31 March 2010

Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!, 1966

A word about Ondrea Barbe’s great photograph that appears on the cover of this recent Penguin Modern Classics edition: it’s the perfect accompaniment to the alliterative nature of both Harrison’s name and the book’s title, and at the same time reflects the oppressive heat and claustrophobia contained in the book itself. Make Room! Make Room! occupies the other end of Harrison’s spectrum in relation to his satire and humour: a murder in an overcrowded and riot-prone New York in 1999 forms the backdrop to some good characterisation and a serious overpopulation message. What you get are characters to care about, a decent police-procedural plot and a strong dose of feminism; what you don’t get is the grafted-on horror aspect of the movie adaptation Soylent Green. This sits comfortably alongside some eco-conscious literature of the 1960s, published just a few years after the environmental preachiness of Silent Spring and at a time when overpopulation was not the major global concern it is today. Also, interestingly, it appeared seven years before Roe vs. Wade, and puts up a strong defence of the need for access to birth control which some at the time specifically wished to remove. Still a very good book indeed that always deserves to remain in print.  PY


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