You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Grand Masters of Science Fiction: Harry Harrison

I have not chosen well when it comes to my reading of the Grand Masters of Science Fiction. I have searched out early honorees by whom I had previously neither read nor been inclined to read anything. BIg surprise. I haven't much liked anything I've come across. Some of it I have admired and found historically interesting, but nothing have I been crazy about,

And now I've done it again with Harry Harrison. Years of working with used books made me familiar with Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat series, novels that i knew instinctively I would not find funny. I still have that instinct without ever having so much as opened one of the books, but I think such complete lack of contact with the material gives my opinion a certain purity. Then there was Make Room Make Room, a novel I never read since Charlton Heston had already told me, "Soylent Green is people!"

The Deathworld Trilogy was new to me when I looked into Harrison again. The idea is hard to beat. Here is a planet where every animal, plant. and microbe is out to destroy human life and the gravity is twice that of earth. Humans live there only because mining operations create such enormous wealth that the high mortality rate seems worth it. The novel opens with planet-hopping professional gambler Jason dinAlt receiving an offer he can't refuse. Kerk, resident of Pyrrus aka Deathworld, want dinAlt to turn a 27 million credit bankroll into three billion credits in one night of gambling. He can keep anything over the three billion. Pyrrus needs ships and weapons.

The opening chapters of Deathworld are full of tough talk and action and are really a lot of fun. dinAlt wins the money, the cassino owners want him dead, and he wants to escape with Kerk to get a look at Pyrrus for himself. Why is never really that clear.

Once the action moves to Pyrrus, things slow down. What should be some pretty funny stuff about dinAlt taking survival classes with ten-year-olds before he is allowed outside never realize their comic potential. And dinAlt, for all his wild past and swashbuckling ways, transforms into a one man NGO on Pyrrus, determined to crack the mystery of why everything on the planet is so darn mean. He does so through a series of encounters that are not particularly exciting and completely lacking the comedy of the novel's opening scenes. 

I confess I started the second novel in the trilogy but couldn't face it. It promised to be more of the same.

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