Remembering Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison has died.

Harry Harrison was one of my two introductions to the genre of Science Fiction*. Back when I was in high school, the Science Fiction Club at Pali High (in Mr. Layton’s room) introduced me to Harrison’s novel Captive Universe. I can still remember the lines:

“Now follow closely my thoughts because they are of the lougest importance. This man is of the valley yet he cannot return to the valley. I will tell you why. It is written in the klefg that the people of the valley, the derrers, shall not know of the Watchers. That is ordained. This one will then not go back to the valley.

“Now listen closely again. He is here, but he is not a Watcher. Only Watchers are permitted here. Can anyone tell me what this means?”

There was a long silence, finally broken by a weak voice which said, “He cannot be here and he cannot be in the Valley too.”

This was the start of a long love of Harry Harrisons books. Through the Deathworld trilogy, through all the Stainless Steel Rat books, through his teen work, and especially all of his alternate histories — I devoured it all.

Harrison had a way of writing that I just love; that just gabbed you. Just look at the first line of Bill, the Galactic Hero:

Bill never realized that sex was the cause of it all.

Great opening line. Then there was the fabulous Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers, a parody of all the EE Doc Smith 1950s-style SF. Again, just listen to those opening lines:

“Come on, Jerry,” Chuck called out cheerfully from inside the rude shed that the two chums had fixed up as a simple laboratory. “The old particle accelerator is fired up and rarin’ to go!”

“I’m fired up and rarin’ to go too,” Jerry whispered into the delicate rose ear of lovely Sally Goodfellow, his lips smacking their way along her jaw towards her lips, his insidious hands stealthily encircling her waist.

This is a story where Chuck and Jerry, two fun-loving students at an American College discover a faster-than-light space drive, and install it into the football team’s Boeing 747. They, together with the lovely Sally Goodfellow, crusty Pop, and loveable old John veiw with horror a practical joke gone awry as the plane screams off to Titan. But that’s only the beginning. When loveable old John’s true and awful identity becomes known, a wild batter across the Universe and through centuries ensues. But love triumphs in the end, in the oddest way.

There are his alternative histories, such as A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah where America loses the Revolutionary War, and Geo. Washington’s great grandson now is building a network to connect England to the Colonies. There are the Civil War books, the Eden series, the Wheelworld series, and the Technicolor Time Machine. Books I just loved.

Thank you, Mr. Harrison, for your words over the years.

*: The other author that got me started on SF was Kurt Vonnegut in the short story collection, Welcome to the Monkey House.