HARRISON & HEINLEIN

What a surprise to read two biographies, one of Robert A. Heinlein, one of his arch-nemesis Harry Harrison, by the same author — Leon Stover, of the Illinois Institute of Tech. Both are very clear histories of their subject — though the one about Harry is also a history of science fiction itself, and not a bad one, in a short book. Stover writes that Harry was “only the second author after Robert Heinlein to make a full-time living through science fiction” in the 1960s and 1970s, and observes, on the basis of many conversations with the author, that there are no villains in Harry’s books. People, robots, animals and aliens therein act the way they do as a result of their circumstances.

Stover also points out that Harry responded to another of Heinlein’s books, Universe, as well as to Starship Troopers. In this case, per. Stover, it was an inspired development rather than a horrified retort: Captive Universe, another story of what I learn is an sf sub-genre, the “generation starship” story.

According to the author, while Bill was rejected by the editor who commissioned it, Harry’s book proved a favorite with publishers. Both Bill and Make Room! Make Room! were snapped up in Britain by Penguin, with splendid covers:

Make_Room!_Make_Room! Bill_Penguin   What a difference between the two designs, though! Make Room! Make Room! was designed by Alan Aldridge, a popular and highly original graphic designer of the sixties who had been hired to spice up Penguin’s sf output. This he did, apparently offending the publisher and certain authors in the process. I doubt that Harry was offended. By contrast, Franco Grignani’s cover for the Penguin edition of Bill pleases the eye but tells us nothing about the book. I bought just about all Penguin’s sf output in the 1960s and think it was much, much better
than the crude illustrative covers which followed in the 1970s and 80s. The Art of Penguin Science Fiction gives us the opportunity to compare how the company’s cover art evolved and to wonder why the later art is so darn bad by comparison:

Bill_1983   Make_Room_2009    These are the 1983 and 2009 Penguin editions, respectively. For those who puzzle over such things, the designation “4/6” on the Aldridge cover is the price, from the days before decimalization of the British pound. “Four shillings and sixpence” was six pennies shy of five shillings, i.e. a quarter of a pound. So in the mid-60s you could buy four sf books for less than a quid and have some money left for beer. (Actually 4/6 was pretty expensive for a paperback of that era — most paperbacks cost 3/6 and American imports 2/6 — i.e. eight American sf books with dyed-yellow page edges, for a pound.)

Harry told Leon Stover that “the highest input function of the brain is reading fiction.”

I think this is true, though listening to music and observing animals are close competitors.

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