Saturday, December 7, 2013

"If you go down Suicide Hill, you'll find Harry Harrison"

Harry Harrison
12 Mar 1925 - 15 Aug 2012
I don't recall now the exact date I met science fiction writer Harry Harrison. I must have been in my first years of high school because one of the things he signed for me was the December 1969 issue of Analog SF magazine, which sported a Kelly Freas cover for In Our Hands the Stars (later published as The Daleth Effect), a serial which continued through the January and February 1970 issues.

Back in those days, most of my fiction reading was SF, followed closely by mysteries. I had a subscription to Analog and always looked forward to that magazine's serial novels. The story follows the development of an inertial-free space drive, one of the standards of SF but rarely the star of the show. I was immediately taken by the cover, one of the few times a submarine has subbed for a spaceship, though I am sure many of us have fond (or not) memories of the Three Stooges saving the Earth from a Martian invasion using a submarine-spaceship-helicopter vehicle in The Three Stooges in Orbit. Ah, once again I find myself in the role of a wandering mathematician -- off on a tangent -- when I really meant to tell you how Harry Harrison found me shivering on his doorstep.

At the time, my parents had a friend who lived in a vague area east of Nestor and west of South San Diego, both of which were rather vague areas themselves. The friend, Rose was her name, lived atop a hill known locally and colloquially as Suicide Hill. Actually, it was just the road leading up from East San Diego that was known by that appellation, as the slope leading down into Nestor was really quite gentle. Two narrow lanes with a slope so steep you could only see sky or ground (depending upon which way you were going) and traffic that never abode by the posted speed limit -- that was Suicide Hill. One evening while my parents were visiting with Rose and I was learning astrology from Rosemary, Rose's wheelchair-bound daughter, I happened to mention to Rosemary that one of my favorite authors was Harry Harrison. She looked at me with an expression of smug surprise and said: "If you go down Suicide Hill, you'll find Harry Harrison."

Several months earlier, she told me, Harry Harrison and his family had taken residence in a house midway down Suicide Hill, at a flattened spot in the road, where, if you hit it just right, you could acquire negative or positive gees (depending on your direction of travel), being momentarily weightless or crushed. I had several of Mr Harrison's books at home, as well as the magazines, and promised myself I would bring them next time the family visited Rose.


The next time we visited, I came prepared for my unannounced (but not unwelcome, I hoped) visit to Harry Harrison. I was trembling before I started out, had to overcome a sense of timidity and shyness that grew with every step, and I constantly had to fight the urge to puke up my guts...I really haven't changed much over the years. Standing upon his shadowed doorstep, I hit the doorbell on my second try, and managed not to flee when the porch light snapped on and the door started to open. I was faced by a kid a few years younger than me, who looked at my pathetically trembling form and appeared ready to slam the door. I stammer-blurted a question as to whether this was Harry Harrison's house, whether he was at home, and whether I could see him. He gave me the stink-eye, nodded, and yelled: "DAD!" A gently smiling man came to the door, waited patiently as I somehow introduced myself, looked at the books in my shaking hands, and invited me cordially into his home.

For the next two hours, he signed my books, showed me all the foreign editions of his books, showed me his awards, and let me read a few pages of a book he was working which was serialized in Analog as A Transatlantic Tunnel -- Hurrah!, but which was later published as Tunnel Through the Deeps. And we talked about science fiction...or, rather, he talked, and I listened. And I also bought three tickets to his son's school's production of The Hobbit, an action for which my father has yet to forgive me -- 3+ hours on hard seats watching junior high schoolers prance about "in diapers and tunics" searching for the treasure of a papier-mache dragon. Sure, it was a high price to pay for Harry Harrison's bonhomie, but a price which I was more than willing for my parents to, I enjoyed it.

For those who want more information about Harry Harrison, the master of action science fiction, his official website is a good place to start.

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