Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: A Memoir by Harry Harrison (book review).

March 15, 2015 | By | Reply More

Reading the multiple titled ‘Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: A Memoir by Harry Harrison’ should be a clue as to what this book is about and by whom. For those expecting an autobiography of Harry Harrison’s Science Fiction memoirs will find instead a history of his life in war time and succeeded in not getting out of America and then in married life when he did and travelled a lot. Reading behind the lines, although Harrison doesn’t explain his military job, it sounds a lot like understanding ballistics as a gunnery sergeant. It is only when you get to the last eighty pages of the book that he looks at his SF books and experiences with same in any detail. Editor David Hartwell points out that Harrison died before he had an opportunity to integrate them into the text, although reading them separately, I did wonder how he would do that without losing the rhythm of the rest of the book.


For those not in the know, Harrison didn’t actually start off as a writer but an artist, including inking Wallace Wood for a time amongst other deeds as he made his living. There are some interesting insights here regarding 1950s comicbooks from the inside. He also went on to write the ‘Flash Gordon’ newspaper strips for some years.

Oddly, there is less said about Science Fiction during this time. He belonged to the Hydra Club that came after The Futurians but there is less insight into some of the whys of their activities or the people involved or how he came to be its chairman before being ousted. That isn’t to say there isn’t the odd name drop of SF authors but rarely is there anything detailed there, although the occasional word does give some insight. When you consider the number of SF author autobiographies out there can be counted on the fingers of one hand, there are some authors that we’ll never know too much about.

From there, how he and his family went globetrotting they did around the world, moving from New York to Mexico, then Great Britain, Italy, Denmark, California and Ireland. What does come out of the book is a detailed travelogue of how they coped in different countries and a wry chuckle from me when he came to Britain. I don’t think he knew quite what to expect here considering my lot were still recovering from World War Two at the time and food was still rationed being rationed in the late 1950s.

One strong thing comes out of all of the book is how Harrison was a jobbing writer, doing all sorts of work, including writing some ‘The Saint’ novels, to make a living before establishing himself as an SF author. For those who are going to go this path today, it is something to consider as an apprenticeship to developing the discipline to sit down and write continually. Thinking about it, I can also see the contrary side where it’s too easy to pigeon-holed and not being seen as able to switch genres.

A couple months ago, I picked up ‘Planet Story’ that Harrison wrote as a collaborative effort with fledgling artist Jim Burns, mostly because I wanted to see the art. His insight in that the book was instantly remaindered explains why I didn’t see it around at the time for more than an instant and I promise I’ll do a review of it in the near future to see what he meant.

Harrison looking at how his book ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ became the film ‘Soylent Green’ is a lesson in film contract reading and getting a good agent so you don’t get fobbed off with a deal that gives you money on film profit, which films never make. Something that I’m glad he reminded me of was ‘Soylent’ is a contraction of soya-lentils rather than something made out of human protein, although I’m not sure either version is particularly appetising.

Considering Harrison could speak seven languages, I’m surprised he nor his agent or publishers never considered him writing a book about the basics of learning to being a polyglot, especially as I doubt there are many books on the subject. With his piece on Russia, I learnt that ‘bolshoi’ meant ‘big’ and a sharp reminder that there is no ‘h’ in their language which means the Russian translation of this book title will end up being ‘Garry Garrison! Garry Garrison!: A Memoir by Garry Garrison’.

The ‘East Of Eden’ trilogy demonstrates how much Harrison relied on other people to do his research rather their expertise in shaping the reality. It also made me sharply aware of how much knowledge I carry in my own head. I do like his observation that SF is about attitude towards change although I do think it extends beyond that.

I found this book a substantial read and an insight into Harry Harrison’s life more than his books. That’s not to say there isn’t the odd tit-bit of Science Fiction information. I’m not altogether sure his change of location had an effect on his fiction but it certainly improved his contact list. Harrison died in 2012 and if you liked his work then I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading about his eventful life.

GF Willmetts

March 2015

(pub: TOR/Forge. 351 page small hardback. Price: $26.99 (US), $31.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-3308-7)

check out website: www.tor-forge.com


Category: Books, Scifi

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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