LONDON — American author Harry Harrison, whose space-age spoofs delighted generations of science fiction fans, has died, a friend said Wednesday. He was 87.
Irish sci-fi writer Michael Carroll said in a telephone interview that he learned of Harrison’s passing from the author’s daughter, Moira, earlier in the day. He said Harrison died in southern England, but didn’t have much further detail.
Harrison was a prolific writer whose works ranged from tongue-in-cheek intergalactic action romps to dystopian fantasies, with detours through children’s stories and shambolic crime capers. Carroll said most of the works delivered a stream of sly humor with a big bucket of action.
“Imagine ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ and picture them as science fiction novels,” he said. “They’re rip-roaring adventures, but they’re stories with a lot of heart.”
Harrison was best known for his “The Stainless Steel Rat” series, starring the free-spirited anti-hero Slippery Jim DiGriz, a quick-witted con man who travels the universe swindling humans, aliens and robots alike. His 1966 work, “Make Room! Make Room!” — a sci-fi take on the horrors of overpopulation — inspired the 1973 film “Soylent Green” starring Charlton Heston.
Born in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1925, Harrison served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II before working freelance as a commercial artist and eventually embarking on a long career as one of science fiction’s leading writers, turning out more than 70 books and short stories. Among them was “Bill, the Galactic Hero” a send-up of Robert Heinlein’s hard-edged “Starship Troopers,” and “The Technicolor Time Machine,” which took aim at Hollywood. Other works included anthologies, collections, and children’s stories — including one particularly goofy tale about an intergalactic guerrilla force of mutant pigs.
Harrison’s publisher, Tom Doherty, described him as an illustrator, an anthologist, a critic, and a friend.
“In ‘The Stainless Steel Rat’ and ‘Bill, The Galactic Hero’ he created two of the great comic series of the genre. In ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ he made us consider the consequences of over-population and over-consumption of the world’s resources,” Doherty said in a statement.
“He believed science fiction was important, that it caused people to think about our world and what it could become.”
Carroll, who maintains Harrison’s website, said what stood out for him was Harrison’s sharp storytelling skills and his even sharper sense of humor.
Carroll said he remembers laughing so hard he almost choked when he read one of Harrison’s books as a teenager. He later met his hero at a book signing in Dublin, and said that the two remained friends ever since. He said that Harrison could be gruff, explaining that the American did not “suffer fools gladly” and “absolutely savaged” Carroll’s first attempt at a novel.
But Carroll said his writing was the better for it, and that Harrison was kind and generous.
“When you got to know him he was a sweetheart,” he said.
Harrison is survived by Moira and a son, Todd. Harrison’s wife, Joan, died in 2002. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.