Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Book Review: Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: A Memoir by Harry Harrison

Pros: fascinating story, engaging

Cons: ending feels abrupt

This memoir is split into two parts.  The first details the surprisingly fascinating life of science fiction author Harry Harrison.  The second part is a series of essays that were meant to be incorporated into the main text but the author, unfortunately, passed away before that could be completed.  As the essays contain some overlapping information, it was decided to keep them separate from the main text.  These essays provide more in depth information into aspects of Harrison’s life that were otherwise skipped over or barely touched on in the book: his friendship with John Campbell, turning Make Room! Make Room! into the film Soylent Green, how he played with some of his writing ideas to make book series out of them, etc.

I haven’t read many memoirs.  Most people - frankly - don’t live particularly interesting lives.  Interesting, I mean to say, to people other than themselves.  Harry Harrison, who was born in 1925 and passed away in 2012 just days after completing this book, lived a fascinating life.  He served in World War II (in the US), he lived in Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark, and Ireland.  He knew a lot of the early movers and shakers of the SF world, and participated (sometimes ran) conventions around the world.  

The text is pretty engaging, keeping me reading long past the parts I thought I’d find interesting (his WWII service, living overseas after the war).  He keeps the book upbeat, mentioning that things were bad at certain times but not dwelling on the details.  While the story is told in a linear fashion, he does jump ahead at times.  So, for example, the same paragraph that introduces the woman he married - and spent 50+ years with - also explains how and when she died.

The essays provide a lot of interesting side information, though the repetition of things from the text and the lack of narrative momentum given the rest of the text made the last few harder to get through.  The ending feels a bit abrupt as a result.  While the main text has a nice conclusion, the essays - not meant to stand alone - don’t.  Having a short conclusion by someone else would have fixed this.  By pure accident I read the acknowledgements after the book (I must have skipped the page by mistake), and it actually forms a nice conclusion, with some remarks by Harrison’s daughter. 

While this isn’t a book I would have picked up on my own (I was sent a copy for review a while back), I’m glad I gave it a chance.  And having enjoyed Harrison’s writing style, I may need to expand my reading of his works beyond Make Room! Make Room!.

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