Anthony Aycock | content by

Anthony Aycock

Make Room! Make Room! For Harry Harrison!

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.

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Dissecting the Dark Delights of Dexter

The question is not whether the Showtime series Dexter (which ran from 2006-2013 and was revived in 2020) is better than the eight novels on which it is based. Both were big successes—seven of the books were bestsellers, while the show won four Primetime Emmys, two Golden Globes,  and seven Satellite Awards, among other accolades—yet the two versions are only loosely connected. Season one of Dexter was fairly faithful to Jeff Lindsay’s first novel, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, before blazing its own trail, altering storylines and mucking about with characters’ fates. One of the most obvious changes is that the TV series softens the title character from Lindsay’s sociopathic monster to a more personable detective type.

Many critics think this was an improvement. “In the novel,” according to one writer, “Dexter is notably cold and detached—exhibiting many more truly psychopathic tendencies in the way in which he relates to both his victims and other people in his life. By contrast, Michael C. Hall’s Dexter often appears genuinely baffled by the complexities of human emotion while simultaneously demonstrating strong feelings for characters like Deborah [his stepsister] and his erstwhile brother [Brian, who is more integral to the books].” Of course, that’s completely wrong: In every book, Dexter struggles to understand love, forgiveness, white lies, and other rituals of human emotion while also demonstrating observable fondness for his wife Rita, stepsister Deborah, daughter Lily Anne, and stepchildren Astor and Cody.

So the question is not which is better. The question is whether Dexter Morgan, family man, blood spatter analyst, and unrepentant serial killer, is one of literature’s all-time best characters.

The answer, of course, is that he is. Devilishly so.

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Looking For Your Next Favorite Writer? Don’t Myth Out on Robert Asprin

Imagine a series of novels—twenty or so, let’s say. They are sword-and-sorcery high fantasy involving alternate dimensions, monsters, magic, kings and queens, intrigue, danger, and lots of action. The two main characters have much the same chemistry as Sam and Dean Winchester, Aziraphale and Crowley, or Harry Potter and Ron Weasley, and the other characters are just as fun, funny, and engaging. The books have puntastic titles like Hit or Myth, Myth Directions, and M.Y.T.H. Inc. Link. Best of all, they’re funny. God, are they funny! Sounds like a literary property over which Netflix, Hulu—heck, all the streaming services should be fighting over, right?

Sadly, to my knowledge, there’s been nary a scuffle. Not a set-to. Not a tiff. The streamers aren’t even giving each other stink-eye over the rights to this series, Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures, which began in 1978. (Before Good Omens. Before Discworld. Before Hitchhiker’s Guide.) In fact, the only person writing humorous fantasy back then was Piers Anthony, who grew up in Vermont but was born in England.

Come to think of it, the authors of the other books I just mentioned—Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams—are all English as well. Did Robert Asprin, who was born in Michigan and lived for many years in New Orleans, invent American comic fantasy?

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