Posts tagged ‘Harry Harrison’

Frederik Pohl

 

 
By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Windycon 41 was a lot of fun for me this year, especially the session dedicated to Frederik Pohl and his impact on science fiction.

Some highlights: We opened with a solemn presentation to me of a polished brass plaque which appeared on a commemorative bench at Loncon this year by Helen Montgomery and Dave McCarty from the executive committee of Chicon 7 and ISFiC. I was truly touched.

Gene Wolfe, our friend who lived in nearby Barrington till just recently, joined the panel at the last minute, and set the tone for the panel and made the audience laugh when he talked about how upset he was when Fred and I got married, and I soon after stopped being one of the hosts of our local fan group, SFFNCS (a.k.a. Science Fiction Fans of the Northwest Chicago Suburbs, pronounced “Sphinx”). In my defense, being Fred’s wife took a lot more time than being his girlfriend! Not to mention that I was holding down a full-time job at Harper College and developing their Honors Program, as well as the fact that Fred and I did a lot of traveling together to some pretty interesting and exotic places around the world.

Fred’s long-time editor Jim Frenkel kept us focused on the description of the panel: Fred’s multifaceted contributions to the field. He revealed some of what it was like to work editorially with Fred, who could always recognize a good editorial suggestion when he received it. We all agreed that all of Fred’s experience as an editor both for magazines and for books had sharpened his fiction skills and the ability to self-edit, and his period of agenting had also made him very aware of how important marketability is to a writer’s career.

I admitted that Fred was already a Big Name Pro and had a lot of experiences that I knew about only second hand when I met him at the Worldcon in Kansas City in 1976. I had in fact, taught The Space Merchants in my SF class but changed to Gateway in the late ’70s.

Long-time Chicago-area fan Neil Rest talked about the sensation Fred made on local fans when he came with me to one of parties held every month at the apartment of George Price (of Advent:Publishers) —or perhaps it was at one of the weekly meetings on the North Side called “Thursday,” quite possibly at the home of Alice Bentley, who might have been still a teenager or at least wasn’t yet a bookstore owner. We did a lot better at remembering our feelings than actual details, as will happen over more than 30 years.

From his beginnings in the New York area in the ’30s, Fred never gave up fanac and his sense of being a fan when he became a pro. I told how thrilled Fred was at Foolscap in Seattle in 2000 where Fred and Ginjer Buchanan (then an editor at Ace) were co-fan guests of honor. They called the con the “Fred and Ginjer Show.” In the ’30s and ’40s, Fred told me many times, he was very fond of the beautiful and talented Ginger Rogers, who he said, had to do all the steps Fred Astaire did, only backwards and in high heels.

Much more recently, Fred was also entirely thrilled in 2010 when he won a Hugo as Best Fan Writer at Aussiecon for his work in this blog. He was happy to give credit wherever due, and thanked his blogmeister, Leah A. Zeldes, who allowed him to concentrate on writing without having to worry about the technicalities of the Internet posting, as well as Dick Smith, who enabled Fred to use his obsolete word processor to write both fiction and non-fiction.

Continue reading ‘Windycon Honors Frederik Pohl’s Contributions to SF’ »

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

When Harrycon in Ireland came to pass, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up-— even Alfie Bester, who was getting into the more serious phases of his blindness — as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries.

And from the Soviet Union a party of four: my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, the USSR’S only author of a scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika?; Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boy’s magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them in cash — in rubles and kopecks; a young woman with an unclear role; and a dark, heavyset man from the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic who claimed, in Russian, to be a writer of children’s stories but was considered by everyone else to be the group’s KGB minder. He didn’t appear particularly menacing His principal activity seemed to be sitting in the hotel lobby and watching Irish TV.

Harry Harrison (the Harry of Harrycon) had planned a program for the opening day which mostly comprised introductory remarks by the principal attendees, starting with our Soviet guests. At first that did not go well, because the first up was Comrade Probable KGB, who spoke, fortunately quite briefly, in his own tongue, which even the Russians had trouble understanding. After a few moments of everybody looking at everybody else the young woman got up from where she was seated at the back of the audience to say, in English, that he had just told us that this was a historic event and he hoped it might be a first step toward a better understanding between our peoples. Everybody clapped briefly.

Next was Vasili, who also elected to speak in Russian and was not at all brief. By then we had a system going, with Vassili pausing frequently to let the young woman put his remarks into English. That was understandable, if bit tedious, because Vassili too chose to comment on the historic aspects of the meeting.

Then another problem came up. There was a small group from Brazil who had managed to get themselves to the meeting in spite of the fact that none of them spoke English. No one present but them spoke Portuguese, either. Gay Haldeman solved that crisis for us. She spoke idiomatic Spanish, and so then after the young woman had put Vassili’s remarks into English, Gay, turning around in her chair to face the Brazilians behind her, gave them a Spanish translation, which one of them understood enough to pass on the gist to his fellows.

Well, that was amusing, but Yuli had yet to speak. Fortunately, he chose to do it in his quite serviceable English, and, even better, what he talked about was how he discovered sf, first through H. G. Wells, whom he called “The Master,” and then, one by one, the great Americans. That was at least a subject everyone was interested in, and when Yuli was followed by Brian Aldiss, everything was going smoothly at last, both then and for the next day.

Then Harry laid on a fine Irish dinner for everybody, complete with some moderately fine Irish wines, and a small Irish orchestra, playing on traditional Irish instruments, to entertain us. This they did, although to be accurate I should say that the most entertaining part might have been when the musicians let some of the authors try to play their instruments. I got the Irish bagpipe. After considerable experimenting, I did get a couple of blood-curdling yawps out of the thing.

(Oh, that bit about the Irish wine. I should mention that a few centuries earlier, when Europe was enjoying the Medieval warm period, Irish people did make wine out of grapes they grew locally, and apparently the art was not entirely lost.)

Most of us hung around another day or so to see the sights of Dublin — some to check the museum’s collection of early books, others to recap Leopold Bloom’s 24-hour roam around the city in the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses — and to get to know each other a little better. All in all, I would call it one of the best cons ever.

 
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Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

After the Harrison family settled in, just outside of Dublin, I feared we would lose touch with them again. That didn’t happen. Those were the years when the airlines were cutting their prices and increasing their amenities every week or so; world travel became easier for many of us, and tempting science-fiction cons and other events kept cropping up in all sorts of foreign settings. Both Harry and I took full advantage of the new opportunities, and if I didn’t run into him in Rio de Janeiro I was likely to have another chance before long in Milan.

We weren’t the only sf jet-setters, either; fans and writers like Brian Aldiss in England and Sam Lundwall in Sweden covered about as much of the Earth’s surface as Harry and I. We were together in some town when Harry got a truly brilliant idea. We all, on one occasion or another, had visited the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, and we had all had the experience of meeting a local or two who turned out to become a friend.

And then one of us said, “What a pity Russians can’t get visas to come to Worldcons.” And Harry spoke up, with a sudden big smile, “You know what? Your countries and theirs wouldn’t give them visas because of the Cold War. But I’m from Ireland, and Ireland isn’t a member of NATO!”

And as soon as he got home he began talking to some friendly Irish diplomats. They all confirmed that there wouldn’t be any political problem to inviting Russians to a Dublin con.

So Harry immediately set about creating one.

 

When Harrycon happened, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up, as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries. And from the Soviet Union, among others, my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, author of the USSR’s only scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika, and Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boys’ magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them, in rubles and kopecks, in cash. And when it was over four of us — Harry and I, plus Brian W. Aldiss and Sam Lundwall — kept wishing we could do it regularly, and among the four of us, we thought up a way of getting it done.

The USSR, and indeed almost all the Stalinite countries, wouldn’t let their people go abroad just for fun. But if the purpose was to be delegates to some world literary or scientific societies, well, certainly they wanted the hammer and sickle flag displayed on the world stage.

It turned out to be the easiest revolution we ever caused. We constituted ourselves a scholarly body called World SF, printed up letterheads with Harry listed as president and the other three of us, our countries of origin prominently displayed, listed as vice-presidents and began mailing invitations to people of interest. And almost at once they began to arrive.

Of course, to invite people to speak at international meetings required that we cook up meetings for them to address. But that was easy to do, and, somewhat to our surprise, the World SF meetings themselves became important annual events. Some were quite small, involving twenty or thirty, or rarely even fewer, in attendance, but some were huge, for example the one hosted in Chengdu, China.

World SF kept going until the collapse of the Soviet Union began the changes in many of the world’s repressive governments that eased travel restrictions. Then it wasn’t needed any more and it gradually withered away, but it did the job Harry wanted it to, and without his driving energy, it might never have happened.

Harry was a good and crowd-pleasing writer. He was also a human being who did his best to make the world a kinder place. We’ll miss him.

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Harry Harrison in 1969.

Harry Harrison in 1969.

Harry Harrison was a good friend for over sixty years, a fact I’m sure of because I remember when we met. It was way back in the 1950s, when my then wife and I lived in a huge basement apartment in the East Village. We made the best use of it, too, hosting pretty large and sometimes a bit noisy parties, mostly for the local science-fiction community and blessed by the fact that basement doings were inaudible above ground. I can’t pin down the exact date, but at one of those parties two young people knocked on the door whom I had never seen before. “We’re the Harrisons, I’m Harry and she’s Evelyn. Jay Stanton said we could come,” the man said, sounding unsure of himself.

I said, “Of course you can. Coats go in the first bedroom, food and drinks are where the noise is coming from. I just heard the elevator door so I’d better stay here a bit, but you go and mingle.”

So that made two historic events for that evening — one being the first time I saw Harry Harrison, the other being the last time I observed him being diffident. By the time I got back to the party he had three or four people around him, all clamoring to be taught how to say dirty words in Esperanto.

We became friends quickly — in fact, a particular kind of friends, something akin to a double-dating foursome except that we were all married, Harry to his then wife Evelyn, me to my own then wife Judy Merril. We seemed to have a lot of interests in common, and Harry in particular liked to talk about the art and business of writing. He wasn’t himself a writer but instead an artist, mostly of comics. I supposed that was simply the normal fannish interest, with a touch of wanting to do illustrations for the magazines.

That was my bad guess. The truth came out considerably later, when he turned up one day with a manuscript in his hands. “Want to read it?” he asked. I said, “Sure,” although I didn’t really. (It is no fun to have to tell a friend in what ways his story sucks.) That problem didn’t come up, though. The story had a good premise — something about machines that traveled underground as well as submarines did underwater. What’s more, I was only a couple pages into it when I realized it was actually quite a good enough story to make me wish I was still an editor myself so I could accept it on the spot.

I told him how much I liked it and asked if he wanted suggestions on who to send it to. “No,” he said. “I showed it to Damon and he bought it for his new magazine.”

“Huh,” I said, and added, “I thought you were going after a career in illustrating, not writing, for the magazines.”

He gave me a smile. “I was, but you talked me out of it.” I must have looked puzzled, because he explained, “Remember those times when you were talking about your average budget for the old Astonishing Stories? You said you paid around fifty dollars per story, average, and when I asked what you paid for an illustration you said. ‘About five.’ Right then is when I started trying to write.”

 

It was a decision made in heaven, because look at what came out of that man’s typewriter over the next years. Just the novels were fine, starting with Deathworld, and going on forever. And not only science fiction, because along came Stonehenge (with Leon Stover), a historical novel, and a fine one.

I lost touch with Harry from time to time over the next years, owing largely to his experimenting with living in other countries, starting with Mexico, then moving across the Atlantic. He did show up in New York now and then for a visit, but when he and his second wife Joan (and their recently acquired two small children, Moira and Todd) wound up in Denmark, they stayed for years, coming back to America only when they discovered that their children were learning Danish faster, and better, than English.

That didn’t last, though. By the time Todd and Moira were beginning to get good in their native tongue, Harry had another yearning. He really hated to pay income tax. What’s more, he and I had from time to time discussed the very attractive standing offer the Republic of Ireland had made to any foreign-born but part Irish person, which was instant citizenship and the chance to take advantage of Ireland’s grant of waiver of all income tax for professional artists, including writers. Each of us having the required minimum of at least one Irish grandfather, we were both eligible.

For me those chats were fantasy, because America was the only country I was willing to call mine. Harry, though, was made of sterner stuff With a little help from Anne McCaffrey, who had taken the offer years earlier, and after some talks with Irish embassy people, all of a sudden Harry was miraculously transmuted to Irish and, wife and kids included, was living in a little town outside of Dublin. And Irish he profitably remained for the rest of his life.

Part 2 to come.

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Harry Harrison in 1990 (Photo by Frank Olynyk).

Harry Harrison in 1990.
(Photo by Frank Olynyk.)
 

That’s the headline we should have run days ago. I started to write something at the time, but it kept getting longer and longer and isn’t finished yet. I hope to post it tomorrow

Meanwhile, the New York Times published an even longer obit. (It looks like it began on Page 1, although when you read your morning paper on a Kindle, it’s not easy to be sure.) The story was by staff Times writer Douglas Martin, who couldn’t help poking a little fun at the deceased in his opening paragraphs:

“‘Incompetent, unlettered, unskilled writers sell to unexacting editors. All of this is going completely unnoticed by an incompetent readership.’

“So wrote Harry Harrison in a 1990 essay that described science fiction, the genre in which he wrote more than 60 novels, as ‘rubbish.’ Some critics thought his work helped prove the point. Charles Platt, writing in the Washington Post in 1984, said that Mr. Harrison was better at ‘evoking the personalities of lizards than of people.'”

(Thereafter, however, Martin got down to a lengthy and quite well reported account of Harry’s work.)

More to come.

 
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Ion Hobana

        Ion Hobana

So long, old friend.

Twenty-some years ago a few writers and editors from assorted parts of the world — Harry Harrison from Ireland, Brian Aldiss from England, Sam Lundwall from Sweden and your servant from the U.S.A. — got together to form the organization World SF. Its primary purpose was to constitute a formally existing organization of science-fiction professionals, with regular meetings all over the world, since a formal organization would help our fellows in countries like the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union get through their travel barriers to join the rest of us in truly international meetings.

It worked pretty well much of the time, with science-fiction writers turning up in several score of the countries of the world. One of the most active was Ion Hobana, from Bucharest, Romania, and it was with real sorrow that we learned that he died in a Bucharest hospital in February, at the age of 80. Some of his stories that were translated into English appear in anthologies, including The Penguin World Omnibus of Science Fiction.