Archive for October, 2007

SF – A Humanist Perspective

30 October, 2007

Here’s another item from the archives – a piece by Harry Harrison written for The Humanist magazine in 1961. Harry Harrison’s views on religion are well-known – see his short story “The Streets of Ashkelon,” probably his finest – and he has spoken on the subject many times on conventions panels. What follows is an early article on the topic.

Science Fiction Comes of Age
by Harry Harrison (1961)

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Science fiction has become a medium in which the implications of humanism can be freely explored

The recent publication of two books heralds the entry of Science Fiction into the ranks of legitimate literature. Kingsley Amis’s New Maps of Hell (Gollancz) is a sympathetically critical survey of SF by a writer of reputation in literature, criticism, and education. Aspects of Science Fiction (John Murray), edited by G.D. Doherty, is no less than a sturdy stone in the underpinnings of the Institution itself – a grammar school text-book. This coming of age of SF is reminiscent of the acceptance of detective thrillers some years ago, but it is of far greater importance to the humanist.

The public image of SF has never been a very good one. When the term is mentioned lurid cover magazines and monster-horror films have a tendency to leap instantly to mind. Science fiction was never quite socially acceptable – at least, not until quite recently. Of course the same could be said about humanism. A glimpse beneath the surface of SF reveals that this is not the only thing these two have in common. Many of the advanced philosophies written about in the pages of this journal are already accepted SF conventions. (more…)

The Mystery of the Lost Computer

29 October, 2007

You probably already know from Harry Harrison’s auto/biographical notes that during the Second World War he worked with analogue computers, and you’ve probably read elsewhere that he’s currently working on a book about the history of these machines. The fact that these types of computers are often overlooked when people write about the history of computing led HH to write the following article for the UK magazine Personal Computing World in the 1970s.

The Mystery of the Lost Computer
by Harry Harrison (1978)

I am beginning to feel that I once lived in another world, one of those parallel worlds so familiar to readers of science fiction. Perhaps because I write SF I am beginning to believe in one of my own unreal universes. Why even my good friend, the good Doctor Asimov, who knows everything about everything, doesn’t seem to know about my world. In his book Science Past – Science Future he discusses the computer revolution. He jumps in one mighty narrative bound from Aiken’s Mark I, 1937-1944, to ENIAC in 1946. With nothing in between.

Nothing? With quivering hands I picked up the glorious first issue of Personal Computer World and turned to ‘Past Procession’ with its compact boxed history labelled COMPUTER CLOCK. The truth revealed at fast. But unhappily for me the truth outlined there is the same one that Isaac Asimov revealed. Yet I put it to you that both of these learned gentlemen are wrong. There were computers in general use between those dates; hard-working, practical computers that did their job remarkably well.

(more…)

The Curse of the Unborn Living Dead

25 October, 2007

This short short story is a ‘Drabble’.  I was going to explain what a Drabble is, but having looked at the Wikipedia entry, it seems to be more complicated than I thought it was. This story – exlcuding the title – is exactly 100 words long. Rather than changing the name of this post to ‘The Trouble with Drabbles’ or ‘May All Your Drabbles Be Little Ones,’ I’ll just post the story…

The Curse of the Unborn Living Dead

by Harry Harrison (1988) 

 

Of course a grenade in the teeth works wonders, as does a laser blast to the gut. The creature’s gut. It died before it could fire, as did the next eighteen of the Vommers. God, they’re disgusting…

More coming. And dying. And their filthy allies, the Scummers, dying in waves of pulpy green flesh. Exploding flesh, air filled with flying tentacles, screams of the dying, teeth-gnashing of the living, smell nauseating. More coming. Ha-ha! Trying to trap me… or are they? Too many, overwhelmed, dropping ichor, oh, sob, is this the end…

I wish to hell I could wake up.  

© Harry Harrison, 1988

Originally published in The Drabble Project (Beccon Publications 1988, edited by Rob Meades & David B. Wake)

On a similar (short) note, HH wrote a SIX WORD(!) short story for a feature in Wired magazine:

TIME MACHINE REACHES FUTURE!!! … nobody there …
Harry Harrison (November 2006)

 A whole bunch of other famous writers, directors, etc. also wrote short short shorts for the article, which is available online here:

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/sixwords.html

Interview with The Stainless Steel Rat

23 October, 2007

When The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell was published, Harry Harrison wrote the following piece to help publicise the novel. It first appeared in SFX magazine in the UK in the May 1997 issue.

The image below is the cover from the Sphere (UK) edition of The Stainless Steel Rat from the 1980s. The original painting was by Peter Elson.

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Interview with the Stainless Steel Rat
by Harry Harrison (1997)

Through a circumstance that is a little difficult to describe, this much admired journal recently had the opportunity to interview a Mr diGriz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat, Ratinox, Stalowy Szczur… The meeting was arranged for midnight in a very low bar in Whitechapel. This is the result…

SFX: G-gurgle! That is not a real knife you have pressed to my throat?

Jim: Shake your head and you’ll find out. What’s the code word?

SFX: SFX!

Jim: Correct. (A glass of purple beverage is passed across the table.) Antarean Pantherpiss. Drink.

(The SFX reporter drinks deep, screams shrilly and falls, writhing among the fag ends. When he crawls up again, his voice has changed. For life.)

SFX: Would you describe yourself as a criminal?

Jim: Are you suddenly tired of living?

(more…)

My War with the Army

22 October, 2007

A few year’s ago Arthur Lortie and I were trying to track down documents relating to Harry Harrison’s work on the comic strip Flash Gordon. We located some stuff in a special collection in the library at California State University, Fullerton. Among the documents Arthur also got copies of was the item below.

I checked with Harry this morning, and he said this was probably written while he was in the Army – “for YANK, the army mag; they rejected it. What an antique!”

This is probably one of the earliest examples of HH’s feelings towards the military to be set down in words – shades of Bill, the Galactic Hero and The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted.

So, probably for the first time anywhere, we present…

My War with the Army
Harry Harrison (c.1947)

So you say you’re going to join the army son, that’s fine mighty fine. A draftee? … oh, pardon me, a volunteer … you must be handcuffed to that MP by mistake. Oh, I see, their mistake, you were just living in that cave in the woods because you liked nature. The draft notices came after you moved into the cave… mail must have been kind of irregular up there.

I was in the army son, did you know that? There was no mistake, I volunteered. No sonny, it was not the war of 1812, this was the other war, the big war. I am sure your drill-sergeant will tell you about it. I was going to make the world a safe place to live in, yes sir, get rid of them Naziz and Japs and things. I spent my first day in Camp Underwater and that’s when I changed my mind. Oh, I still wanted to make the world safe, alright, but I thought I could do a better job somewheres else. I no sooner got home before they showed up and took me back to Underwater. That’s when the trouble started.

(more…)

Dinosaur Joke

17 October, 2007

Here’s a joke Harry has told once or twice on convention panels where he’s been discussing West of Eden. In an attempt to shift the blame, he attributes the joke to David Attenborough…

A very-rich Texan develops an interest in dinosaurs. He visits an exhibition at a museum and for the first time sees dinosaur footprints in stone. They are impressive. The very prints made by Tyrannosaurus Rex over 100,000 million years ago. He is determined to have them – but of course the museum will not sell. Undaunted, and still very rich, he sends his agents circling the world for a set of prints. They locate some, at an incredible price, and he buys them.

They are delivered to his mansion in Dallas and he supervises their installation in his garden. Wonderful! He is so carried away that he invites his next door neighbor over to see them. The man gasps and boggles his eyes.

‘Gee!’ he says. ‘I didn’t know they came this close to the house!’

+++

This version taken from an Ansible convention report by HH. If you’ve never read David Langford’s SF newsletter, it comes highly recommended:

Ansible. Filled with wild rumour, suspect speculation, gross exaggeration, dirt and innuendo … unputdownable.”  – Harry Harrison.

Starship Sofa

16 October, 2007

Tony and Ciaran produce a podcast at Starship Sofa, in which they discuss SF related topics and authors. Their 38th podcast was a Harry Harrison special – a sort of documentary in discussion form drawing on auto/biographical material from the HH website. You can download the podcast here:

 Starship Sofa #38 – Harry Harrison

The Year 2000 in Birmingham

16 October, 2007

Harry Harrison and Brian Aldiss are honorary presidents of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. Here’s a short piece by HH written for the Birmingham Sf Group’s 10th Anniversary Souvenir Book, June 1981.

The Year 2000 in Birmingham

Harry Harrison

I missed the chance to come back the first time around; 1000 was a very bad year. Nasty winter. Frost everywhere. Not my thing really. Floods in Egypt. While I was still making my mind up, time marches to the sound of a different drum here, all of a sudden it was 1001 and that was that. For another thousand years. Or a millennium as they call it. But I made a new year’s resolution – really a new millennial resolution – not to miss the date the next time around. (more…)

Men on the Moon

16 October, 2007

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Following the moon landing in 1969, Donald A Wollheim’s anthology Men on th Moon was reissued, with some additional comments on the event by science fiction writers. Harry Harrison’s comments – see below – make interesting reading today, both in terms of how far we’ve come, and how far we haven’t… (more…)

The True Story of Flying Saucers

12 October, 2007

Here’s the first of the obscure HH items I promised. It was originally published in the comic book Space Busters #2, Fall 1952, published by Approved Comics, Inc. My understanding is that comic books at that time were required to contain a minimum of two pages of text, which is why these pieces were included.

The manuscript for this piece is housed in a special collection of the library at California State University, Fullerton. Harry Harrison has tear sheets from the comic book in his personal files.

The True Story of Flying Saucers
by Harry Harrison (1952)

This is not fiction. Everything in this article is true. 

“There it is!,” the pilot shouted, “Right in front of us: it’s moving now, it seems to be coming towards us … WATCH OUT!”  (more…)


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