Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2011 Evelyn C. Leeper.


MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! by Harry Harrison:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/11/2015]

MAKE ROOM! MAKE ROOM! by Harry Harrison (ISBN 978-0-553-56458-7) was written in 1966. This edition has an introduction by Paul Ehrlich (also written in 1966), and a prologue by Harry Harrison (written in 1994). Both of these illustrate the dangers of extrapolation, illustrated by this digression to LIFE AFTER MISSISSIPPI by Mark Twain:

"The Mississippi between Cairo and New Orleans was twelve hundred and fifteen miles long one hundred and seventy-six years ago. It was eleven hundred and eighty after the cut-off of 1722. It was one thousand and forty after the American Bend cut-off. It has lost sixty-seven miles since. Consequently its length is only nine hundred and seventy-three miles at present. ... In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. This is an average of a trifle over one mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old Oolitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-rod. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo and New Orleans will have joined their streets together, and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

Okay, so in 1966, Ehrlich wrote,

"In 1950 the United States--with just 9.5 per cent of the world's population--was consuming 50 per cent of the world's raw materials. This percentage keeps getting bigger and within fifteen years, at the present rate of growth, the United States will be consuming over 83 per cent of the annual output of the earth's materials. By the end of the century, should our population continue to increase at the same rate, this country will need more than 100 per cent of the planet's resources to maintain our current living standards. This is a mathematical impossibility--aside from the fact that there will be about seven billion people on this earth at that time and--perhaps - they would like to have some of the raw materials too."

Well, clearly we were not consuming more than 100 per cent of the planet's resources in 2000. For that matter, it is not clear how one arrives at a percentage of total resources, but we currently account for about 25 per cent of the world's fossil fuel usage. Given that we are now 5 per cent of the population, we seem to be holding steady. Oh, and he was off on the earth's population as well--it was about 6.1 billion in 2000, though by now it is about 7.3 billion.

Ehrlich was extrapolating 35 years into the future here. Later he draws back to only 24 years when he writes, "it seems inevitable that Calcutta's population will increase to 12 million by 1990." In 1990, Calcutta's population was 10,890,000. His "inevitable" prediction was off by 10%.

(It's actually worse than that. In 1970, Calcutta's population was estimated at 6,912,000. Ehrlich estimated an increase of 5,098,000 or 73.6 per cent. What happened was an increase of 3,978,000 or 57.6 per cent.

Harrison was extrapolating only six years when he wrote (in the book itself, so technically not an extrapolation), "On this hot day in August in the year 1999 there are--give or take a few thousand-- thirty-five million people in the City of New York." In actual fact, in 1999 there were 8,015,000 people in the City of New York.

The movie SOYLENT GREEN moves the date to 2022, and the New York City population to forty million. There are many other changes: The main character is Frank Thorn rather than Andrew Rusch and the businessman is William Simonson rather than Michael O'Brien. Is the goal to scrub all ethnicity other than Angle-Saxon from the main characters, leaving only Sol as a token "ethnic"? And Shirl's position is more explicitly--even contractually--mercenary in the film.

(At the end, Harrison has a television screen announcing a United States population of 344 million. The actual population in 2000 was 282 million, but the current population is 319 million, and we are nowhere near the conditions Harrison has described in his novel.)

Harrison was prescient about the water situation in California, though, when he referred to "the water failures in the California valleys." Frankly, however, predicting that the water use patterns of the 1960s, if extrapolated, would lead to disaster, may not have been so amazing.

To order Make Room! Make Room! from amazon.com, click here.


"Stars & Stripes" trilogy by Harry Harrison:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/07/2003]

I finished Harry Harrison's "Stars & Stripes" trilogy (STARS & STRIPES FOREVER, STARS & STRIPES IN PERIL, and STARS & STRIPES TRIUMPHANT). The premise is that an actual event at the start of the American Civil War triggered a genuine rift with England, who then sided with the Confederacy, although their attempts to aid the Confederacy backfired. I have two complaints about the trilogy. One, the whole progression of events seems a bit simplistic, and rather biased in its politics. And two, if one were to remove the parts that served to remind readers of events in previous volumes, and to tighten up the writing, this could easily be one book instead of a trilogy for which readers had to wait two years and pay three times as much for the whole thing. This may be a sad side effect of all of Harry Turtledove's alternate history series--publishers and authors now feel that all alternate histories should be series.

To order Stars & Stripes Forever from amazon.com, click here.
To order Stars & Stripes in Peril from amazon.com, click here.
To order Stars & Stripes Truiumphant from amazon.com, click here.


THE YEAR 2000 edited by Harry Harrison (Ace, ISBN 0-441-00406-7, 1997, 326pp, hardback): edited by Harry Harrison (Berkley, ISBN 0-425-02117-3, 1970, 254pp, paperback):

In 1970, Harry Harrison had thirteen authors write stories set thiry years in the future, in the year 2000. Well, having arrived there, I thought this might be a good time to see how close or far these stories are from reality.

The beginning of the first story, Fritz Leiber's "America the Beautiful," gives you a feel for what these stories are like: "I am returning to England. I am shorthanding this, July 5, 2000, aboard the Dallas-London rocket as it arches silently out of the diffused violet daylight of the stratosphere into the eternally star-spangled purple night of the ionosphere." The story itself deals with both the rising tensions between America and "the Communist League," and the generally self-satisfied feeling that Americans have with themselves. If the former has turned out to be false, there is still some truth in the latter.

The second story ("Prometheus Rebound" by Daniel F. Galouye) reads like something out of the 1930s, making me wonder what he was thinking the year 2000 would be like.

Before there was Mike Resnick, there was Chad Oliver, and before there was "Kirinyaga" there was "Far from This Earth," Oliver's story of progress, if progress it be, in Kenya. It's surprising, in fact, that this was not one of the inspirations for Resnick's series, but it wasn't.

Naomi Mitchison's "After the Accident" is a rather straight-forward genetic engineering story. And "Utopian" by Mack Reynolds reads like one of those stilted Utopian stories from decades ago, right down to people saying things like "If we were still using the somewhat inefficient calendar of your period, this would be approximately the year 2000."

Like Reynolds's story, "Sea Change" by A. Bertram Chandler deals with someone who has "time-traveled" (via deep sleep) from 1970 to 2000. And similarly, Chandler also has a theme of "the old best are sometimes the best," though in a different sense than Reynolds.

Robert Silverberg is one of the two authors who thought the race issue would be critical over the next thirty years. Though his racially separated society of "Black Is Beautiful" did not arise, his story does raise issues that are relevant today, not least of which is when does autonomy become just segregation under a different name. (The paperback edition has an unfortunate typo at the beginning, with "1933" instead of "1983.")

The other story of race relations is "American Dead" by Harry Harrison, and it paints an even gloomier view of the conflict between black and white. What is of interest is that neither Silverberg nor Harrison has any other racial influences in his story. Missing are the Asians and the Hispanics who certainly have an impact in the racial politics of the United States in the year 2000.

"The Lawgiver" by Keith Laumer is still very topical today with its theme of "right-to-life" issues, though a bit heavy-handed, I thought.

Though in real life J. J. Coupling was involved in communications technology (under his real name, John R. Pierce, he was an executive director in Bell Labs when he wrote his story), "To Be a Man" is more about bioengineering. However, it has some very "modern" ideas, in particular more of the concepts that Greg Egan is using these days. (I was particularly reminded of Egan's "Reasons to be Cheerful.")

One note: of the thirteen authors, only Aldiss, Coupling, Harrison, Masson, and Silverberg are still alive to see how it really turned out. And the used bookstore where Mark or I bought this went out of business a few years ago as well, after being in existence more than a hundred years.

To order The Year 2000 from amazon.com, click here.


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