Harry Harrison 

Interview by Alyce Wilson   

In a professional writing career spanning almost fifty years, Harry Harrison has created many popular works. At the beginning he gained popularity in John W. Campbell's Astounding / Analog magazine with the Deathworld novels and similar intelligent action-adventure stories. During the 1970s and 80s his most popular creation was The Stainless Steel Rat, whose adventures outsold the author's other novels almost two-to-one. Into the 1990s, and the West of Eden trilogy marked a new phase in Harrison's career, that of heavily-researched alternate history stories, of which the Stars and Stripes trilogy is the latest.

- biography from Harry Harrison's official site

Wild Violet editor Alyce Wilson caught up with legendary science fiction author Harry Harrison at the science fiction convention Philcon, held in Philadelphia in December.

You were speaking about how you've gone through different stages in your career, from Deathworld to The Stainless Steel Rat, one of your better known, and then more recently, West of Eden. Where do you think you're going from here?

I've published 45 novels. Most of it's still in print. They cover a spectrum of things, from overpopulation, to dinosaurs living with human beings, the West of Eden books, then the history of the United States, alternate histories, Stars and Stripes Forever, which was just published in paperback.

And I'm not doing books much at all right now. I've written the first part of a graphic novel. You can check my web site,, and we'll have details. That's going to be a lot of fun to do. I think it will be quite successful.

And my energy level is different. I'm no longer 12 years old, or 21. And I write for fun. There's money, too. So I'll stick to graphic novels for a bit. That's as much as I can say about my plans.

You're also an artist, and I'm wondering what the relationship is for you. Do they feed off each other? Is the creative process at all different for art than it is for writing?

I went to art school after the war, became a comic artist and illustrator, a magazine art director at various times. I then changed into full-time writing and editing, and I found, as far as writing's concerned, my work is very visual. I see things happening. I see a stage with people moving around on it. And readers like that, because they can get into the story better. And so it certainly has helped me do my writing.

And basically, there's no connection between the two. I mean, you draw what you can't write. You write what you can't draw. I happen to have that, two careers.

The graphic novel, are you illustrating it on your own?

No, but I've done a lot of pictures for the artist. And it's a very physical, graphic idea. I have something happening every panel, and I lay out the panels for an interesting layout.

And I describe background things happening. And I drew sketches for the artist because, as an artist and art director, I recently read through all the popular graphic novels, and I got depressed. Because all the writers have no visual sense. You see pages and pages of the artist working like crazy, showing a long shot, then a close up, an up shot and a down shot. But there's nothing really happening. Good dialogue, interesting plot development and nothing visual onstage.

My graphic novel, I'm hoping the art stands out on this. It should be a very good and popular and a fun, nice book.

How do you decide, because you are a visual person, when something should be a written work and when it should be, say, a drawing or a graphic novel?

The graphic novel, they have to blend together. The art, there are pages that there is no dialogue and no captions that tell the story, very sad, sort of long. Other pages where I use dialogue and captions: foot captions, head captions, with dialogue. They have to be like a good film, a blend of the two. You're never aware of the art or writing. You're aware of the creativity on the page.

And that's very simple to say, very hard to do.

Now, you're known for using humor.

Yes. It's rare in the field.

How important do you find humor to your writing style, and how do you determine when it's appropriate?

It determines itself. People say, "Harry, you're a funny writer." But I didn't start out funny. I mean, Deathworld was my first novel, which is a very, very serious book, no jokes. By Deathworld II, a little levity comes in.

And West of Eden was a very grim book for me. It virtually had no humor. By my second one, I was actually able to find scenes to fit in context.

And it comes quite naturally. I started with The Stainless Steel Rat. And it's very hard to sell humor because, in western society, each one has a sense of humor of their own. And they may not like it. My first couple of books, I was telling the editor, "It was supposed to be funny."

And once you have a reputation for it — and certain of my books I've really made funny, like Bill, The Galactic Hero, parodying a lot of bad science fiction. And there was a lot of good black humor in there.


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