Harry Max Harrison was an American science fiction author, known mostly for his character The Stainless Steel Rat and for his novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966).The latter was the rough basis for the motion picture Soylent Green (1973). Long resident in both Ireland and the United Kingdom, Harrison was involved in the foundation of the Irish Science Fiction Association, and was, with Brian Aldiss, co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group.
Aldiss called him "a constant peer and great family friend". His friend Michael Carroll said of Harrison's work: "Imagine Pirates of the Caribbean or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and picture them as science-fiction novels. They're rip-roaring adventures, but they're stories with a lot of heart." Novelist Christopher Priest wrote in an obituary,
Harrison was an extremely popular figure in the SF world, renowned for being amiable, outspoken and endlessly amusing. His quickfire, machine-gun delivery of words was a delight to hear, and a reward to unravel: he was funny and self-aware, he enjoyed reporting the follies of others, he distrusted generals, prime ministers and tax officials with sardonic and cruel wit, and above all he made plain his acute intelligence and astonishing range of moral, ethical and literary sensibilities.
Harrison was born March 12, 1925, as Henry Maxwell Dempsey in Stamford, Connecticut. His father, Henry Leo Dempsey, a printer who was three-fourths of Irish descent, changed his name to Harrison soon after Harry was born. Harry did not know this himself until he was 30 years old, at which point he changed his name to Harry Max Harrison in court. His mother, Ria H. (Kirjassoff), was Russian Jewish. She had been born in Riga, Latvia, and grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her brother, Max David Kirjassoff (1888-1923), had been an American consul in Japan, but he died along with his wife Alice during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake in 1923.
After finishing Forest Hills High School in 1943, Harrison was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II as a gunsight technician and as a gunnery instructor. Priest adds that he became a sharpshooter, a military policeman, and a specialist in the prototypes of computer-aided bomb-sights and gun turrets. "But overall the army experience vested in him a hatred of the military that was to serve him well as a writer later on."
In 1946 he enrolled in Hunter College in New York City and later ran a studio selling illustrations to comics and science fiction magazines.
Harrison married Evelyn Harrison, whom he included in a cartoon he drew of the Hydra Club in 1950. They divorced in 1951, and Evelyn married the science fiction writer Lester del Rey shortly afterwards.
Harrison married Joan Merkler Harrison in 1954. Their marriage lasted until her death of cancer in 2002. They had two children, Todd (born in 1955) and Moira (born in 1959), to whom he dedicated his novel Make Room! Make Room!.
Harrison resided in many parts of the world including Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark, and Ireland.
Priest writes that Harrison made many household moves abroad:
As the market for comics began to shrink, and then expire, Harrison started writing for science-fiction magazines. The paltry financial rewards led him ... to move from New York. The chance came with what seemed at the time like a large payment from a magazine for his first full-length novel, Deathworld. He drove his family in an antiquated camper van to Mexico and remained there for a year. It was the first of many international moves, something that became characteristic. He went from Mexico to Britain, then to Italy, then to Denmark. He liked Denmark and stayed for seven years, seeing it as a perfect place to bring up his children, but eventually he realised that unless he made a conscious decision to leave, they could easily remain there for ever. The family moved back to the US, to San Diego, California, where he reckoned heating bills would be low, but by the mid-1970s he was back in the UK.
After many years of moving around and raising children, he spent most of his later years residing in Ireland. Because Harrison had an Irish grandparent, he was able to assume citizenship, and by taking advantage of the Irish scheme for writers, he enjoyed tax-free status.
Harrison also kept an apartment in London for many years, and later in Brighton, these being used for his frequent visits to England, and when Joan died in 2002, his British home became permanent.
Harrison's official website, launched at the Irish national convention a few years earlier, announced his death on August 15, 2012 at his apartment in Brighton, England.
On learning of his death on August 15, 2012, Harlan Ellison said, "It's a day without stars in it."
Books by Harry Harrison
Deathworld is the name of a series of science fiction novels by American writer Harry Harrison, including the books Deathworld (first published 1960, serialized in Astounding Science Fiction), Deathworld 2 (1964, initially titled The Ethical Engineer...
Planet of the Damned is a 1962 science fiction novel by American writer Harry Harrison. It was serialised in 1961 under the title Sense of Obligation and published under that name in 1967. It was nominated for the Hugo Award.
"The Stainless Steel Rat" by Harry Harrison introduces readers to a thrilling and action-packed science fiction adventure that follows the escapades of Slippery Jim DiGriz, a master criminal with a heart of steel and a penchant for outsmarting the la...