Archive for the ‘Non-fiction’ Category

PCW – Personal Computer World – End of an Era

14 August, 2009

Back in February 2008 I mentioned that Personal Computer World magazine was celebrating its 30th anniversary, and that Harry Harrison had contributed an article to the second issue of the magazine.

Sadly the magazine has now published its last issue – the August 2009 issue. It was a shock to receive the letter from their subscription department – PCW was the computing magazine I’d bought since I got my first computer. The closure of the magazine was blamed on falling advertising revenues as a result of the current recession or ‘financial downturn’ or whatever we’re supposed to be calling it.

PCW’s ‘sister magazine’ Computer Active! is still being published by Incisive Media.

Editor Kelvyn Taylor and the rest of the PCW contributors are a fantastic group of writers, so I’m sure we’ll continue see their work elsewhere, but this really does feel like the end of an era. 😦

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More Alpha Centauran Swine Bashing

17 June, 2009

In a previous post I had the text of Harry’s fanzine article ‘Take That You Alpha Centauran Swine!’ but only had the original sketches, not the finished HH artwork as published.

Thanks to Dave Willoughby, I now have that artwork, which I share with you here…

Art (c) Harry Harrison

Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!

8 December, 2008

The best article I have ever read on hand-to-hand combat in space was written by Harry Harrison and published in the fanzine Amra.” – Frederik Pohl

I’ve mentioned before that coincidence seems to play a large part in tracking down the more obscure items written by Harry Harrison. I came across the above quote, in Pohl’s autobiography The Way the Future Was; it refers to an article by Harry Harrison that I’d never seen.

A quick search on Google revealed that the article was titled ‘Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!’ and was published in the October 1967 issue of Amra. Google also showed that a collection of back issues of the fanzine had sold in the recent past for megabucks. Not much chance of getting hold of a copy then.

But a couple of months later I was going through a box of Harry’s papers and came across the original typescript and Harry’s accompanying sketches.

I’m not sure what the illustrations in Amra were like – but here I’m posting the article with the author’s own sketches.

And, coincidentally, I was OCRing some of Harry’s short stories last week, and had ‘No War, Or Battle’s Sound’ on the scanner. As I was fixing the text I noticed that the weapons described in the story had a familiar ring to them. That story was published in 1968.

Here then is – probably – the best article ever on hand-to-hand combat in space. And if anyone wants to take up Harry Harrison’s challenge at the end of the article – forty-odd years after he made it – then you can do so by leaving your comments here.

If anyone has the original issue of Amra, then please get in touch, as I’d like to see a scan of it.

 

Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!
by Harry Harrison

The general level of weaponry in hand-to-hand space battling is very depressing. All of the invention seems to have been done by E.E. Smith a few generations back, and the authors who came along later have been happy to use Doc’s armory without modification. The names may be changed, but call it what you will – it is still Van Buskirk’s space axe that crunches through the helmet.

And what about that space axe? As described by the immortal Doc even the iron-thewed Van couldn’t have done much damage with it in a null-G situation. You only have to think of all the complex tools that have been designed to turn nuts and bolts in space – without having the operator turn in the opposite direction – to realize what would happen when that mighty axe was swung.

I have brooded on this problem, and the possibilities of new weaponry in space, and present the results here. They are free for all to use, I ask only that authors retain the names I have assigned so I can enjoy a bit of egoboo.

Firstly that axe. It will have to become a Power Axe that will operate independently of gravity. To all appearances a normal axe, it has a power source concealed in the haft and four small jets located in the tip beyond the blade. The only pressure required to swing it is the pressure of a fingertip on a switch.

power-axe
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Breakthrough

6 March, 2008

Apologies for the lack of posts recently – I just upgraded to a new PC at home, and on the grounds that too much change can’t possibly be a bad thing, I’m also upgrading to a OS (Vista), and new versions of favourite applications, such as my OCR software: I’ve been using a version of OmniPage I got free on a magazine cover disk ages ago — it has served well for converting various bits of stuff for the website, the blog, and virtually all of the short stories for Harry’s 50 in 50 collection, but it’stime to try a newer version…

Still don’t have internet access on the PC at home, or my scanners working, but hopefully will be up and running by weekend.

In the meantime, here’s something I OCR’d a while back – a piece HH wrote for the 1987 WorldCon convention book. Contributors were asked to write on the theme of ‘breakthroughs,’ if I remember correctly, and this is what Harry wrote…

Breakthrough

If a writer really cares about his art and his craft, then acquiring the skills to become an author can be a very exciting process. 

Talking with other writers, editors, literate readers; reading with insight, analysing and cogitating; all of these are a great aid. But they make up only a small percentage of the total gestalt of a writer’s skills. They should happen almost daily and should also be an ongoing process. Any writer whose reach does not exceed his grasp is loafing or on the skids — or both. 

But breakthroughs are exceedingly rare. I can remember only one that was truly important. By hindsight it might be considered obvious; most simple and vital things are. Or why didn’t you invent the paperclip first and get rich? 

Like many other SF authors I grew up in science fiction. I read all kinds of fiction — but liked SF the best. So when I started to write this was what I wanted to do. I wanted to read more of the kind of SF I liked. So at first I was more than happy to think as, and be, an Astounding-Analog author. Campbell was God and his magazine was prophecy. He liked my work, as did his readers, and it was a wonder to be alive in that world. 

Critical analysis came slowly. Fine as Astounding-Analog was it had been born in the pulps — as had the authors. This was a stricture. More than just the lack of profanity, absence of breasts, importance of action, necessity of back-plotting. It was the overall attitude. The absolute taking for granted that SF had built-in limitations, could never compete with the Joyces and the Faulkners. 

Which is nonsense. Literature is literature, prose is prose. 

The breakthrough I had was that all of the restrictions on SF were inside my head. If I felt the profanity taboo was a good thing I would never even consider a plot development that might contain a world like damp. If I thought that SF was a second-rate field of literary endeavour, as many fantasy writers today obviously do, then everything that I wrote would be second-rate. Thought control is self-imposed. Realise that you are free to create in any way you want and you are free. 

So after writing Deathworld at least five times under various guises I wrote Bill, the Galactic Hero. Read it and you will understand.   

From: Frontier Crossings: A Souvenir of the 45th World Science Fiction Convention. London: Science Fiction Conventions, Ltd., 1987.

PCW – Personal Computer World Magazine – 30 Years Old

20 February, 2008

The April 2008 edition of PCW marks the magazine’s 30th anniversary, and Harry Harrison gets a mention on the last page as a contributor to issue 2. Harry’s article, The Mystery of the Lost Computer was posted here in October.

Harry and I found copies of the first two issues of PCW when we were clearing out his garage last summer, and we donated copies to PCW for their archive, which PCW also acknowledge in their final page write-up.

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.

I Ate a Pygmy

21 December, 2007

Here’s a tasteful little story, which Harry Harrison has occasionally referred to in interviews, using the title ‘I Ate a Pygmy.’ This ‘true’ adventure was made up by HH and collaborator Hubert Pritchard, and the accompanying photograph – not for the squeamish! – was also faked by the two of them. The human arm was modelled in clay by Pritchard, I think, and the photograph was taken by HH, who carefully adjusted the focus so that the image was slightly blurred. The arm was then covered with a ten cent can of stew, which Harrison and Pritchard were intending to eat once the photoshoot was completed – but the image they created was so revolting that they lost their appetites for stew!

The Unholiest Banquet
by ‘Hugh Fitzpatrick’ [Harry Harrison & Hubert Pritchard] (1958)

real-men-may-1958-unholiest-banquest-s.jpg

My heart hammered a loud echo in my ears as George knocked on the front door. We were at, a house in the most fashionable section of Leopoldville, going to a dinner party. Any other time, I would have been relaxed and probably bored. Now I was keyed up, excited. This dinner party was going to be very different.

A trap in the door opened suddenly and a man looked out. He didn’t say a word, just looked us up and down with a cold glare. George leaned forward and whispered something to him – the door swung open.

We walked in and gave the butler our coats, then joined the small group in the living room. They were all from the very upper strata of African society. The men wore tuxedos, the women were dressed in low-cut evening gowns. We talked together politely, but we were scarcely aware of what we said. All of our attention was focused on the closed entrance to the dining room. It seemed hours before the butler threw open the doors and announced dinner.

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I Was Sold on the Slave Block

20 December, 2007

I Was Sold on the Slave Block
by ‘Treadwell Martin’
as told to Harry Harrison (1956)

I tried to turn aside, but the guard behind me twisted the chain until the handcuffs bit into my wrists. He pushed me forward. The sharp edge of the platform cut into my ankles and I stumbled and almost fell. I received a blow on the head for my clumsiness and was barely conscious of being dragged forward. The auctioneer’s harsh voice ground into my ears as he addressed the prospective buyers. A hard-faced Arab in the front row leaned forward and prodded my leg muscles, the way a livestock buyer would examine a horse.

The whole scene seemed unreal and ancient like an illustration from Arabian Nights, a slave market right out of the dark ages, complete with smoking lamps, Arab buyers and chained rows of slaves. But this wasn’t history – it was happening right now in the year 1954, and it was happening to me.

I was being sold on the block as a slave.

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The Lightest-Fingered Crooks in the World

19 December, 2007

The Lightest-Fingered Crooks in the World
by Harry Harrison (1958)

lightest-fingered-1-s.jpg

Is the manhole cover still out there in the street – or has it vanished like the bulbs in the street lights? And while you’re taking a look you had better also check your car, in case all of the wheels are missing.

If you live in the United States, the chances are that you have never had any worries like these – but if you live in Mexico, these little troubles are commonplace. The country seems to be infested with the lightest-fingered crooks in the world and lifting anything movable seems to be a national outdoor sport.

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I Was Sealed Alive in an Oil Tank

19 December, 2007


I Was Sealed Alive in an Oil Tank

By ‘Charles Howes’
As told to Harry Harrison

cavalier-cover-sealed-alive.jpg

When I first heard that B-146 was slated for crude oil, I knew there might be trouble. B-146 is a real antique, one of the oldest tanks at the Port Arthur, Texas refinery. She must have been built twenty, thirty years ago, before we knew much about tank construction, and she lies, right on the ground without foundation. I had just finished sand-blasting and repainting her for the eleventh time, and sent in a report that she was too contaminated to be used. I guess I was hoping they would tear her down, but no such luck. Crude oil it was going to be, and B-146 had to be cleaned out before the stuff arrived.

I got my day maintenance gang together and we started hammering loose the rusted nuts and bolts that held the plate which sealed the ground level entry port. Inside, it was like an oven. I stood there in the black muck, gasping for air, in the middle of an enormous echoing chamber. The top of the tank was forty feet over my head and the floor was 110 feet across. We had to go over every foot of those walls with scrapers, load the gunk into disposal hoppers and drag it out. After this, the whole tank would be hosed down and the water sucked away.

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