Harry Harrison’s official website has announced the sad passing of the Stainless Steel Rat author today, aged 87.
“Rest in peace, my friend.” says a simple message on the site, written by webmaster Michael Carroll. “You touched the lives of millions with your exciting adventures, packed with unlikely but always hilarious and thrilling escapades and frequently rather dodgy, but loveable, characters... and, you know, your fiction was pretty damn good too!”
Harrison’s name will always be synonymous with one of science fiction greatest anti-heroes, Slippery Jim diGriz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat. The first book appeared in 1961 and the final one just two years ago in 2010, with another 10 Rat novels in-between.
But there was far more to Harrison than just Slippery Jim. He wrote numerous other science fiction novels including Make Room! Make Room! on which the film Soylent Green was based. Other creations and ongoing series included Bill The Galactic Hero and Deathworld .
He had a knack of injecting wry humour into his work long before comic sci-fi became a sub-genre in itself, but could also conjure up some good, hard, gritty science fiction concepts with the best of ’em. He was also a big fans of the “created” language Esperanto, which he often used in his novels.
Harrison was was born in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1925, but lived in many countries over his long life, including Mexico, England, Ireland, Denmark and Italy. He married Joan (née Merkler) in 1954 in New York, a marriage that lasted until her death of cancer in 2002. They had two children, Todd and Moira.
Thank you Harry. We’ll miss you.
As a special SFX tribute, here’s an article Harry Harrison wrote especially for us back in 1997 – an “interview” with the Stainless Steel Rat himself:
Slippery Jim diGriz
Through a circumstance that is a little difficult to describe, this much-admired journal recently had the opportunity to interview a Mr diGriz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat, Ratinox, Stalowy Szczur... The meeting was arranged for midnight in a very low bar in Whitechapel.
SFX : G-gurgle! That is not a real knife you have pressed to my throat?
Jim: Shake your head and you’ll find out. What’s the code word?
SFX : SFX!
Jim: Correct. (A glass of purple beverage is passed across the table.) Antarean Pantherpiss. Drink.
(The SFX reporter drinks deep, screams shrilly and falls, writhing among the fag ends. When he crawls up again, his voice has changed. For life.)
SFX : Would you describe yourself as a criminal?
Jim: Are you suddenly tired of living?
SFX : Let me rephrase that slightly. As a defender of law and order and a man who has saved the galaxy more than once, do you have a criminal record?
Jim: You are suicidal. Speak quickly and clearly because you only have 12 seconds to live.
SFX : (Voice trembles) I understand that you have recently been to Hell. How was it?
SFX : Is that all you can say about it?
Jim: Yes. If you want more details, read The Stainless Steel Rat Goes To Hell. A moving chronicle written by that much-admired author, Harry Harrison.
SFX : Just what is your rapport with Mr Harrison? Is it a Holmes-Watson, Boswell-Johnson relationship?
Jim: I have no idea how Holmes-Watson got along with Boswell-Johnson since I have never heard of either of these hyphenated gentlemen. I would say that ours is a relationship of mutual respect. Basically we are just good pals.
SFX : You are? Even though you were born many thousands of years after him?
Jim: True friendship laughs at time and distance. Plus, you will remember, I can travel through time with Professor Coypu’s Time Helix.
SFX : Then all the novels about your adventurous life are not novels at all, but true stories?
SFX : But in A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born, you detail just how and why you began a lifetime of crime...
(There is a gap in the recording here of some minutes while the SFX interviewer was bandaged and given mouth-to-mouth resuscitation...)
SFX : (Hoarsely) You are indeed a law-abiding man of peace who would never resort to violence...
Jim: You said it so it must be true.
SFX : A few questions more, as soon as the bleeding stops. It would appear then that Mr Harrison takes, shall we say, literary licence with your biography?
Jim: He is always truthful about my sobriety, sex appeal, good works, saintliness and such.
SFX : Which means there really are spaceships, time travel, ugly aliens, foul villains and beautiful women?
Jim: Positively. In the future, of course.
SFX : Now one last question before I go to intensive care – what advice do you have for the youth of today?
Jim: Don’t enlist in the army, but if you do, keep your mouth shut and don’t volunteer. Get a good education even if you have to steal it. Keep your eyes open for career opportunities, particularly those involving large amounts of cash. And good luck.
SFX : Thank you Mr diGriz, it’s... been... wonderful...
(Slides under the table. Jim leans down and takes the recorder from between his limp fingers; stands.)
Jim: I’ll see that your editor gets these.