WHO IS HARRY HARRISON?

This piece is intended as an introduction to Harry Harrison, a brief guide to the diversity of his life and work, and - by association - to the contents of this website. It isn't possible to achieve a complete overview in a couple of thousand words, so I've chosen a number of headings under which to explore some significant facets of Harry Harrison's character and creations. From these short sections you'll find links to other parts of the site, so that any aspect which you find interesting can be explored in greater detail.

You might already know something about Harry Harrison, and you'll probably already have read some of his stories, but I hope by exploring this site that you'll discover something new and go on to enjoy reading more of Harry's books and short stories. Each section of the site covers an individual novel or series, and almost all of them contain sample chapters so that you can 'try out' a book before going off to the library or book store.

If you think you've already read all of Harry Harrison's stories, check out the bibliography: you might find something you've missed.

Here are my headings for the 'bluffer's guide' to Harry Harrison:

Author

In a professional writing career spanning almost fifty years, Harry Harrison has created many popular works. At the beginning he gained popularity in John W. Campbell's Astounding / Analog magazine with the Deathworld novels and similar intelligent action-adventure stories. During the 1970s and 80s his most popular creation was The Stainless Steel Rat, whose adventures outsold the author's other novels almost two-to-one. Into the 1990s, and the West of Eden trilogy marked a new phase in Harrison's career, that of heavily-researched alternate history stories, of which the Stars and Stripes trilogy is the latest.

But in addition to these well-known works, there is a broad range of material - both in terms of content and style - deserving of attention.

Although primarily known as a science fiction writer, Harry Harrison has written in other genres too: his 1980 novel The QEII is Missing is a thriller in which the famous liner is found adrift with its passengers and crew all missing; and Skyfall (1976) is a disaster novel in which a nuclear-powered space station is doomed to crash to earth. The author's work in the mystery genre includes two novels - Montezuma's Revenge and Queen Victoria's Revenge - featuring Tony Hawkin, a museum-worker and Native American drafted in to help out the FBI. Harrison also 'ghosted' a Saint novel, Vendetta for the Saint (1964), which was published under Leslie Charteris' name.

Harry Harrison's science fiction falls into various categories too: there are the science-based adventure stories of his 'Campbell period' and their descendants the latest alternate history sagas; there are the serious 'theme' stories of In Our Hands, the Stars and Make Room! Make Room!; the satire of Bill, the Galactic Hero; the parody of Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, and the humorous adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat series and The Technicolor Time Machine.

Soldier and Pacifist

Harry Harrison was drafted when he graduated high school in 1943, at the age of 18, and served four years in the Army Air Corps. He worked on secret military computers, as an armourer and gunnery instructor, and finally - promoted to sergeant - became a Military Policeman. During his time in the army, Harrison proved himself an excellent shot, and was awarded the Sharpshooter medal.

His wartime experiences left Harrison with an enduring loathing of military life and practices. These same experiences and loathing find their way into many of his stories: he feels deeply uneasy about the pro-military stance of much popular science fiction, and regards it as his job to redress the balance and "destroy the military" in his stories.

In 1967, Judith Merrill and Kate Wilhelm polled over 150 sf writers to ask whether they were for or against the United States' involvement in Vietnam, and the results were published in several sf magazines. Harry Harrison, needless to say, was one of the eighty-two who were against US involvement in Vietnam. Elsewhere he has said: "Vietnam was one of the biggest sins America ever committed."

Traveller

Editor Charles Monteith once described Harry Harrison as "the most peripatetic fellow I know," and with good reason. Harrison's travels began in earnest when he began his career as freelance writer in 1956; he and wife Joan - with their baby son Todd - left New York in their battered Ford Anglia and drove south; they settled in Cuautla, a little market town south of Mexico City. A year later they moved to London, taking advantage of a cheap flight for fans attending the first World Science Fiction Convention to be held outside of the United States. They took up residence in Bromley, Kent, after meeting a fan at the convention who lived there, then moved on to a Pakistani rooming house in London because they had met Pakistani friends of Hans Stefan Santesson. After England came Italy, and the island of Capri, south of Naples. A brief return to New York in 1959 for the birth of their daughter, Moira, was followed by a move to Copenhagen, Denmark, chosen because they had a friend there whom they had met in Mexico: they went for a visit and stayed for six years.

Returning to England in 1965, the Harrisons spent a year in Sutton, Surrey, before travelling back across the Atlantic on a cargo ship with their VW bus. After a stop-over in New York, they drove across America once more to take up residence in San Diego, California, not too far from the Mexican border. This remained their home for seven years, until the mid-seventies, when Mr and Mrs Harrison returned to England, intending to buy a house there. But when the purchase fell through, the Harrisons paid a brief visit to the Republic of Ireland: they took up residence there in 1975, first in County Wicklow and later Dublin, which remains their permanent home.

While America, England, Italy, Denmark, and Ireland have all been home to Harry Harrison, his travels have taken him much further afield, including Russia, Yugoslavia, Brazil, China and Japan. His experiences in these countries have provided authentic locations for many of his stories, and his knowledge, and enjoyment, of different languages have allowed for countless linguistic puns in the naming of planets, alien races, and characters in his novels.

Perhaps it is the scope of these travels which results in the international popularity of Harry Harrison's work: his stories have been published in more than thirty languages, including Esperanto, which Harrison, of course, speaks like a native...

Esperantist

Harry Harrison learned to read and write Esperanto while in the army during the Second World War, accepting the challenge of a book titled Learn Esperanto in 17 Easy Lessons as a way of escaping the boredom of military life. Returning to New York, and civilian life, after the war, Harrison joined a local society and learned how to speak Esperanto as well as read it.

Harrison has made many friends during his travels around the world, seeking out local Esperanto groups in the places he has visited, and he has also addressed such groups as a speaker.

At science fiction conventions and in his novels - particularly the Stainless Steel Rat series, where Esperanto is literally the universal language - Harrison has continued to promote Esperanto. His efforts were recognised in 1985 when he was elected honorary patron of the Universal Esperanto Association, an honour he shared with only eight others - linguists, scientists, and the president of the Swedish parliament.

Comics Artist and Writer

Harry Harrison began his post-war career as a commercial artist providing illustrations for books, jackets, non-fiction books, and sf magazines including Worlds Beyond and Galaxy Science Fiction. He also illustrated comic books in partnership with Wally Wood: together they produced hundreds of pages of romance for Fox Comics, before moving on to EC Comics, where they started on romance titles such as Rangeland Romance, and then progressed to EC's detective and horror comics. Eventually they worked on Weird Science, which Harrison is credited with initially suggesting to the publisher.

Harrison began editing comics, then, when the US comics industry went into decline, he moved on to art direction, including a stint on Picture Week. He edited a number of magazines - for which he also wrote a great deal of content, including 'true life' adventures and an 'agony aunt' column. In later years Harrison would go on to edit sf magazines including Impulse / Science Fantasy; Amazing Stories and Fantastic.

When he became a freelance writer in 1956, Harrison continued to work in the comics field, writing syndicated comic strips. He wrote The Saint and Flash Gordon. In Britain he wrote a number of comics, including Jeff Hawke; Rick Random - Space Detective; and Merlo the Magician for Boy's World. The latter comic also featured an adaptation of Deathworld under the title The Angry Planet.

More recently, several of Harrison's books and stories have been adapted into comic books, The Stainless Steel Rat series, the Deathworld trilogy, and Bill, the Galactic Hero among them.

Anthologist

Harry Harrison edited dozens of sf anthologies between 1968 and 1991, seventeen of them in collaboration with British author Brian W. Aldiss. These included nine annual Best SF collections, and three collections of the best sf of the Decade for the 1940s, 50s and 60s. He and Brian Aldiss also edited the SF Masters series, which reprinted 16 classic sf novels ranging from Cyrano de Bergerac's Other Worlds to Philip K. Dick's Martian Timeslip. Harrison's own A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! is included in the series. Aldiss and Harrison also launched the first serious journal of sf criticism, SF Horizons, in 1964.

The most recent anthology to bear the Harrison name is There Won't Be War, with Bruce McAllister, a response, in part, to the popular sf assertion that There Will Be War.

Atheist

Harry Harrison's short story The Streets of Ashkelon has appeared in more than 30 anthologies and in a dozen or so languages: it is probably the author's most widely published story. It is a story which was almost never written, and even after it was written, it seemed it might never be published.

Harrison had had the idea for the story for some time, but never wrote it because he knew there was no market for such a tale. But then he learned that Judith Merrill was putting together an anthology of original stories, all of which would break one of the taboos which had constrained authors writing for the genre magazines of the time (this being the late 1950s, early 60s). The anthology was never published, so Harrison tried to place the story elsewhere, but without success: it remained unpublished for over a year, until Brian Aldiss accepted it for his anthology More Penguin Science Fiction.

What was so terrible that no one wanted to publish the story? The hero was an atheist who tried to protect the inhabitants of an alien world from the influence of a Christian missionary. The story was regarded as being too offensive for a Christian readership.

Harry Harrison is a self-confessed atheist with no sympathy for such attitudes: The Streets of Ashkelon is an angry, and disturbing, story intended to make the reader question assumptions about religious belief.

SF Professional

Harry Harrison has been active as an sf professional since the 1950s when he was a member of the Hydra Club, a group of writers and artists who met regularly in New York.

In 1976 Harrison organised the First World Science Fiction Writers' Conference, which was held in Dublin. During this conference a new organisation was proposed, World SF, which would be made up of sf professionals - writers, artists, editors, critics, publishers and agents. World SF came into existence in 1978, and Harry Harrison was elected as its president for the first two years. During his own presidency, Brian W. Aldiss instituted a new award, the Harrison Award, to be awarded to someone seen to be improving the status of science fiction internationally.

Harry Harrison and Brian W. Aldiss also founded the John W. Campbell Award, which is given annually in July each year to the best sf novel, published in English, during the previous year. Winners are selected by a committee of academic critics and sf writers. The award should not be confused with the John W. Campbell Award, which is voted for by sf fans and awarded annually at the World SF Convention.

 

My 2,000 words are up and so much is left unwritten, but from here you have to begin your own explorations: head back to the 'About the Author' section to find out more about Harry Harrison, or check out the 'Contents' page for a link to your favourite book or series.

We hope you find the site informative and fun. Revisit us often, we'll be putting up new content regularly - bookmark the front page so that you'll always find us, we may move parts of the site around when we outgrow our original home. And if you have any comments, or anything you'd like to contribute to the site, please e-mail us.

Paul Tomlinson, July 1999