A lot of people know the science fiction legend Harry Harrison without knowing they know him. For example, Charlton Heston fans. In 1973, Heston starred in Soylent Green, a movie about a murder investigation set in a futuristic New York City, where overpopulation and pollution have ravaged the world’s food supplies. While the rich are largely unaffected, the masses are forced to eat processed wafers of several varieties: Soylent Red, Soylent Yellow, and the titular Soylent Green, which—spoiler alert—turns out to be recycled human remains (thus, the movie’s haunting and very famous final line: “Soylent Green . . . is . . . people!”). It is a surprisingly enduring movie, likely due to its all-star cast, which also included Joseph Cotten, Chuck Connors (of TV’s The Rifleman), and, in the last of his 101 (!) film roles, Edward G. Robinson. The movie won a Nebula Award for Best Film Script and a Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film.
Where does Harry Harrison come in? Soylent Green is based on his novel Make Room! Make Room!, which is more didactic, doesn’t involve an evil corporation, and whose ending lacks the movie’s gruesome twist. The idea for the book originated, in Harrison’s words, from an Indian gentleman he met in 1946 who told him about the dangers of overpopulation and then said, “Want to make a lot of money, Harry? You have to import rubber contraceptives to India.”
The literary world—and, for all I know, the condom industry—should be grateful that Harrison didn’t follow this advice.