Make Room! Make Room! is our reading group book for March

Set in the then distant future of 1999, Harry Harrison’s classic dystopia, which inspired the film Soylent Green, is your climate-crisis fiction choice

Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! has come out of the hat and will be the subject of this month’s reading group.

This classic work of science fiction from 1966 was one of the most popular nominations for our climate theme – and with its story of scarce resources and subsequent societal breakdown, it looks like a prescient novel.

We’ll be able to test just how prescient because Harrison set his dystopia in the then distant year of 1999. As incredible as it may seem to some of us, that’s now a long time in the past. It will be interesting to see how well Harrison’s predictions measure up to reality.

While we’re making comparisons, I’m also curious to see how the novel stacks up against the film it inspired, the 1973 classic Soylent Green. Famously, there’s at least one crucial difference – and look away now if you’re one of the few people left in the world who doesn’t know what Soylent Green is: there’s no cannibalism in the novel. In Harrison’s book, “soylent” is made of soybeans and lentils. This is a point on which the novelist had strong opinions, believing that making Soylent Green out of humans was a sensationalist trick: “What’s wrong with cannibalism? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with cannibalism – humans put on meat too slowly.”

Quotes such as that helped cement his reputation in the SF community for being (as Christopher Priest put it in his 2012 obituary) “amiable, outspoken and endlessly amusing”. Harrison was also a prolific and highly respected elder of the scene. Born in 1925, he wrote more than 50 novels and won numerous awards – as well as a place in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2004. He was also one of the main writers on the Flash Gordon newspaper strip in the 1950s and 1960s and a dedicated Esperanto speaker, saying he learned the language when he was bored during his conscription in the US Army Air Corps. He even wrote the first Esperanto SF story: Ni venos, Dokrora Zamenhof, ni Venos! (We will come, founder of Esperanto, we will come.) Military service also gave him the hearty resentment of authority that fired up novels such as Make Room! Make Room! I’m looking forward to reading it and I hope you’ll join me.

As an added inducement, and thanks to publisher Penguin, we have five copies of Make Room! Make Room! to give to the first five people from the UK to post “I want a copy, please”, along with a nice, constructive thought in the comments. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the first to post, email the lovely folk on culture.admin@theguardian.com, with your address and your account username so they can track you down.

Contributor

Sam Jordison

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Reading group: which climate science fiction should we read in March?
From Mary Shelley to Margaret Atwood, the genre has been worrying over climate change for centuries. Please help choose one from many novels

Sam Jordison

03, Mar, 2020 @11:15 AM

Article image
Reading group: which Doris Lessing book should we read in October?
This month marks the centenary of the British-Zimbabwean’s birth, and we’re celebrating her remarkable career. Help us choose a book

Sam Jordison

01, Oct, 2019 @12:54 PM

Article image
Reading group: which HG Wells book should we read in September?
He’s the creative force behind The War of the Worlds, The Time Machine and even the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Help us choose a book to tackle together by the ‘man who invented tomorrow’

Sam Jordison

06, Sep, 2016 @12:30 PM

Article image
Make Room! Make Room! is a revelatory novel to read right now
Harry Harrison’s sci-fi novel about Earth on the edge of disaster is both bracing and cathartic as Covid-19 continues to spread

Sam Jordison

17, Mar, 2020 @9:15 AM

Article image
Choose March's Reading group book: Philip K Dick

The 'Shakespeare of science fiction' continues to inspire writers, film-makers and musicians. Which of his books should we pick?

Sam Jordison

26, Feb, 2014 @2:29 PM

Article image
Reading group: Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin is our book for February
This month’s choice is a groundbreaking gay love story that impressed even prejudiced critics

Sam Jordison

12, Feb, 2019 @11:27 AM

Article image
Reading group: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut is our book for March
This wildly imaginative novel is 50 years old this month, which is all the excuse we’ll need to turn to this hilarious and humane classic

Sam Jordison

05, Mar, 2019 @10:17 AM

Article image
Jane Eyre is April's Reading group book
Charlotte Brontë’s much-loved, much-hated masterpiece should generate some fascinating debate

Sam Jordison

05, Apr, 2016 @9:00 AM

Article image
Reading group: Attrib. by Eley Williams is December's book
The draw to find a neglected treasure from 2017 has turned up this collection of short stories, which promises to bring a happy close to the year

Sam Jordison

05, Dec, 2017 @10:57 AM

Article image
Reading group: Snow by Orhan Pamuk is March's book
Declared essential by Margaret Atwood, this atmospheric novel translated from Turkish has emerged as this month’s choice

Sam Jordison

06, Mar, 2018 @11:55 AM