Friday, August 17, 2012

Harry Harrison

2012 is turning out to be a really rotten year. Following the recent deaths of Ray Bradbury and Margaret Mahy, this week saw the passing of Harry Harrison, one of the greats, and a real name from the Golden Age of popular SF. Harrison is unique among the writers I discovered by virtue of first coming to my attention through comics. 2000AD ran a series of adaptations of Harrison's celebrated Stainless Steel Rat books through to around 1984's Stainless Steel Rat for President and, as it turned out, the first year of my collecting the comic full-time. In the pages of 2000AD Slippery Jim DiGriz was in the reliable hands of Dredd/Strontium Dog artist Carlos Ezquerra, and so it's his version of the silver-haired rogue that stays with me even now.

In those same pages the letters column would regularly be filled with readers speculating on how they'd cast movie versions of the comic's strips. You could rely on Joe Dredd's tight boots being filled by Clint Eastwood, and for DiGriz the actor of choice was invariably James Coburn, which worked for me after I saw him in The President's Analyst. Nowadays, maybe Clooney?

The role of the Rat definitely needs a light touch, and it seems that this sort of character was what Harrison really specialised in. You can't help but side with this crook, no doubt seduced as you were by the first-person narrative. I definitely was - even seeking out the novel of SSRFP at the local library to check how faithful the adaptation was (pretty much, I concluded), and then following it with the original novel. Perhaps the Silver one will finally reach the silver screen? It's a shame Harrison never saw it happen, I guess.

To my shame, that's almost all I read of Harry Harrison's work, save for another one of his best, Make Room! Make Room! - almost the opposite to the Rat stories. A future dystopia (a friend once observed that there are no future utopian fiction, and I haven't seen anything to prove otherwise) of an overcrowded planet and a desperate and awful solution to world hunger, filmed of course as Soylent Green (I didn't care for the adaptation this time), and of course somewhat diminished by being one of the most spoiled endings of modern SF because of it. The novel is the superior, and I remember how much it affected me, even though a few years' worth of similar stuff in 2000AD should have prepared me well enough.

And so, like Bradbury before him, I feel as though I have a lot of reading to do.  But here's to you, Mr Harrison. Here's hoping that the world you're inhabiting now is every bit as bold and exciting, human and humourous as the world of Jim DiGriz. And thanks for the great stories.


  1. I've only read his Bill the Galactic Hero novels. Great stuff. Stainless Steel Rat was on the 'to be read' pile, but so are many books.

    As for no future utopian novels... I'll just leave this here:

  2. Nice post. And yeah, 2012 has been a rough one for the death list.

  3. I've always thought it would be so hard to do a "Stainless Steel Rat" movie, because the joy is in the internal thoughts that race through his head as he tries to get out of whatever predicament he's got himself into, and voiceover certainly wouldn't work. And he's so slick and accomplished, it takes a bit of the risk out of it.

    But then, Jason Bourne has that rapidfire thinking-on-his-feet way of escaping each incident, so now I think it could work.

    I'd cast someone nondescript in appearance, someone who could disappear into a crowd. Maybe Jason Bateman or Nathan Fillion.

  4. Ooh, Jason Bateman... never thought of it but yeah, I could see that working.

    Not sure what the purists would think of it though.

    The other dave