✒ ♪ ♞

Harry Harrison and Science Fiction

I’m a fan of both science fiction and fantasy. These days, I end up reading a lot more fantasy than scifi though. There are two reasons for this. The first, and simplest, is that I’ve always leaned more toward the fantasy and supernatural side of things, and that tendency only grew once I discovered Stephen King.

The second, and probably more significant, reason is that a great deal of modern science fiction, in an effort to be scientifically accurate and/or interesting, tends to lose sight of the story that its trying to tell. Additionally, it frequently results in two dimensional characters, or at least ones that don’t feel very real or relatable. Sometimes, compounding this problem, the prose itself is weak or outright poor. The ideas might be wonderfully compelling, but without a strong story, characters, and at least competent narrative voice, a work of any kind of fiction is not going to hold my interest. Examples of popular science fiction authors who have failed one or more of these categories for me are Robert J. Sawyer, William Gibson, and Michael Crichton.

Scifi was always in the mix for me growing up, whether it was in whole or in part. I don’t remember a time before I knew Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and the rest of the crew of the USS Enterprise. (I had a paper model, the kind you cut out and fold into a 3D object, of that venerable starship hanging from my ceiling as a very small child.) I remember watching the original Star Trek series and, later, series like Blake’s 7. Blends of scifi/fantasy were huge, too, such as Masters of the Universe and Star Wars.

Among the very first novels I ever read that were intended for an adult audience were the works of Harry Harrison.1 He has remained among my very favorite science fiction authors for the last thirty years. He was born out of the golden age of science fiction, and though his work features much that is scientifically accurate (or what was accurate for the time), it never fails to keep the story moving and to treat its characters as more than automatons. In short, his books and stories were full of heart, humor, and wit, that, at least to me, feels sorely lacking in modern science fiction.2 Perhaps the best way to describe the difference is that his stories feel more human.3

I was thrilled over the last couple of months to find that Audible.com has been releasing a huge number of Harry Harrison’s back catalog on audio. I’ve been hoping for this to happen for quite some time. And, as a bonus, in addition to all his wonderful science fiction stories, they’ve also released his memoir.

So many classics are there, including The Stainless Steel Rat series, the Death World trilogy, the West of Eden trilogy, the To the Stars trilogy, and so on. If you are a science fiction fan, particularly a fan of the golden age writers, you owe it to yourself to experience his work. Some of his novels are lighthearted science fiction adventures, while others delve much deeper into scientific and philosophical quandaries. If you are a fan of the genre, there is almost certainly something you will enjoy in his body of work.

  1. The first novels I read growing up were The Hardy Boys, which I started reading at around age six. By the time I was eight, I’d begun enjoying Harry Harrison’s work, Sherlock Holmes, and the works of Mark Twain. I read my first Stephen Kin novel at age eleven. ↩︎

  2. While writing this piece, I started to wonder if this is partially the disconnect for me where regards Star Trek: the Next Generation. I’ve long maintained that TNG is the weakest Star Trek series, mostly because the characters feel very flat and lifeless to me. It occurs to me now that this may be due, in part at least, to the show taking a more modernistic approach to scifi in comparison to the other branches of the Trek franchise. ↩︎

  3. A more modern science fiction author who has never forgotten the human element in his work, and who is a damn good writer besides, is Spider Robinson↩︎