A visit to the Harry Harrison website reveals further information about Harry’s progress thru the second world war, and the making of BILL. Harry ended his military service in Panama City, Florida, riding shotgun on a garbage truck. Literally riding shotgun: he was a military cop, guarding black prisoners while they collected the trash. According to the author, Harry and his prisoners got along well, and drank together in the black servicemen’s bar after work. So — was Harry his own model for the character of Deathwish Drang?

“Coming out of the army was a traumatic experience and years passed before I could understand why. It seems very obvious now… Though I loathed the army I was completely adjusted to it. I could not return to the only role I knew in civilian life, that of being a child.”

Harry called writing BILL a “shaking experience … I was doing less than half my normal wordage everyday and greatly enjoying myself – at the time. Laughter all day at the typewriter – how I do enjoy my own jokes – instant depression when I came down for dinner. Upon rereading, the stuff seemed awful. Or awfully way out; there had never been anything like it in SF before. Then back the next day for some more chuckling and suffering.”

Harry was encouraged by his wife, Joan, who was “reading the copy and laughing out loud and saying it was great and get on with it and stop muttering to yourself. I got on with it, finished it, had it typed and mailed it off to Damon.”

Damon Knight was Harry’s publisher, who had advanced him $750 and was expecting an ‘experimental’ science fiction novel. Knight rejected the manuscript, commenting, “Take the jokes out and it would be okay.” (He owed the author another $750 upon delivery, but one doubts that this was paid.)  Fortunately, magazine serialization and publication followed, regardless.

Image      billtgh2

Meanwhile, the Wikipedia entry for another book of Harry’s, THE TECHNICOLOR TIME MACHINE, reveals that he was apt to include hidden jokes in Danish in his texts: and that “Storhestelortby” – home of one of the Troopers in BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO – means “City of Big Horse Shit”.

And, though it has nothing to do with Harry or BILL, I would like to shout out the name of Ted Chiang, just because he’s such a great contemporary science fiction writer. The author of a dozen shortish works, Chiang shows tremendous breadth of interest and originality. His alien encounter stories are suitably enigmatic and depressing. And his short tale, HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD takes as its premise the idea that angels are real, observable, and highly deadly physical phenomena: it’s one of the best pieces of SF I’ve ever read.


The IFS screened this splendid new French picture the day the distributor went bust — it’s a crazed and thought-provoking tale designed for the international market (signage and talking cars in French, English and German, a supermodel, and a guest appearance by Kylie Minogue) but even great reviews and a weird sense of humour couldn’t keep its American distributor afloat. Getting pictures into cinemas is a tough business. Making them is almost easy, by comparison.

Once again I borrowed one of Engineering’s white Apollo-model spacesuits, this time to shoot my Kickstarter video; my Aerospace guide confides that they need orange spacesuits now — the kind one sports aboard the Space Shuttle. Searching online I find orange spacesuits, helmets and gloves but no boots. Turns out they wear lumberjack boots on these missions, as we do in the Colestin Rural Fire Dept.

ImageMeanwhile, my colleague Victor Jendras graciously agrees to be BILL’s production designer and to guide us through its tunnels.

As yet, no sign of the BBC radio play or reading of the novel, broadcast and released on cassette back in 1984. The BBC version of BILL was abridged and produced by Paul Meyhew-Archer, and directed by Sylvia Carter. Music was by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (1958-1998), who also created the audio for the original DR WHO.

There’s also a serious and comprehensive piece about Harry Harrison and his work, here.

BBC RADIO PLAY UPDATE — The alert Richard Salt has discovered a site where the radio play is celebrated and, if you really poke around the page, can be downloaded. It’s mega-discreetly located under the ‘dl‘ hyperlink at the foot of the page.



A year ago two of my production students made a presentation about crowdsourcing: the differences between Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, and the importance of social media to drive interested parties to your fundraising activity. The guys asked how many of their fellow students were on the Twitter: about half were. They asked the ones who weren’t Twittering to join up, and then to Tweet and reTweet their call for money. Apparently the Facebook can be employed in a somewhat similar way.

It was a very clear presentation, though I haven’t employed its lessons till now. I still write with a quill pen, and send letters via pneumatic tube, so am not at all clear on any of the above concepts. The Facebook, as far as I know, is a place to post embarrassing pictures of oneself (I already have a website for that). And the Twitter has something to do with the Occupy movement. Nevertheless, BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO clearly requires a social media presence – y pronto!

To my surprise I discover several BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO pages already in existence on the Facebook. So my next assignment must be to introduce my project to them, and to their well-heeled, film-financing followers…Not that I wish to give the impression that my new interest in social media is all about money. Far from it. I’ve been thinking I don’t spend enough time with my computer lately, and this will be an opportunity for us to bond.

And besides – there’s a reason to make BILL THE GALACTIC HERO into a film: because it is that rare thing, a genuinely anti-war story. Histories of science fiction tend to race from STARSHIP TROOPERS to ENDER’S GAME and overlook the anti-war novels which appeared in between. THE FOREVER WAR gets a mention, but BILL THE GALACTIC HERO is notable by its absence — perhaps because it is the most critical of military culture, or technology-worship, and of the military-industrial-capitalist end game. TROOPERS and ENDER’S are both very right-wing texts by right-wing writers. BILL isn’t just a left-wing text — it’s funny, too!

(In the interests of full disclosure let me point you to this video of a scene from BILL shot by students of UMKC. Our version will look a little different – to be shot in 35mm black and white with all the characters in full space suits – but this is a worthy Missourian effort, lacking only the Zoroastrian angle…)


So, in honour of my dear friend Harry Harrison I embark upon this new site, and a new project: the feature film version of BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO – Harry’s immortal science fiction novel, which I first optioned and tried to make into a film way back in 1983! This was right as I was finishing REPO MAN: I met Harry at his hotel in Hollywood – the one where everybody used to stay, with the famous diner attached, long bulldozed now – and he plied me with gin and limes, and I optioned the rights to the book for six months. My attempts to make BILL my second feature didn’t succeed: “Too expensive! Too anti-war!” So I ended up making a picture called SID & NANCY, instead.

But BILL, the great, transgressive riposte to STARSHIP TROOPERS, remained unmade. Heinlein’s right-wing tract got made into a picture, and many, many, many bad science fiction films were shot. Harry’s MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM! had been filmed back in the 70s, as SOYLENT GREEN. He was a popular writer in Russia, and over the years I helped him try to get DEATHWORLD made there, as a superproduction funded by Gazprom, and also WEST OF EDEN, his dinosaurian alternative history, as a cartoon film. Splendid projects which did not materialize.

And then, as luck would have it, I found myself teaching film and making movies at one of the world’s premier universities, and the thought occurred to me, now, at last, I can make BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO the way it should be made: not as a hundred million dollar studio picture, but as a hundred thousand dollar student picture, shot and acted by my esteemed students, working for free! I tried the idea out on Harry, who was all in favour. He persuaded his agent, Nat, to grant me an academic license to direct BILL … a non-exclusive license, so if you’re reading this, George Lucas, you can still direct your own hundred million dollar version, simultaneously.

Meanwhile, I embark on the thrilling prospect of a Kickstarter campaign… Image