Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Random Thought - R.I.P. Harry Harrison

Science Fiction Grand Master Harry Harrison died today. Even though he never won a Hugo award, and only won a single Nebula (a shared award for the movie Soylent Green), he was one of the most prolific and influential authors in the genre. He was best known for his humorous science fiction - the Bill the Galactic Hero series, the Stainless Steel Rat series, and so on, but he was capable of writing excellent serious fiction as well, as his novel Make Room! Make Room! (which was the basis for Soylent Green) attests. My first exposure to Harry Harrison was when I read Bill the Galactic Hero, a brutally satirical spoof of Starship Troopers, Foundation, and pretty much every other popular science fiction novel written before 1965. I vividly remember the brutal drill sergeant Deathwish Drang, the absurdly silly bloater drive, a hero with two left arms, a revolution in which all but one revolutionary was a double agent on the government's payroll, and seven inch tall purple kangaroos as the deadly enemy of the Galactic Empire. Harrison wrote a lot of books, many of which I have read, but Bill the Galactic Hero was my first, and remains my favorite.

Many people are going to write about their fond memories of meeting and interacting with Harrision, for example, John Scalzi has posted a nice little story on his blog Whatever about meeting Harrison when Scalzi was a freshly minted member of the SFWA. Neil Gaiman has also written about his fond memories of Harrison. By all accounts Harrison was a magnanimous man, helpful and friendly to new authors, and generally an all-around good guy. I have no stories about Harrison. I never met him. And now I will never have the chance to do so. For me, the story of science fiction as a genre is tinged with sadness. Most of my favorite authors - Asimov, Heinlein, Anderson, Clarke, Bradbury - were either dead before I even thought that meeting authors was a possibility, or have died in the last couple of years without my ever having the opportunity to meet them. I guess what I am saying is simply don't wait. If there is an author you want to meet to talk to, to get to know, or just to say thank you to, do it sooner rather than later. Because there may not be a later. And although I may be able to one day have a Scalzi story, or a Gaiman story, or a Le Guin story (sad note from 2018, no I won't have a Le Guin story), I'll never have an Asimov story, or a Bradbury story, or a Harrison story. I wish I did. But they are gone and all we have left are their books.

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  1. An entire generation, a pioneering generation, passing on.

  2. @Julia Rachel Barrett: Definitely. So many of the writers who defined modern science fiction are leaving us. It saddens me to think about how many writers who were alive when I first read their books are no longer around.