Just finished Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! It was adapted into a movie (Soylent Green) starring Hollywood’s preeminent tough guy, Charlton Heston in 1973. I’m told I should read Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series, but alas, I’m on the standalone shtick right now.
Anyway, I write this review with relief since lately my selection of novels has been less than satisfactory. When I consider how many books there are—and how many I want to read—it’s frustrating to spend time on a story I don’t enjoy. But Make Room! has thankfully bucked that trend.
However, Make Room! isn’t so much a science fiction novel, strictly speaking, as it is a futuristic novel. Well sort of. Let me explain. The world is overpopulated to the point of suffocation. Crime and starvation are at all time highs. The population of New York City alone is over 35 million and that’s where Detective Andy Rusch is heaped with the task of handling his normal civic duties along with investigating a murder—all the while getting into a romantic tangle with the deceased’s girlfriend.
First off, as you can see from this summary, there’s very little science involved, and more of a mystery than anything else. In fact, Harrison almost exclusively avoids technology. The most advanced system I recall reading about is a television (and a tube telly, no less!) Fortunately, the eschewing of technology plays up the notion of an unsustainable infrastructure and has helped the novel age somewhat elegantly.
Where the novel falls short in its futuristic expectations is in estimating physical space, and more specifically, the square footage of planet Earth. Harrison predicts that the population of the world is over 7 billion—which it is. He also predicts that the population of the United States is 344 million—which is pretty darn close. It’s 325 million according to the last census. So while his numerical estimations were nearly prophetic, he erred in thinking the world would be jam-packed by then.
If you think I’m criticizing the novel, I’m not. I loved these inconsistencies because sometimes I think they’re a part of why I read science fiction—to see how clairvoyant the authors of yesterday were in imagine our futures. I want to be amazed by their foresight or to chuckle at their oversight. Did they foretell Ipad Tablets like the cover illustrations on Arthur C Clark’s 2001: Space Odyssey?** Or did they goof like in Philip K Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? where characters zoom around in flying cars and then answer a call by picking up the car phone still connected by a wire?
In either case, that’s what makes the reading fun. And that’s why I’m doing it. 3.5/5 stars.
**2001: Space Odyssey was published in 1968 if you’re curious.