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Harrison, Harry

Entry updated 14 August 2023. Tagged: Artist, Author, Editor.

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(1925-2012) US illustrator, editor and author, born Henry Maxwell Dempsey (though his father changed his name to Harrison soon after his son's birth), resident in later years, after many years of travelling, partly in the UK and partly in the US. Harrison began his career as a commercial artist about 1946, working chiefly in comics as an illustrator and writer, often in collaboration with Wallace A Wood, supplying illustrations as well to magazines like Galaxy Science Fiction and eventually having a stint as art director of Picture Week. At the same time – being from an early age an sf enthusiast and friendly with many writers through his membership of the Hydra Club, a New York group of sf professionals – he began to think about writing. Damon Knight, then editor of Worlds Beyond and one of the Hydra Club members, commissioned some illustrations from Harrison for that magazine; he then – far more importantly – bought Harrison's first story, "Rock Diver", which appeared in Worlds Beyond in February 1951 (see Matter Penetration). Harrison's short fiction appeared regularly from then, in early years sometimes as by Felix Boyd or Hank Dempsey. In 1953 he served as editor of Rocket Stories for one issue (#3) under the House Name Wade Kaempfert. In later years, Harrison was also for short periods in charge of the magazines Impulse (see Science Fantasy), Amazing Stories and Fantastic. He also edited all four volumes of the 1970s Original Anthology series Nova, beginning with Nova 1: An Anthology of Original Science Fiction Stories (anth 1970).

In 1957, from Mexico, Harrison made his first sale to John W Campbell Jr for Astounding Science-Fiction, thereby initiating a long and close relationship with both editor and magazine. This was his first tale featuring the interstellar-criminal-turned-unorthodox-law-enforcer Slippery Jim DiGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat, variously the Antihero and Hero of a set of fast-moving adventures with a broad leavening of Humour: The Stainless Steel Rat (August 1957 Astounding, April 1960 Astounding/Analog as "The Stainless Steel Rat" and "The Misplaced Battleship"; exp as fixup 1961), The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge (1970) and The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (1972) – all assembled as The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat (omni 1977) – and, with gradually diminishing narrative energy as the years passed, ending with titles like The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (1987), The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues (1994), The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus (1999) and The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (2010). (Harrison did the jacket illustrations for the UK hardcover editions of the second and third books.) Stainless Steel Rat spinoffs included a Board Game (which see); Harrison himself wrote the interactive Gamebook You Can Be the Stainless Steel Rat (1985).

He always remained a stout defender of Campbell, even though as editor and critic his attitude often seemed diametrically opposed to Campbell's increasingly stiff-necked social and political views. He edited Campbell's Collected Editorials from Analog (coll 1966), was filmed at the working lunch with Campbell and Gordon R Dickson, a brain-storming session that gave birth to the (not very satisfactory) Harrison-Dickson collaborative novel The Lifeship (February-April 1975 Analog as "Lifeboat"; 1976; vt Lifeboat 1978); after Campbell's death edited a memorial anthology, Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology (anth 1973; vt The John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology 1974) which won a Locus Award as best anthology.

Harrison's first published novel, Deathworld (January-March 1960 Astounding/Analog; 1960; vt Deathworld 1 1973), had appeared a year before The Stainless Steel Rat. Its highly kinetic description of the Colonization of a planet crammed with hostile Aliens established him as a vigorous writer of intelligent action adventures in the Planetary Romance mode. Further volumes in the Deathworld series are Deathworld 2 (July-August 1963 Analog as "The Ethical Engineer"; 1964; vt The Ethical Engineer 1964) and Deathworld 3 (February-April 1968 Analog; 1968), all three being assembled as The Deathworld Trilogy (omni 1974); "The Mothballed Spaceship" (in Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, anth 1973, ed Harrison) is an associated short story. The third series begun by Harrison in his early years – the Planet of the Damned sequence comprising Planet of the Damned (September-November 1961 Analog as "Sense of Obligation"; 1962; vt Sense of Obligation 1967) and Planet of No Return (1981) – is a very dark Planetary Romance, the ruling caste whose harsh Dystopian culture is revealed to be under the sway of an Alien parasite (see Parasitism and Symbiosis). Harrison's fourth series in short order (though the second volume was not to appear for three decades) was the Bill, the Galactic Hero sequence, the first title being Bill, the Galactic Hero (December 1964 Galaxy as "The Starsloggers"; exp August-October 1965 New Worlds; 1965), a sharp extended lampoon of aspects of stories by Robert A Heinlein (see Military SF), Isaac Asimov and even Harrison himself. The later volumes of the series declined, unfortunately, into undirected slapstick, beginning with Bill, the Galactic Hero: The Planet of the Robot Slaves (1989; vt Bill, the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Robot Slaves 1989) and ending with Bill, the Galactic Hero: The Final Incoherent Adventure (1992) with David Harris. The last six titles, all in collaboration, had the air of a franchise operation.

Later series include the To the Stars sequence – Homeworld (1980), Wheelworld (1981) and Starworld (1981), all three being assembled as To the Stars (omni 1981) – which combine muscular sf-adventure plotting with sharp narrative analyses of UK and US life. Far more important, however, is the Eden series – West of Eden (1984), Winter in Eden (1986) and Return to Eden (1988) – an ambitiously conceived Alternate-History sequence based on the assumption that the Dinosaurs did not suffer extinction and, in the due course of time, have evolved into saurians skilled at biotechnology (see Genetic Engineering). Their encounter with a savage humanity, and the irreconcilable differences between two intelligent species warring for Lebensraum, is an intrinsically interesting variation on the Prehistoric SF mode; the tales are tightly and informatively told, and dramatically gripping as the slowly approaching Ice Age adds intensity to the strife and the sense of peril. Along with his earliest sf adventures and Make Room! Make Room! (see below), the Eden books are by a considerable margin Harrison's best work. Further series are somewhat less gripping: the Hammer and the Cross sequence is historical fantasy; and though the Stars and Stripes sequence – comprising Stars and Stripes Forever (1998), Stars and Stripes in Peril (2000) and Stars and Stripes Triumphant (2002) – intriguingly posits an Alternate History in which Britain and the USA come to blows in 1862, with Britain on the wrong (i.e. the Southern) side, the consequences do not seem very closely argued.

Most of Harrison's singletons are of interest. They include: a group of stories exploring the Robot theme, War with the Robots (coll 1962); the examination of Matter Transmission in One Step From Earth (coll of linked stories 1970); The Daleth Effect (1970; vt In Our Hands, the Stars 1970), which is an Antigravity tale; a Parody of E E Smith in Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (1973); Captive Universe (1969), an unusual Generation-Starship story using a background of Aztec culture (see Conceptual Breakthrough; Pocket Universe); Tunnel through the Deeps (1972; vt A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! 1972), a proto-Steampunk Parallel-World novel in which the American Revolution failed and the British Empire still flourishes (see Transportation); Stonehenge (1972) with Leon E Stover, in which Stonehenge is constructed by a refuge from Atlantis; and Skyfall (1976), a fairly conventional Disaster novel. Some, however, like Invasion: Earth (1982), seem to parody nothing but their author's own attempts to parody bad Space Opera. In distinguished contrast, Make Room! Make Room! (August-October 1966 SF Impulse; 1966; vt Soylent Green 1973) is a serious – indeed, impassioned – novel of Overpopulation set in the desperately overcrowded New York of 1999, gravely told and well shaped. It formed the basis of the film Soylent Green (1973); though much of its substance was lost in transition, the film nevertheless won the 1973 Nebula for Best Dramatic Presentation.

For many years Harrison's close professional association with Campbell was balanced by his even closer personal and professional association with Brian W Aldiss, a figure dauntingly averse to the Campbellian vision. Together they founded the critical magazine SF Horizons, an Academic Journal (in the broader sense) whose two issues served as a litmus test for sf criticism; they edited an annual Best SF anthology (see listing below); they collaborated on other anthologies, such as Nebula Award Stories Two (anth 1967), Farewell, Fantastic Venus! A History of the Planet Venus in Fact and Fiction (1968; cut vt All About Venus 1968), The Astounding-Analog Reader, Volume One (anth 1972; vt 2vols as The Astounding-Analog Reader, Book 1 1973 UK and The Astounding-Analog Reader, Book 2 1973) and The Astounding-Analog Reader, Volume Two (anth 1973); and they assembled the Decade series – Decade: The 1940s (anth 1975), Decade: The 1950s (anth 1976) and Decade: The 1960s (anth 1977). Of his singleton anthologies, the most interesting may be The Year 2000: An Anthology (anth 1970), an assembly of sometimes challenging original stories set in the designated year, including the ambitious "Orgy of the Living and Dying" by Brian Aldiss.

Harrison was always hard to pin down. He seemed to have lived everywhere. He was an author of the hardest of hard-sf adventure novels while at the same time a merciless spoofer of the conventions – and politics – of that literature. Throughout his long career, he was both deeply American and deeply expatriate. After fifty years of active work, he only became relatively inactive in his ninth decade, though the last of the Stainless Steel Rat saga had appeared as late as 2010, and just before his death he completed an autobiography, the informative Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time (2014). He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2009 he received the SFWA Grand Master Award. [MJE/JC]

see also: Anthologies; Anthropology; Arts; Automation; Children's SF; Comics; Crime and Punishment; Eastercon; Evolution; Far Future; Faster Than Light; Fermi Paradox; First Contact; Golden Age of SF; Gravity; Hornblower in Space; John W Campbell Memorial Award; Mainstream Writers of SF; Media Landscape; Medicine; Messiahs; Mythology; Organlegging; Pollution; Radio; Religion; Robert Hale Limited; Satire; Sex; Taboos; Toys in SF; Under the Sea; Worldcon.

Henry Maxwell Harrison

born Stamford, Connecticut: 12 March 1925

died Crowborough, Uckfield [near Brighton], East Sussex: 15 August 2012



Deathworld/Jason dinAlt

  • Deathworld (New York: Bantam Books, 1960) [first appeared January-March 1960 Astounding/Analog: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: pb/Stabse]
    • Deathworld 1 (London: Sphere Books, 1973) [vt of the above: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: pb/Eddie Jones]
  • Deathworld 2 (New York: Bantam Books, 1964) [first appeared July-August 1963 Analog as "The Ethical Engineer": Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: pb/James Avati]
    • The Ethical Engineer (London: Victor Gollancz, 1964) [vt of the above: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: hb/nonpictorial]
  • Deathworld 3 (New York: Dell Books, 1968) [first appeared February-April 1968 Analog: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: pb/john Berkey]
    • The Deathworld Trilogy (New York: Science Fiction Book Club, 1974) [omni of the above three: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: hb/Richard V Corben]
      • The Deathworld Omnibus (London: Little, Brown/Orbi, 1999) [omni: vt of the above: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: pb/Jay Hurst]
        • Deathworld (New York: BenBella Books, 2005) [omni: rev vt of the above: with one new story: Deathworld/Jason dinAlt: pb/Don Maitz]

Stainless Steel Rat/Jim diGriz

Planet of the Damned

Bill, the Galactic Hero

To the Stars

  • Homeworld (New York: Bantam Books, 1980) [To the Stars: pb/Bob Larkin]
  • Wheelworld (New York: Bantam Books, 1981) [To the Stars: pb/Bob Larkin]
  • Starworld (New York: Bantam Books, 1981) [To the Stars: pb/Clyde Caldwell]
    • To the Stars (New York: Science Fiction Book Club, 1981) [omni of the above three: To the Stars: hb/Clyde Caldwell]


Hammer and Cross

Stars and Stripes

individual titles

collections and stories


works as editor


Authors' Choice

Best SF



individual titles as editor

nonfiction as editor

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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