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.

The Only City Left: Part Eleven

Need to read Part Ten first? Please do. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Eleven

I allowed myself a second or two of panic and then called out, “Tumble?”

“One moment, young sir,” the cat called back from somewhere up ahead.

I closed my eyes and rested my head sideways on the bottom of the duct. The cool metal felt wonderful on my flushed cheek and I stayed like that until I heard the scamper of tiny feet approaching.

“Okay, the way is clear now. Please follow me,” Tumble said.

He stood hunched over, bent nearly in half, but he would not resort to walking on all fours, which I thought was kind of funny. Then I noticed that he had his gun in his left hand and my cocoon bag in his right.

“Anything I should be worried about?” I asked as I begin to pull and shimmy my way through the ventilation system.

Tumble stopped and looked back at me. “There are rats in here the size of, well, me. Nasty creatures, I assure you. Since you barely fit in here”—Did he have to remind me?—“I had to disable a few traps along the way that you can’t maneuver around.”

He continued on a few steps and then looked back at me over his shoulder.

“I’m almost certain I remembered them all.”

He chuckled a raspy feline laugh and proceeded forward.

“Cat humor,” I replied. “Now my day is complete.”

This made Tumble laugh all the harder.

I blinked stinging sweat from my eyes. Whether it was from my fever, the exercise, or the tight fear at the back of my throat when I imagined becoming stuck in the duct, I didn’t dare dwell on it.

The journey was interminable and Tumble had certainly lied when he claimed it would only take a short while.

After seeming miles of conduits, some terrifying chimney climbs up vertical shafts, and a close call with a rat who sunk his teeth into Tumble’s shoulder before he could bring his gun to bear on it—(“On the plus side,” Tumble told me, proudly holding up the two-foot long rat by its tail. “Dinner!”)—we exited the ventilation system.

I unceremoniously slid out onto the floor, barely able to catch myself, and took some time to lie there, luxuriating in the freedom to move my arms and legs about and not hit anything except the floor. I had spent entirely too much time today in shafts, tunnels, and ductwork; I vowed to stay away from tight spaces for at least a week unless my life depended on it.

“Come now, friend, we are almost there,” Tumble interrupted my reverie.

“Like it was only a ‘short while’ to get here?” I groused.

“No, this time it is truly nearby, so make yourself presentable. You will soon be in the presence of His Illustriousness, He Whose Claws Can Slice Air Itself, The Most—”

I took advantage of the lengthy list of honorifics to get to my feet. Weary and woozy, I had to lean against the wall for support. Seeing me like that, Tumble cut himself off.

“Come, the sooner you are presented at court, the sooner you can rest and recover.”

He returned my cocoon bag and we were off again, but this time through corridors that felt decidedly more lived in than those I had frequented as of late. For one thing, they had power and light, so I turned off my coil and slid it into my shirt. For another, everything was clean. Most of the city I’d seen was grungy, run-down. Even the settlements I passed through were barely cleared of the debris of ages. Here, the walls were freshly painted, the carpet clean, and the air fresh. I mentioned as much to Tumble.

“And this is just the outer bailey!” he preened. “Wait ’til you see the real city! Ah-ha, here we are.”

We reached the end of a hallway and stood before a solid-looking metal door that was flanked by two gun-wielding cats, one jet black, the other calico. As we were expected, the guards did not put up a fuss but simply entered a code onto a keypad.

The door slid open silently for all its weight. These cats certainly had their tiny corner of the city running smoothly.

Tumble led me into a narrow, short hallway that I had to crouch-walk along to pass through. I noticed the thin openings regularly spaced along the walls and ceiling; murder holes. Either the cats were paranoid or they had more than just unusually large rats to worry about.

Once we were through a second gate at the far end, I could stand up again. Hands on my hips, I leaned back to give myself a good stretch and found my gaze traveling up, up, up.

The cat city filled a cavernous chamber whose upper reaches I could not make out. It had obviously been built on and around pre-existing old-world skyscrapers. The old city had been completely remade through the addition of myriad ramps and rooms that hung suspended between the existing buildings on massive strands of braided rope.

From far overhead, bright yellow light shone from an unseen but obviously artificial sun. The skyscrapers were tall, but not so tall as to make me believe I had reached the surface.

Tiny birds sang their songs as they dived and banked in and out of the cat-cradle city, and everywhere I looked, the bipedal cat-folk went about their business.

“Welcome to Pudlington,” Tumble announced proudly. “We hope you enjoy our hospitality for as long as you like.”

“How many cats live here?” I asked, jaw stuck open as I gaped at the sights.

“Not as many as there once were,” Tumble replied, his tone uncharacteristically dark.

I glanced down at him and grimaced. “That’s Earth in a nutshell, isn’t it?”

Tumble nodded and then did a full body shiver from head to tail.

“Enough of that,” he said, his tone boisterous once more. “The Emperor awaits!”

* * *

Meet the Emperor in Part Twelve, but take a gander below at my notes first, if you like.

4/29/12 News: I had fun writing Tumble’s lines (the one about “Dinner!” makes me laugh each time I read it) and I gave him a little more personality this week. Thanks to my cousin Gillian for saying she liked the little guy (and for reading each week!); it made me want to flesh him out more.

Why Pudlington as the name for the cat city, you may ask? No reason other than it sounded cute, and as much as the cats have sought to shed their past as domestic pets, their names are still very much influenced by their history as adorable companions for humans. It also makes me think of a tiny hamlet somewhere in the countryside, so… ironic, yeah.

I have been including little homages here and there in the story (besides the great big homage to Isaac Asimov’s Lije Bailey and Foundation novels). This week’s homage had to do with the unusually large rats. Can you name the movie this came from?

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C.J. Cherryh E-Books (Updated with Good News)

This post is an update to my 8/30/11 post about which C.J. Cherryh e-books are available.

Since that time, books 1 and 10 of the Foreigner series have been added to the Kindle Store on Amazon.com, while books 2-6 are still MIA. Also, Alternate Realities is also available for the Kindle now, and is a great deal at only $7.99 for the three-book collection. (Most of the books available are priced at $7.99, which is nice.)

Despite the books that are on Amazon or on the author’s own Closed Circle website, there remains a gaping hole in Cherryh’s bibliography for those of us hoping to port our physical book collection into the digital world.

I e-mailed Ms. Cherryh to ask about these “missing” books and her thoughts on e-books in general. She kindly replied and here is what I learned.

There are indeed plans to release more of her books, both on Amazon (and other such websites), and the Closed Circle site. Per Ms. Cherryh: “I had some rights to part of Foreigner; DAW and I conferred, traded, and now you’ll be seeing more DAW e-books on Amazon et al., and some of my earlier non-series works on Closed Circle.” She describes the process of converting her physical books into e-books as “practically a comma by comma revision process into CSS” and not just a matter of scanning pages. This gives me some comfort because there is nothing worse than buying an e-book and realizing it is a scan-and-sell job (although when this has happened to me, Amazon has been excellent about giving me a refund).

Finally, I asked Ms. Cherryh about her feelings toward e-books in general and whether she sees the conversion of her books as a positive thing. She replied, “Change is [positive]. It was bound to happen. Piracy is a problem–but it’s a funny thing: people who understand the point of my books and like what I write are not thieves and do not have the mindset of thieves, and when they’ve gotten a pirated copy not knowing there was a problem, they’ve kindly come to Closed Circle and dropped a donation in the bucket.”

So, more C.J. Cherryh books are on the way, and Book 13 in the Foreigner series is set to be released on 3/6/12 (which should give me time to re-read the last few books to get back into the atevi-human mindset). Good news for fans of Ms. Cherryh’s works!

4/1/12 update: Per Ms. Cherryh’s website, she is close to adding Chernevog and Yvgenie to the Closed Circle site, with major changes made to Yvgenie.

C.J. Cherryh E-Books

If you are a C.J. Cherryh fan and want to read her books on your Kindle, nook, iPad or other e-reader, the pickings are slim. On Amazon, there is little rhyme or reason as to what is available. On the science-fiction side, books 7,8,9, 11, and 12 of her Foreigner series are up, with book 13 available for pre-order, but 1-6 and 10 are not there, so hold on to your hard copies. (It looks like book 10, Conspirator, should be available, but it is not showing up for me.) The two books of the Hanan Rebellion, Brothers of Earth and Hunter of Worlds, are available in one volume, At the Edge of Space. Hammerfall and Forge of Heaven, the two books of the Gene Wars, are also available.

On the fantasy side, all five books of her Fortress series are available.

It is nice that these books are available on Amazon, but it does leave a gaping hole in Cherryh’s bibliography as far as e-books go.

A few more e-books are available on the Closed Circle, which is the online presence for authors Lynn Abbey, C.J. Cherryh, and Jane Fancher. It appears to be intermittently updated but it is still alive, with the most current post being from 8/15/11, just about two weeks ago.

On Closed Circle, you can find: Heavy Time and Hellburner @ $5.00 each, Faery Moon and Rusalka @$9.95 each, and three volumes of The Writing Life: A Writer’s Journal, which is “an edited-for-legibility version of the online journal [she] kept for several years.” The first volume is free, so give it a try. Volumes two and three are $5.00 each.

You can find the stand-alone fantasy novel The Paladin on webscription.net, along with the shared world fantasy omnibus The Sword of Knowledge, although per Wikipedia, Cherryh did not actually write any of the included books.

If you have a nook or Sony Reader, you can also purchase Alternate Realities, which includes Port Eternity, Wave Without a Shore, and Voyager in Night, at Sony’s ReaderStore, or Barnes and Noble, but Kindle users are out of luck on this one.

Those are all the books I could find that are available (legitimately) as e-books. Hopefully one day we will also get the first six Foreigner books, the Chanur series, the rest of the Alliance-Union books, or even, dare I dream, the Merovingen Nights shared universe series. If you find anything else, please let me know and I will update the list.

Note: There is newer C.J. Cherryh ebook news here.

A repository for science-fiction/fantasy writing links.

I have been searching on and off for a) science-fiction and fantasy e-books other than those that can be found on Amazon, and b) science-fiction and fantasy writing markets. I have collected many links for both searches; there is no dearth of sites out there. What I have not been able to find is one site that collects all the links in one area. Or if I have, it is usually outdated.

I will use this site to add links and then check on them periodically to make sure that they are still live. If you have suggestions for either area, please share them.

Also, don’t get me wrong about looking for e-books other than Amazon. I love Amazon, it is a great resource, but some of the authors I enjoy reading do not have their books for sale there.

A Brief Search of Markets Reveals…

I ordered the 2012 Writer’s Market the other day, even though I have memories of it being a poor resource for Science Fiction and Fantasy markets. Still, I had not bought one of these books in years because, well, I haven’t been writing that much in years, so I thought I would give it another chance.

Alas, the SF&F section is woefully thin, at 11 entries. This includes Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now, I don’t know about you, but as an unpublished writer, I would probably not bother with these bigger magazines to start with. Long story short, I found four markets I could try to send a short story to.

This is not to say the 2012 Writer’s Market is not worth the asking price; I still have the how-to articles to browse, and I bought the Deluxe edition, so I can check the online database for more markets, but it is a bit disappointing that so few SF&F markets were included in the book.

I searched on Google for “science fiction ezine” and “science fiction writing markets” and received plenty of good leads, so many that it will take me a while to sift through them all. Now that’s more like it.

Some examples, with the links going straight to their submission area: Lightspeedmagazine.com, Electric Spec, and this nice list of markets (which I have yet to delve into in depth).

I will explore and post about these magazines over time. Bottom line: Do not rely on Writer’s Market to find markets for you, as they do not appear to have tried to publish a very full listing.