Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison (1966)
It's 1999 and a new millennium is about to approach. The world's population has exploded. Natural resources are almost drained. The planet is wallowing in pollution and near anarchy. Crime is rampant and their are not enough police to control it. The dead are left in the street for sanitation crews to pick up. Water is scarce. Food consists of various types of pressed vegetable matter, ground processed snail meat, and just about anything else the government can come up with. Meat -- what there is of it -- is for the very rich, sometimes a small piece of beef, often leg of dog. As humanity's population grows, more and more species are becoming extinct. Rationing, demonstrations, riots...
There are 35 million people living in New York City. There is not enough room for them all.
Billy Chung is an undernourished, seventeen-year-old product of the slums. Billy breaks into an apartment house to rob a man who turns out to be a well-connected mobster, a major go-between for the syndicate and the government. Billy mistakenly believes the apartment to be empty and is surprised by the mobster. Without thinking, Billy swings a tire iron at the man, killing him instantly.
Andy Rusch is a detective called to the scene. There's little Andy can do except write up a report. Very few crimes are solved in this world of 1999. The city's crime bosses are nervous. Was the killing directed at them? They wrongly think a New Jersey crime outfit have thrown down the first gauntlet in an attempted takeover. Pressure is put on the police to actually solve this murder and the scapegoat chosen to pursue the case is Andy.
Andy meets and falls in love with the dead man's mistress. When she is kicked out of the apartment with no place to go, he moves her in with him in the tiny room Andy rents from his friend Solomon Kahn. A thin partition divides Andy's room from Solomon's slightly larger room in the crowded apartment. Solomon has hooked up a stationary bicycle to a generator to provide power to the apartment. There is little comfort in the apartment but Solomon, Andy, and Shirl -- the dead man's mistress -- are about to get by. In the meantime, Billy Chung is on the run. These four characters provide the template through which we see a world slowly disintegrating.
Make Room! Make Room! was adapted as the classic film Soylent Green. If anything, the book is more powerful than the film. (And, contrary to the film -- and to Fox Muldar -- Soylent Green is not people.)
A true classic of an overpopulated dystopia. Recommended.
I read a lot of Harry Harrison's SF back in the 1960s. I read MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM as well as the DEATHWORLD books and THE STAINLESS STEEL RAT series. Harrison wrote some wonderful short stories, too. Nice review!ReplyDelete
The only works of Harrison's I've read are one of the Stainless Steel Rat novels, which I enjoyed, and one of the Bill the Galactic Hero novels he co-wrote with Robert Sheckley, which was moronic and which both talented authors should've been ashamed to put out under their real names.ReplyDelete
MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! sounds like a good one.
Barry, Harrison was a talented writer who could not be pigeon-holed into one type of SF. He hit the mark far more often than he missed it. His bill the Galactic Hero novels were a satirical reflection of his pacifism and a reaction to the gung-ho Robert A. Heinlein school. You may also want to try his Deathworld novels.Delete
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