and Christianity.
  • Anti-Advice: At the end of Deathworld 2, Jason tells former barbarian Ijale that her life in civilization will go reasonably well as long as she sticks with Mikah, listens carefully to what he tells her and then does the exact opposite.
  • Arbitrary Maximum Range: Starworld (part of the To the Stars trilogy) has the rebel admiral point out to the protagonist how energy weapons don't work due to the energy diffusion problem. Although missiles are being used by both sides, the rebels use linear accelerators firing unguided cannon balls to gain the decisive edge, then finish them off with a Flechette Storm of rocket-propelled bullets (fired from the standard infantry weapons of the time) which work well over infinite ranges due to the lack of air resistance.
  • Author Appeal: Esperanto appears as a lingua franca or even a primary language for many of the planets and civilizations in his works.
  • BFG: One of the Israeli commandoes is firing a handheld .50 calibre recoilless machine gun during the attack on Spaceconcert in Starworld (part of the To the Stars trilogy).
  • Car Cushion: Played with in "Portrait of the Artist", in which a comic book artist, who has just lost his job to a machine, creates a suicide note in comic-book form that ends with a depiction of him jumping off his publisher's office building and landing on a car. After he commits suicide in the manner depicted, his ex-boss's only reaction is remark that he landed on the wrong car.
  • Child Soldiers: In "War With the Robots", the command staff are all teenagers as anyone older lacks the reflexes and flexibility of mind needed to fight the war. They retire after four or five years.
  • Death World: In the novel (and subsequent trilogy) Deathworld, the planet Pyrrus has very harsh environmental characteristics: twice earth gravity, very high tectonic activity, a 42° axial tilt, and the occasional 30-meter tides. Life could only survive by cooperating temporarily during crises, so every single living thing (plant, animal, microbe...) is psychic. Not just that, but the high radioactivity causes them to mutate and evolve very rapidly. When humanity settles on the planet, they accidentally piss off the local wildlife during an earthquake, causing every living thing to treat humanity as a continuous "natural disaster", driven by one mutual psychic mandate: "KILL THE ENEMY!". By the start of the story, the escalating war has remade everything into dedicated living war machines (tree roots are now venom fanged Combat Tentacles, etc.).
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The trilogy The Hammer and the Cross is set in 9th century Europe, and the values of the historical peoples of the time are accurately represented; including their attitude toward rape, enslavement, trial-by-combat, and the social status of women and conquered peoples.
  • Escape Pod: In Deathworld, Jason runs from Heavyworlder Kerk who, in the grip of irrational rage, is about to literally tear him apart unless he gets off the ship. The escape pod he uses to get away is designed to be idiot proof: initially it declines to do anything but the safest, gentlest maneuvers, making long-term survival against the ship's guns problematical.
  • Esperanto, the Universal Language: Esperanto is the universal second language in the Deathworld series.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: In Make Room! Make Room!, soylent steaks made of soy and lentils were an expensive item.
  • Gaia's Lament: Make Room! Make Room!
  • Garden of Evil: In Deathworld, due to a misunderstanding, the very peculiar wildlife on the planet has altered itself to wage war against humanity, changing to the point where even every blade of grass has a venomous claw dangling from it.
  • Generation Ships: In Captive Universe, a generation ship with a seamless environment is launched; by design the highly repressive, extremely stable Aztec cities onboard believe themselves to be in an inaccessible river valley. The ship tenders are if anything more rigid and religious: an extraordinary asceticism rules their lives and repairs are sacred rituals.
  • Genius Loci: In the novel Deathworld, the planet Pyrrus has very harsh environmental characteristics; life could only survive by cooperating temporarily during crises, so every single living thing (plant, animal, microbe...) is psychic and part of a planet-wide group mind.
  • Government Drug Enforcement: In Homeworld, the upper-class protagonist is initially surprised at the idea that the proles might be rebellious, as the government lets them have all the drugs and booze they want.
  • Heavyworlder: The people of Pyrrus (twice Earth's gravity) in Deathworld are the short, stout variety.
  • Hideous Hangover Cure: The Drive-Right pill, which appears in more than one series, is a small round pill that will make you absolutely stone cold sober seconds after swallowing it... it's completely black except for a skull and crossbones on each side. Unfortunately it's rather unpleasant to take.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: In "The Streets of Ashkelon", a human missionary converts an alien culture to Christianity. The aliens then try to initiate the millennium of the missionary's message by crucifying him and waiting for him to rise on the third day.
  • Improbable Age: Justified in "War With the Robots"; the command staff are all teenagers as anyone older lacks the reflexes and flexibility of mind needed to plot strategy in the fast-paced war. They retire after four or five years.
  • Kinetic Weapons Are Just Better: Starworld (part of the To the Stars trilogy) has the rebel admiral explain to the protagonist why energy weapons don't work in the vast distances of space. Although missiles are being used by both sides, the rebels use linear accelerators firing unguided cannon balls to gain the decisive edge, then finish them off with a Flechette Storm of rocket-propelled bullets.
  • Lost Colony: Deathworld 2 is a Giving Radio to the Romans story set on a Lost Colony.
  • Mercurial Base
  • Mobile Suit Human: The inverse (a human concealed inside a robotic alien suit) happens often in Harry Harrison sci-fi, such as Repairman and Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers.
  • Only Electric Sheep Are Cheap: In Make Room! Make Room!, even soy-based faux steak is expensive and worth practically rioting over.
  • Planet of Hats: In the To The Stars trilogy, EarthGov has not only terraformed Single Biome Planets, they've also created a unique culture for each in order to maximise their control. For instance the agricultural planet the protagonist has been exiled to in "Wheelworld" is populated entirely by peasants and mechanics, ruled by a group of autocratic Familys.
  • Robot War: In "War With the Robots", the human occupants of a command headquarters are forced out of their underground base by robot attack, leaving it to be manned by their own robots. On reaching the surface they find the enemy command staff living as farmers on the war-torn battlefield above -- it turns out the robots on both sides find they can conduct the war more efficiently once humans are out of the way. The protagonist is deeply miffed.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: In The Mothballed Spaceship, the protagonists are trying to reactivate a derelict battleship that has been set to self-destruct to prevent it falling into the hands of anyone who doesn't have the correct codeword. Just in time they discover what the codeword is; a simple five-letter word in Esperanto -- "Haltu" or, "Stop".
  • Single Biome Planet: Justified in the To The Stars trilogy, in which an imperialistic Earth has terraformed a number of planets (with a custom-made culture as well), each one dedicated to farming, production or mining of one particular resource. The idea being that none of them have the diverse resources needed to launch a revolt.
  • Space Opera: Parodied in Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers.
  • Unobtainium: The Golden Age SF spoof novel Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers features Cheddite (a fuel created from cheese). In another scene the heroes' 747 jet is turned into a spacecraft by means of windows armored with armolite, vacuum insulation with insulite, fuel tanks filled with combustite, guns firing pellets of destructite, batteries replaced with capacitite and a space-warp drive powered by warpite.
  • The War of Earthly Aggression: The To the Stars trilogy has a Big Brother-like Earth lording it over interstellar colonies set up to be totally dependent upon each other. Since each colony requires numerous goods (which they are never allowed to stockpile) each made only on one of the other colonies, it would be impossible for a revolt to succeed unless every colony did so at once. Which they do. (It's not not strictly Earth-vs-everyone-else, though. On Earth itself there are several rogue states that cling to old ideals, such as democracy, the strongest of them being Israel. The last novel makes it clear that a revolution can only succeed with a simultaneous assault on the surface and space.)
  • What Is This Thing You Call Love?: Satirized in "The Robot Who Wanted To Know". Sophisticated robot librarians designed to think independently often focus on a particular area of interest; Filer 13B-445K's interest is human concepts of love and romance. After reading up on it he wants to experience it personally and goes to some lengths to disguise himself as an attractive man for a costume ball. Naturally the busty heroine ends up falling for him and is outraged to discover his mechanical identity. He responds by nosediving into a paradox spiral and self-destructing. Workers examining the wreck later find a malfunction in the central pump and joke that "you could almost say he died of a broken heart".
  • You Are in Command Now: In Spaceship Medic, the eponymous medic ends up in charge after all the rest of the ship's officers are wiped out by a meteorite hitting the bridge (then has some adventures, saves the day, and goes back to being a doctor).