Memoriam posts to authors and other creatives can be a bit odd. Everyone dies so it’s not exactly unexpected that all these people pass away. It seems odd to act as though someone like Harrison passing away is somehow a surprise or a tragedy when people do, indeed, get old and die – all the time.
Harrison’s an odd duck though and a writer who has been a big – if oblique – influence on me. While he’s widely known I’ve often felt that Harrison was seriously underrated as a writer and a figure in SF. When it comes to SF&F comedy, for me, he’s right up there with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, albeit – perhaps – a little more subversive and twisted.
Harrison’s best known hero is The Stainless Steel Rat and while he’s a charming thief and a great prototype for the ‘scoundrel’ hero, and while the books are full of humour they’ve always got a lot more substance to them than first appears.
My absolute favourite Rat book is The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted which is incredibly funny and, at the same time, poignant and has some cutting political and economic commentary within in (I’d vote for Individual Mutualism if I could!). The whole Rat series is underlined with this, a crisp, clean, controlled future where the mere act of petty (or not so petty) crime is a political statement as much as anything else. You can see that reflected down the years right down to Joss Whedon’s Firefly.
A huge thing about Harrison for me, that I think is a little more individual to me, is his position as a great libertine and social mover in science fiction. Harrison’s books may seem a bit giggly and juvenile to some of us now, but he was almost as important as Ellison in shifting SF&F into a more adult and frank discussion of sex. So much so that his short story Ad Astra was chosen as an exemplar of the new, frank and explicit attitude to such in genre fiction in David Kyle’s classic Pictorial Encyclopaedia of Science Fiction.
Harrison also wrote his own book on the topic, Great Balls of Fire (a history of sex in science fiction illustration). He seemed to share my belief that we should be a lot less hung up about this sort of thing and that it should be recognised as healthy fun and great art. Druillet, Moebius, Burns he knew his way around it all from pulp bondage to Metal Hurlant and treated it all with a wry sense of fun and ‘isn’t this naughty?’
He collaborated with one of my most favourite SF artists – Jim Burns – on many occasions and I wish I still had my copy of Planet Story that they did together. A couple of Rat stories were also brilliantly illustrated by Ezequerra in the pages of 2000AD and on top of all that he even wrote a choose your own adventure book. So Harrison has been intertwined with a great many of the things I love, going right back.
I won’t say I’ll miss him, I never really knew the guy, just his work.
And we still have that.