Make Room! Make Room! – Harry Harrison

Expectations factor in massively when it comes to reading. I think this is why genre and the related notions are considered so important when in some respects they really should not be (at least when it comes down to a marker of quality or value). I had some strange expectations about this book, mostly from knowing what movie it was ultimately turned into. I won’t mention the movie here, excepting to say that the expectation it gave me were that the very title of the movie seemed to be a spoiler for this book. It would be wrong to say that the subversion of that expectation made this book enjoyable – this book was enjoyable on its very own strong merits – but the expectations were always gnawing at the back of my mind, and I was ultimately very happy to get a very different book.

Make Room! Make Room! is the only book I can think of that can take the adjective Malthusian. It depicts a future off future of the year 1999 (sigh, scifi does have an ageing problem) and envisions the Malthusian horrors of a world well-overcrowded and starved of resources. Readers in the year 2020 are going to have to ignore the instinct to smirk – after all, we have well over shot that decade, the feared population marker the book predicts, and largely the terrors prophesied here never came to pass. But I for one do not think that science-fiction is ever about prophecy in any literal sense. What we do get is a very entertaining story about what a world were those Malthusian circumstances fulfilled. And certainly there are plenty of people watching out for a coming environmental collapse that envision exactly such a fate. Those people have merely kicked the can of this prophecy down the road.

This book does have one hell of a misanthropic streak to it. Humans are not painted in anything resembling a good light. The description I once heard that ‘humans are little more than apes in shoes’ comes to mind with many of the descriptions in this book, and pretty much all the characters save for one (and its not the protagonist either) come across as pretty awful people. That of course, is the point. If that seems far too mean to you, I would present into evidence that birth control, thematically at the heart of this novel, still is not a settled issue in the USA, where this novel takes place.

(I am writing this in late September of 2020. How very topical!)

This book makes its stance on birth control very clear, and this unfortunately brings up that notion of prophecy once again. If I know sophistry in the modern era as well as I think I do, I can see how those who would want to prohibit birth control would use this very same novel to buttress their argument, using that same terrible line of reasoning we get from the climate change deniers, suggesting that if I were to predict rain on Tuesday and then be proven wrong ona dry Wednesday morning, the conclusion to draw is that it will never rain again.

Sigh. Humans really are just apes in shoes.

There was a slight personal virtue to my having read this. The only other Harry Harrison book i had up to this point read was The Stainless Steel Rat, and when I reviewed it I confessed that whatever it was that made that book a parody failed me. Now that I have read something more serious by Harrison, and noticed particularly the difference in style, the satirical nature of the Rat novel is suddenly much more clear. Reading this helped me to decipher that.

I could tell you what movie this book became. Or, any reader of this could simply google it. It wouldn’t ruin this book in anyway. The funniest part of all this? I’ve never actually seen the movie that was made from this book.

Frankly, I have no idea. And I am happy this way.

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