Harrison Re-Read: Make Room! Make Room!

Make Room! Make Room!
by Harry Harrison
ISBN-13: 978-0765318855
Amazon: Paperback | Kindle
Goodreads | LibraryThing

Cover by Alan Aldridge.

 

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison is a classic look at overpopulation in crowded cities, so of course it makes sense that I would look to it for some inspiration in regards to my own story of an overcrowded world, The Only City Left. Make Room!x2 was written in 1966 and takes place in 1999, where no one is partying because there’s barely enough food, water, and space to survive, much less dance with Prince.

As in The Caves of Steel, New York is used here as the ideal City (in the Platonic sense, not the “I’d want to live there” sense). Life in this New York is miserable and crowded, with none of the amenities of far-future technology: “There was nothing to do, no place to go, the city pressed in around him and every square foot of it was like this, filled with people, children, noise, heat.”

Also similar to The Caves of Steel, Make Room!x2 (sort of) revolves around a murder.

Detective Andy Rusch is barely scraping by, sharing a small apartment with his elderly roommate, Sol, who has lived long enough to know just what he’s missing. Andy, like the rest of the cops, is overworked, and underpaid. Most crimes go unsolved because the police don’t have the time to follow up on them, but when Big Mike O’Brien is killed, political pressure is applied to make sure this case is solved.

Possible spoilers from here on out. You have been warned.

While Make Room! Make Room! is an interesting, if very depressing, look at the perils of overpopulation, it’s a bit disjointed as far as the story goes. It’s a murder mystery but not really, as the focus is only intermittently on Andy solving the crime. Instead the story jumps around from Andy to street rat Billy Chung to O’Brien’s ex-moll Shirl Greene, and to Sol, Andy’s roommate, never sticking to one point of view to any satisfying conclusion.

The characters are there to provide a look at life in New York City, and that life is horrible unless you’re into organized crime or politics (between which there is a very thin line if there is one at all). Each character has bleak, wandering story in which they are barely in control of their own existence, impotent in their endeavors, enjoying only meager and temporary successes.

No matter how well Andy does his job, he only gets crap from his boss, more assignments, and in trouble with Shirl. Shirl, for her part, is more than willing to live in poverty with Andy, but he is so caught up in his job that he ignores her to the point she must abandon him. Billy Chung resorts to crime to improve his life, ends up murdering Big Mike and fleeing without any valuables, and wanders around for the rest of the story until he dies resisting arrest. And Sol is fine until he gets fed up enough to march in protest and ends up breaking his hip and passing away for lack of proper medical care.

While this all adds to the feeling of dread and uselessness that underpins the story, which I’m sure is the point, the story is tough to read. It ends with Andy bumped back down to beat cop, completely unfairly, and the population only growing, growing, growing.

Towards the end of the book, Andy’s roommate Sol gives a long speech about overpopulation, religion, and the lack of political will to fix the world’s problems. It’s a bit heavy-handed, but the damnable thing is that it is as true today as it was when Harrison wrote the book. We might have passed by 1999 without a problem, but there’s no indication that we’re not simply kicking the world of Make Room! Make Room! down the road a bit. 2050? 2099? Who knows.

It’s a classic book, and it definitely informs the history of my far-future Earth in The Only City Left, but having read it twice now, I think it’s one I will retire from my re-read list. I can watch the news to be this depressed, but for my fiction I’d prefer a little more adventure to go with my social commentary.

Note: Although the movie Soylent Green is based on Make Room! Make Room!, there is no plot in the book about people being turned into food. Soylent steaks are mentioned but they’re only fake steaks made of soybeans and lentils.

80s Flashback: Atari 7800 (Part Two)

Thanks to the 2 Warps to Neptune blog, fine purveyor of retro goodness, I have temporary possession of an Atari 7800 and a handful of games. See 80s Flashback: Atari 7800 (Part One) for some unboxing photos and to see how my daughters and I reacted games such as Pitfall!, Donkey Kong Junior, and BurgerTime.

This time around I take a quick run through the rest of the games that came with the relay. They fall into three categories: The Good, The Bad, and the Sluggish.

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The Good

Robotron 2084

I’m including this in the good because it moves fast and has the potential to be fun. Plus, there are enough opportunities for free lives that I was able to play for a while. So what’s the story of Robotron 2084? I’m going to say that, despite all evidence to the contrary, you are the only person in the world who realizes that death-dealing robots are rampaging through the world. Otherwise, how to explain the busty blondes and staid businessmen who aimlessly wander around the screen while I sacrifice life after to life to rescue their clueless behinds?

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This screenshot is from atariage.com. Click for more of their screenshots.

This game would probably get an unqualified “Good” rating from me if you could shoot and fire in different directions at once, like in the arcade. Without that ability, it’s impossible to run away from bad guys while also shooting at them. One tactic to get around this is to hang out in the center of the screen and perform a Death Blossom, but once the bad guys who shoot me-seeking projectiles show up, that strategy falls apart.

I almost gave up on this game after a few quick deaths, but my 2-year-olds encouraged me to keep going. I made it to Wave 10 on Novice mode, so now my life is complete.

Ms. Pac Man

This game is a classic, and the Atari 7800 version is fairly nimble and arcade-like. I could play this one on a regular basis. ‘Nuff said.

Centipede

This is another classic that seems to have ported over well to the 7800. My daughters approved of its fast pace and were shouting out encouragement and suggestions. When the centipedes started to drill down and the spiders began to frantically zig-zag across the screen, one daughter exclaimed, “Everybody’s getting busy!” While I didn’t see that happening in the game, it did keep my interest until my thumb got tired of button-mashing.

Galaga

I’m not especially good at this game, but it is still a fun Space Invaders-ish experience. My girls enjoyed watching me fail at the game.

Daughter: Awww, Daddy, that not a hard game.

Me: I should be doing better?

Daughter: (commands) Yeah, you do better!

Me: Okay, okay. I’ll try again!

galaga

Image from videogamecritic.com. Click and scroll down for their Galaga review.

Then, when I was trying to get the second fighter to attach to my first one, I got this advice.

Daughter: You need to put them together!

Me: I’m trying, I’m trying.

Daughter: But you’re not doing it?

Me: No. No, I’m not.

Man, these girls are tough backseat game players!

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The Bad

Tron Deadly Discs

This is actually an Atari 2600 game and boy does it feel like it, from the basic graphics to the simplistic gameplay. You play as Tron, I presume, who runs like he’s stuck in a vat of honey and who is doomed to forever fling his memory disc at enemy programs. Each time he is hit, he changes color, until at some point (I didn’t keep track of the number) he changes color enough times to die. When you throw your disc, you have to wait a sometimes painfully long time for it to boomerang back to you. Given that limitation, I expected that the disc would at least hurt enemies coming and going, but no, on its way back to you it is harmless. Fail.

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Image from videogamecritic.com. Click and scroll down for their Tron review.

I have vague memories of this game being more fun on the Intellivision (which I played at a friend’s house), but that might be nostalgia giving it a rosy glow. The best thing that can be said about this game is that it allowed for this lolcat-esque conversation, which made me laugh:

Me: Ah, derezzed!

Daughter: Why you got derezzed?

I couldn’t resist whipping this up.

tronmeme

Joust

This game has potential. Jousting on flying ostriches who pop out an egg when you kill them? Sure, count me in. Unfortunately, it mostly involves me bouncing off of platforms, out of control, until someone jousts me before I can joust them.

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Image via retrouprising.com. Click to see more screenshots of people who scored higher than I did.

I was never very good at Joust and I don’t have the patience to try to improve. One major complaint: I come up from behind and joust someone, and I still die because I’m lower than them? What did he do? Backhand me?

Pole Position II

I am horrible at this game. My 10-year-old nephew played it and had no problems. We shall speak no more of this.

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The Sluggish

Xevious

Daughter: You didn’t win the level!

Me: I don’t know if there’s even an end to this level!

xevious

Image courtesy of the Atari Times. Click through for their much more glowing review.

That pretty much sums up my experience with Xevious. It seems to be a spiritual predecessor to the more fast-paced and maneuverable 1941 and its sequels, but I found it incredibly slow and frustrating. Apparently there are multiple levels and end-bosses, but I couldn’t reach one.

When I asked my daughters to describe this game, one of them said, “Everyone was ‘shotting’ you.” That pretty much sums it up. This game gets pretty good reviews on atariage.com, so I guess “It’s not you, Xevious. It’s me.”

Dig Dug

You dig in the ground and use your hose to blow up little critters, unless the critters gang up on you and then you’re the one that gets hosed.

The controls on the Atari 7800 are too sluggish for my taste. I waddled along and tried my best to over-inflate the bad guys, but they burst my bubble time after time.

I know, I know. This game has reduced me to bad puns.

Trivia: The makers of Wreck-It Ralph wanted Ralph to give a piece of fruit (from Pac Man) to a homeless Dig Dug, but Namco nixed the idea of an unemployed Dig Dug. The job ended up going to Q*Bert, and now my daughters know and love Q*Bert. Way to drop the ball, Namco.

Dark Chambers

This is a simpler version of Gauntlet, basically. For the full explanation, check out the Wikipedia entry for a game called Dandy. Or just take my word for it. It’s like Gauntlet except you move around slowly and each time you hit an enemy, it devolves to the next lowest type of bad guy until it disappears. You eat food, blow up enemy-spawning devices, and get a key to go down to the next level. For a lovely, scathing review, check out this one at atarihq.com.

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Game Over

That’s the end of my adventures with the Atari 7800. Even though some of the games were frustrating, I was pleasantly surprised at the staying power of games like Pitfall!, Ms. Pac Man, and Centipede. They’re still as good for killing time in 2013 as they were in the ’80s.

If you want to try your hand at these games in all their original, unemulated glory, head over to this post on 2 Warps to Neptune. A soap.com box could be winging its way to you before you know it.

Image credits as per captions except for the following:

Atari 7800 image courtesy of  Evan-Amos.

“Y U GOT DEREZZED?” made using quickmeme.com and an image from the Tron Wiki.

80s Flashback: Atari 7800 (Part One)

Crank up the 80s music on Pandora or YouTube, because we’re traveling back in time today. Thanks to the 2 Warps to Neptune blog, fine purveyor of retro goodness, I have temporary possession of an Atari 7800 and a handful of games. I never actually owned the 7800 back in the day. We were an Atari 2600 and Colecovision family until the Nintendo Entertainment System came out (and later a string of DOS and Windows PCs) and blew those other systems out of the water. Oh, and we had Commodores, too, including the VIC-20, C64 and C128. It’s safe to say I’ve been playing video games for as long as I can remember.

So now that I’m in my mid-30s and have kids of my own, I was curious to see how a 30-year-old game system stands up to my memories and my kids’ expectations.

First, thanks to Greg at leftylimbo.com for relaying the 7800 to me. Here’s what the box looked like.

01soapbox

Once I got over my disappointment that my soap.com shipment had not arrived, I tore into the box to see what exactly was inside. Games, joysticks, bubble wrap, and oh yeah, a 7800!

02unboxed

03ondisplayPitfall! is my addition to the relay, because I have fond memories of that game. It’s amazing how many games are still available on ebay for not that much money ($7 for Pitfall! with shipping. Not bad!) All that remained was to connect the 7800 to my TV using an RCA-to-coax adapter, turn it on, and start it up. It astonishes me that, nearly three decades later, the system works fine and all the games worked as well. My new Playstation 3 died in less than a year. Cue old man voice: “They don’t make them like they used to, I tell ya!”

04closeup

So how did the Atari 7800 stand up to my expectations after not playing these games for going on three decades? It depended on the game, really. Some I still enjoyed, some I would enjoy more on a system where the graphics were nicer, and some seemed like torture. My daughters, on the other hand, were happy to watch me play any and all of them, over and over, while they held unattached controllers and shouted encouragement. Overall, it was fun to show them these games from when I was a kid and see them capture their imagination as much as they once did mine. (Pitfall Harry now figures prominently in bedtime story requests. Go figure.)

In this and the following posts, I’ll take a closer look at some of the games, what they meant to me way back when, and how they hold up today.

Pitfall!

Of course, Pitfall! is the one I had the most nostalgia for, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed it the most. The gameplay is simple enough that my toddler daughters can describe it: “Jump over water. Jump over mud. Swing. Don’t fall into crocodile. Harry farts.” That last bit is due to the unfortunate-sounding noise Harry makes when he hits a stationary or rolling log. We suspect an allergy to fiber.

The game gives you 20 minutes to choose left or right (I always choose left) and run, run, run. After a few false starts, I survived that 20 minutes and discovered the secret ending … nothing happens. Game over. Curious, I checked Wikipedia to see what the point of the game was, if any. Basically, if you collect all the treasure and don’t die or run into a log or fall into a hole, you get a perfect score of 114,000. Needless to say, I did not earn the highest possible score, but I did earn a respectable 85,746.

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When the game first came out, you only had to earn 20,000 points to score a Pitfall! Harry Explorer Club patch. I may be 30 years too late, but I’ll sport this picture of the patch with pride. (Patch image courtesy of atariage.com)

Pitfallpatch

If my nostalgia alone does not convince you to go find and play Pitfall!, consider the celebrity endorsement at the beginning of this wonderful commercial:

Yes, even young Jack Black thinks Pitfall! is awesome.

BurgerTime and Donkey Kong Junior

burgertime2600

Image courtesy of 8-bitcentral.com. Click image to read their in-depth review.

While Pitfall! was still fun and earned kudos from my daughters, some of the games do not stand up to the modern era at all, at least in their Atari 7800 iterations. BurgerTime is one of those games, although this is actually a version for the 2600, released in 1982. The graphics are so bad that you are being chased by flickering white and brown blocks while you try to drop your burger pieces on the plates below. Unfortunately, until you drop the pieces, they all look like yellow discs, and since the enemies flicker in and out of existence, it is hard to tell if you are going to evade them or just barely brush them, resulting in your death. (Another character with allergies: this time a chef allergic to his own food. Consider another career, Chef Pepper!)

Here’s how I remember the game, the Colecovision version. Of course, that version came out in 1984, so I was spoiled by the vastly-improved graphics.

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Image courtesy of gamesdbase.com. Click image to visit the BurgerTime entry on that site.

Needless to say, the adventures of Chef Pepper dropping yellow discs onto a plate to form something vaguely resembling a hamburger did not hold my attention for long. My daughters didn’t love or hate it, but Chef Pepper did not capture their imaginations in the way that Pitfall Harry did.

Donkey Kong Jr. similarly falls short compared to other versions. The graphics are meh, the controls are difficult, and seeing a non-Super Mario whipping animals into a furor has reopened old psychic wounds. How can you call yourself a hero, Mario, when you’ve never apologized for your treatment of Donkey Kong and his progeny?

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Put down the whip, Mario. The Mushroom Kingdom beckons.

Donkey Kong Junior on the Colecovision was a big hit with my family. I have fond memories of taking turns playing it with my dad and older brother. To the Atari 7800 version version, I say, “You sir, are no Colecovision.”

That’s about all the retro goodness I have for today. I’ll get to the other games that came with the relay in a later post. If you are interested in joining in the Atari 7800 relay, check out this post on 2 Warps to Neptune.

For the second and final part in this series, read 80s Flashback: Atari 7800 (Part Two).