Monday, August 11, 2008


by Harry Harrison
Both Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! and the 1973 film SOYLENT GREEN are predictors of the squalid future facing the people of Planet Earth through overpopulation, the exhaustion of natural resources, and pollution. The powerful film, starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson in his terminal role, flows from the novel, yet the two works of art are the same and very different. Harrison is an effective writer and a master story teller although MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! is flawed by an artificially-written diatribe against opponents of birth control delivered by Sol, a relatively minor character in the novel and a central figure in the film. Harrison could have offered the same information gracefully instead of so awkwardly. In both book and film wise old, exhausted and cynical Sol tells us how beautiful and abundant the earth once was. Harrison plays the role of writer as seer in forecasting that by 1999 the earth will be on the edge of exhaustion in its ability to support humankind. We have managed to make our way past 1999, but now scientists are predicting just as dismal a near future because of global warming. The underlying message of the novel, the film, and the warning of Al Gore and modern scientists is that we are eating ourselves: in the book: through unrestrained birth rates; in modern times: through unrestricted emissions of carbon dioxide from cars, planes, and power plants burning oil and coal products; and in the film: literally by turning human corpses into soylent green, a protein for the masses. I waited in vain for that distasteful food soylent green to be introduced in MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! The soylent green—not in the novel-- turned out to be a contrivance of the script writer, used to hammer home that frightening prophecy of self destruction.

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Monday, August 4, 2008


I was plodding through a novel about farm families living in an isolated mountainous area of North Carolina when I happened to see SOYLENT GREEN, the 1973 film that envisions an overpopulated, squalid Earth. That prompted me to read MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! by Harry Harrison, the novel, which inspired the movie.
It is disappointing to put down a book after reading 100 pages or more, to decide that it is not worth going on that the process is a chore rather than a pleasure. I had been slogging through the farm-family novel waiting for lightning to strike, for the work to come alive. If I hadn’t picked up Harrison’s novel to read a few pages out of curiosity to see whether it was well written or just a potboiler, I might have soldiered on reading in unending detail about every aspect of the lives and labors of Nineteenth Century farmers. But Harrison caught me, the pleasure of sailing rather than slogging kept me reading his book to the end.
The word pleasure stuck up like a snow-capped mountain in my mind as I considered the two novels. Having experienced kidney stones and a couple of other awful agonies, I often said to my wife, Rae, that the absence of pain is pleasure. Googling pleasure, I immediately came across Epicurus, the Greek philosopher, and was shocked to discover he said the same thing over 2,000 years ago.
At any rate, the role of the writer is to deliver a pleasurable experience to the reader. Sometimes that thrill comes after I have forced my way up hill through some heavy words and sentences. And, sometimes I just can’t go on, the writer has failed me, has failed to provide a twist that interests or a view that inspires.

Next time, I will discuss Harry Harrison’s novel MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! and SOYLENT GREEN, the film it inspired.

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