Archive for January, 2008

Snippets

30 January, 2008

Amazon UK are listing a new edition of the Stainless Steel Rat omnibus – there’s no cover art yet, but the description says it includes The Stainless Steel Rat, The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge, and The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World. Publication date is given as 6th March 2008, and the publisher is Gollancz. Hope they put a decent cover on this one, as the previous Orion editions had very disappointing covers – nice artwork, but not really showing Slipper Jim at his best. The book isn’t currently listed on the Gollancz / Orion site.

Tor have posted details of their new edition of Make Room! Make Room! on their website. Due in April 2008. That cover photo gives me vertigo every time I look at it. Great stuff.

I just came across a piece on HH on the ‘Celebrity Atheist List‘ which includes a few paragraphs written by… er… me. Quoted by someone called Wylee, who took them from the HH website.

There’s a discussion of HH’s ‘atheistic’ short story ‘The Steets of Ashkelon’ (vt. ‘An Alien Agony’) on the Library Thing site, which I think is from Turkey.

And Edwin Hesselthwite recently wrote a lengthy review of ‘The Steets of Ashkelon’ in a piece titled ‘Bakelite and Uranium Monday: The Streets Of Ashkelon by Harry Harrison‘ on the Little Man, What Now site.

It’s possible that 2008 will be the year of the e-book, now that Amazon have released their e-book reader in the US. I keep wanting to call it the Kibble, but its actually called the Kindle. There are already a number of HH titles available as e-books – more than I thought – though whether these will work on the Kindle, I’m not sure, as I don’t know how Amazon are handling digital rights management… Here’s a link to eReader.com which lists the HH e-books for sale, including Kong Unbound which contains an essay by HH on the movie King Kong. Oh, and don’t be fooled by crooks on ebay offering other Harry Harrison e-books for sale – there are some fakes out there, which probably just contain the scanned texts of books which have been (illegally) floating around the internet for a while.

Cory Doctorow posted an image of ‘Mickey Burgers’ on the Boing Boing site, along with the comment “soylent brown is cartoon characters.” They didn’t really put Mickey Mouse in the mincer did they?

Marc Bernardin wrote ‘An Open Letter to the Sci-Fi Channel‘ basically asking why they don’t adapt some proper science fiction stories, rather than turning out ‘lame’ shows like the new Flash Gordon series. Bernardin doesn’t mention HH, but a comment added by Joe Quellen suggests Bill, the Galactic Hero as a suitable candidate for adaptation. That would get my vote. 

I hadn’t spotted this before: Harry Harrison’s agent Sobel Weber Associates link to the Official Harry Harrison website from Harry’s entry in their client list.

Tony Thorne recently published a collection of short stories set on the Spanish island of Tenerife. Harry Harrison wrote an introduction for the collection. Tony Thorne’s website includes some photographs of Harry at the 2007 Eurocon in Copenhagen. 

Someone called ‘Cheese’ posted a question on Answerbag: Is Soylent Green really people? This has prompted a few responses – some funnier than others. There are a number of related questions too, with equally silly answers. There are some very sick people out there. But if you want to know what Soylent Green really is, I’ve posted an answer on Answerbag. Soylent Green was really… no, check out the site. 🙂

How to Sell to John W. Campbell

25 January, 2008

Here’s a piece Harry Harrison wrote for the Science Fiction Writers of America bulletin back in 1969, when John W. Campbell was still editor of Analog. Still worth a read for the advice and anecdotes I think – including the origins of that classic HH story The Man from P.I.G.

How to Sell to John W. Campbell, or, Psionics in One Easy Lesson
by Harry Harrison
(1969)

Two things have prompted this expose. Firstly, a writer friend of mine, one of the best in the business, asked me how it was done, since he had never managed a sale there. I would like to give him an honest answer. Secondly, I think the quality of most of the fiction in ASF is so low that we should all work hard to improve it. If the estimable Mr. Campbell receives only trash writing by literarily ambitious engineers he can print only t.w.b.l.a.e.

To begin with, it helps to be a born Campbell writer. I know, I know: I hear the screams now, this is no answer. If you grew up with ASF, panting monthly, waiting for the new copy to appear, you are halfway home. I did and I still love the magazine, hunchbacked and deformed as it is at times. If you do not like ASF type fiction from one of its many periods, then just give up, Jack, and try the other markets.

Alright, so you like one of the forms of ASF during its varied history. Think your stories in that era to begin with. Then face the idea that John Campbell buys ideas, concepts, not fancy writing. He is a mean and tough editor and can instantly put his finger on the holes in your plot or where you went wrong, but he does this as a secondary thing. It is the idea that counts. If the idea is right, all he asks of the writing is that it be literate and cover the ground well enough to convey the idea. He’ll buy great writing — he has in the past — but he does not ask for it nor look forward to receiving it. That is mainly what is wrong with the magazine now. His attitude, which he has expressed in print many times, “Come on, all you PhD’s, and lab types, earn yourself a new camera or such by batting out a little story…” has produced some of the most incredibly foul fiction ever to blind the eyes of western man. I assume that the concept is worked out correctly in every story, John would not have bought it if it wasn’t, but that does not make a readable story.

I also assume that John will read this so the preceding should prove the next very important point. You can argue with the man. I’m not saying that you’ll win, that’s a right difficult thing (even when you know you are right) but you can express your own point of view. So that it is not necessary to adhere slavishly to Campbellian theories expressed in the past. Break new ground and see what happens.

The next best thing you can do is come to New York and visit the editor on his home ground. Any writer with a decent excuse will be admitted to the lair. Come prepared to think, it will be expected of you. Come prepared to remember, because you’ll find ideas winging your way thick and fast. I’ve met a lot of writers in my lifetime but none ever came close to Campbell in sheer ability to produce ideas, concepts, complete plots and theories at such a continuous clip. Grab onto the ideas that fit your own interests, then rush home and write them. You may still get a reject, the writing up of a Campbell idea does not guarantee the man will buy, but at least you know that you are on the right track. What he talks about, he is interested in and if you can fit a workable concept and story to material the editor likes, you are already halfway home.

Enough theory. How about a frinstance? I was in the middle of Deathworld 3 (The Horse Barbarians in ASF) when John sent me a ream of material about pigs and how they might be used in combat. He suggested the use of war pigs in the novel. I balked, mainly because I think that there is something inherently funny about pigs and this kind of broad humor did not fit into the grim and bloody battle scenes I was doing. But the basic idea was still appealing. I kept thinking about it and dug the relevant articles and books out of the library. I was soon an amateur swineologist and even before I finished the novel, I took time off to do a story called The Man from P.I.G. which went off to ASF and was purchased. In this I pivoted a lot about the humor and the yarn reeks of bacon and lard jokes; squeals and flat flanks. Good fun! I have since expanded the novelette and sold it to Avon as a children’s book. (This was Avon’s editor’s idea; he must know a lot more about kids’ taste than I do.) Before I was through, I did a lot of work on pigs and turned a nice piece of cash. But let me not forget who suggested the basic idea in the first place and started to ball rolling.

All of this sage advice is worthless if you don’t know the difference between a concept-story and a writing-story. (These definitions are wholly artificial and germane only to their present usage in reference to selling ASF) Take an issue of ASF and one of F & SF and read them closely. On a sheet of paper write a single sentence describing the plot of each story. (Example, ‘The Cold Equations’: a girl who does not know the basic difference between manmade and natural laws must die of her ignorance.) On a second sheet do the same for F & SF. (Example, Vance Aandahl’s recent ‘An Adventure in the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Wilderness’: the consequences of forcing a primeval act and its implications upon an individual so insulated by technology from the natural as to be unable to comprehend or deal with it.) If you can’t see any difference, well, forget about selling Campbell. (Probably forget about writing for a living, too.)

Most important. Don’t be a slave to John Campbell’s theories and beliefs and feed them back to him as stories . He doesn’t buy them as often as you think. And even if he does buy them — for lack of anything better around — you have sold yourself down the river. What have you accomplished by repeating stale ideas? Wasted your own time and the readers’. Stand up, think, fight. Look at Mack Reynold’s Russian and African stories. You’ll see ideas there that are directly opposed to those the editor holds. All Campbell asks is equal time. I know. I have just danced this one in a novel titled In Our Hands, the Stars, that he bought for serialization… but only after we had exchanged a half dozen 6 and 7 page letters. He pointed out errors in science which I happily changed. He pointed out a propaganda speech by one of my characters that he disagreed with completely. I did not take it out — but gave the opposing opinions equal time instead and wrote in a speech by another character that presents the other point of View. Why not? It doesn’t alter my story in the slightest, and it assumes a measure of intelligence on the part of the reader who can then decided between the opposed attitudes.

If you don’t like the kind of stories you have been reading in Analog of late, don’t complain… write something better for the editor to buy. Dig in and read your file copies of the magazine. Discover what it means to take an idea or concept or postulate or invention and how to play with it in a story. Face the fact that at ASF this concept comes first and rules the form. Entertainment, character, story, plot — all hang from it and do not alter it.

There is a nickel a word waiting for anyone who can face the fact that this Concept is King at ASF — and who can then write a good story about a clear-cut and (hopefully) new idea.

First published in SFWA Bulletin, vol.7 no.1 (#25), 1969.

Let’s Start With A Spaceship In Trouble …

21 January, 2008

Let’s Start With A Spaceship In Trouble …
How I Write Science Fiction by Harry Harrison (1976)

I like to read science fiction and I like to write it just as much. I like it hard and I like it soft. Soft science fiction is more like fantasy than anything else. It can be a lot of fun – but you don’t have to worry too much about your facts. Hard SF is different. If there are real facts, and they are important to the story, they must be right. You can’t cheat. I did a book once about building a tunnel from Land’s End to the United States. Before I wrote a word I had to find out just what the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean was really like. I discovered a number of interesting facts – like an underwater mountain range of volcanoes – that made the book that much more fun to write and to read.

Then one day an editor asked me to write a story for the magazine Young Scientist. He wanted a story that told all about evolution, how the first life appeared on this planet, how it grew and changed through millions of years. A tall, order that – particularly since the story had to be enjoyable to read as well. After a lot of lip-chewing and staring out the study window at cactus and jackrabbits – I was living in California then – I had the idea. I would have a class of school children travel back in time to watch evolution as it was happening. And their school teacher would explain to them – and to the readers. Then, to make the story interesting rather than a boring old lecture, I had the children react the way they would in a real classroom. The good ones were good, while the naughty ones started fights, tried to step on the squigglies of a million years ago – and were always asking to go to the loo.

I enjoyed doing this so much that I said to myself – why not a whole book like this? Why not indeed. Let’s start with a spaceship in trouble, always excitement there. Let’s start with real trouble, with the only officer left alive and in charge being the ship’s doctor. And give him plenty of problems including the medical ones he should know how to face.

All of the problems in Spaceship Medic are real ones. Some of them can be solved by a knowledge of physics, others by astronomy or simple chemistry. All of the facts are given and the reader has just as big a chance of finding the answer as does the poor doctor. Science, and the facts of science, can be fun – because real things make a real world.

When I was done I had a space adventure novel where problems had to be solved and mighty fast too. With a happy sigh I typed those magic words, The End, on the manuscript and sent it off to my publisher.

THE END

Originally published in Puffin Post, Vol.10 No.4, 1976

A Postcard from the Cambrian Era

21 January, 2008

Here’s a short piece Harry Harison wrote for the Puffin Post, a magazine for readers of the English publisher Puffin (the children’s imprint of Penguin) in 1978.

Three Puffin writer’s were asked to send a message back from an imaginary time-travel package holiday:

Try Our Space-Time Package Holidays

From Harry Harrison:
Dear Puffin Clubbers: 
Date: Sometime in the Cambrian Era 

Just a quick note to say that things are really super back here. Having a time machine makes it easy to find a good holiday spot. At first I thought of taking a look at the Battle of Hastings, but October 1066 was a very rainy month. Besides, with all those arrows and swords it would be easy to get hurt. Then I considered a trip to visit the Romans, but I don’t speak Latin and in those days the sanitation was something awful so I would be sure to get travel tummy. Whatever time I thought of visiting in the past seemed to have something awful happening that would be sure to get me into trouble. Then I thought of the Cambrian Era. Millions and millions of years ago. Lots of fish in the sea – but no animals on land at all. Just some plants. No bugs to sting me, no little nasties to bite me. So here I lie on a sunny, warm beach, very much enjoying myself. Wish you were here.

Originally published in Puffin Post, Vol.12, No.1, 1978.

Why is the Sky Green?

8 January, 2008

Lynn Vincentnathan e-mailed Harry at the website to say that Soylent Green had been mentioned on the RealClimate: Climate Science from Climate Scientists blog.  See the 29th December comment from David R Hickey, and response from Mike, who I think is Dr. Michael E. Mann of the Penn State University.  Mike says in part: “I often tell folks that if they want a glimpse of a possible worst-case 2100ish century world, ‘Soylent Green’ may be their best bet.”

The QEII is Missing!

7 January, 2008

Or it was in 1980, when Harry Harrison’s novel of that name was first published in the UK. Tor published the US edition in 1982, and to promote the book they produced this very scary-sounding short advertisement to appear on network radio.

Click on the icon below to hear the ad.

QEII-ad.mp3

The Velvet Glove

7 January, 2008

timetraveller.jpg 

Harry Harrison’s short story ‘The Velvet Glove’ is read on (in?) the 22nd edition of The Time Traveller Show. The reading is by Michael Bekemeyer. It begins about four minutes into the show and lasts just under forty-two minutes. When I listened to it there was a short gap about thirty-five minutes in, corresponding to a paragraph missing from the reading.

I’m not sure whether ‘the Time Traveller’ asked Harry’s permission to use the story, so this may have to be filed in the ‘unofficial adaptations’ category.

‘The Velvet Glove’ originally appeared in the November 1956 issue of Fantastic Universe magazine, and was contained in HH’s collections The War with the Robots and – more recently – 50 in 50.

If anyone else ever wants to ask permission to use a Harry Harrison story for any kind of reading or adaptation, they can get a quick response by sending a message via the ‘Contact Us’ link on Harry’s official website at www.harryharrison.com

What Do You Miss About 2007?

3 January, 2008

Happy New Year! Normal service – whatever that is – resumes here.

Here are a few items I missed in 2007…

Published 1st October 2007 was a collection of short stories by Bruce McAllister called The Girl Who Loved Animals: And Other Stories. Published by Golden Gryphon Press, the collection has an introduction by Harry Harrison.

“Among top short story talents in the field, McAllister is a leader. Polished, moving, thought-provoking—this collection is without parallel.”  – Harry Harrison

Potrzebie, alias Bhob Stewart, posted a piece on Wally Wood on his blog on 20th October 2007. The piece, EC Comics: From Here to Nudity, talks about putting together his book Against the Grain, and specifcally about the discovery of an alternate panel by Wally Wood for the story “The Children” in EC’s Weird Science-Fantasy #23 (March 1954). Stewart quotes Harry Harrison (from the Graphic Story magazine interview), who tells how joke panels or additions to drawings were often created by artists.

Melodican, alias Stephen H. Segal, has designed the cover for the paperback edition of Harry Harrison’s Planet of the Damned, to be published by Cosmos Books in ‘early 2008.’  Segal also provided to cover for the hardcover edition from Wildside Press, which was published in September 2007. Here’s the hardcover version:

planetdamned.jpg 

 

Down with Gender, a band of Kraftwerk-influenced musicians and robot-builders, announced in their 4th September 2007 Myspace blog entry that they were back in the studio, recording a new album, and that one of the tracks is called “Rotten Day – Based on Harry Harrison’s West of Eden, it’s a Tom Waits influenced spookster.” You can hear other examples of their music on their Myspace page.

 


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