Archive for the ‘Comedy’ Category

Very sad to hear of the death of science fiction writer Harry Harrison at the age of 87.

Harrison is probably best known for his novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), a powerful dystopia about overpopulation filmed – rather successfully – as Soylent Green (1973).

His anti-hero, James Bolivar DiGriz, alias “Slippery Jim” DiGriz, first appeared in the short story ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding magazine in 1957;  The Stainless Steel Rat (1961) was the first in a series of hilarious novels featuring the adventures of the interplanetary crook and his expanding family.

Bill the Galactic Hero (1965) was an equally amusing novel but with a darker subtext, a satire on the militaristic science fiction of Robert A Heinlein, especially Starship Troopers (1960). Harrison drew on his own experiences as a machine gun instructor

His other work includes A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! (1973), an early example of what would later be termed ‘Steampunk‘, and the elaborate Alternative World Eden Trilogy (West of Eden1984, Winter in Eden1986, and Return to Eden1988), an exercise in World Building comparable in scope and ambition to Frank Herbert‘s Dune (1965) and Brian Aldiss‘s Helliconia Trilogy (1982-1985).

Harrison was a good friend and collaborator with Brian Aldiss, and they were co-presidents of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group. They edited numerous anthologies together.

He was a proselytizer for the auxiliary language Esperanto, which is spoken in the future of his Deathworld series (1960-2001) and The Stainless Steel Rat; Harrison was honorary president of the Esperanto Association of Ireland, as well as a member of Esperanto-USA, and also the Universala Esperanto-Asocio (World Esperanto Association).

He was also a notable atheist, and often used his fiction to criticise religion. His most widely anthologised short story was ”The Streets of Ashkelon” (1962), first published in Brian Aldiss’s anthology New Worlds (1962), a taboo-busting story about an interplanetary missionary; and Make Room! Make Room! was an attack on the Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception, not a gothic nightmare about cannibalism – Soylent Green is made from soy beans and lentils, not people!

References
  • Aldiss, Brian (ed, 1962) New Worlds
    • (1982) Helliconia Spring
    • (1983) Helliconia Summer
    • (1985) Helliconia Winter
  • Harrison, Harry (1957) ”The Stainless Steel Rat” in Astounding
    • (1960) Deathworld
    • (1961) The Stainless Steel Rat
    • (1962)  ”The Streets of Ashkelon” in Aldiss, Brian (1962)
    • (1965) Bill, the Galactic Hero
    • (1973) A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!
    • (1984) West of Eden
    • (1986) Winter in Eden
    • (1988) Return to Eden
  • Heinlein, Robert A (1960) Starship Troopers
  • Herbert, Frank (1965) Dune
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”Are you all sitting comfybold two square on your botty?”

Today is the tenth anniversary of the death of one of my childhood heroes, ‘Professor’ Stanley Unwin (1911-2002).

Unwin’s comedy was largely based around his invented language ‘Unwinese’, or ‘Basic Engly Twentyfido’, probably named after philosopher Charles Kay Ogden‘s ‘controlled languageBasic English – but whereas Ogden was motivated by a desire to make language simpler to aid learning and international communication Unwin’s was to delight his listeners with gobbledegook that almost makes sense.

Unwin has been described as the greatest linguistic innovators since James Joyce and this opening to his version of ”Goldylocks and the Three Bears” illustrates why:

     ”Now, once a-polly tito. You may think that doesn’t sound quite right. But believe me, once a-polly tito it is, and in this case it was Goldylopper’
     ‘Goldyloppers trittly-how in the early mordy, and she falolloped down the steps. Oh unfortunade for cracking of the eggers and the sheebs and the buttery full-falollop and graze the knee-clappers. So she had a vaselubrious, rub it on and a quick healy huff and that was that. So off she went, and she went trittly-how down the garbage path, and at the left right-hand-side goal she passed a [sniff] poo-pom, it was hillows a humus heapy in the garbage! But never mind. Erm… she lost her wail.’’

– Stanley Unwin, Goldyloppers and the Three Bearloaders

Unwin provided the narration for the B-side of The Small Facespsychedelic LP Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake (1968), telling the story of the dreamer Happiness Stan and his pursuit of the ‘missing’ portion of the Moon.

Unwin voiced Father Stanley Unwin in Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation series The Secret Service (1969) – but Lew Grade, in one of his many short-sighted decisions,  cancelled the show because he thought Unwin’s language would alienate American audiences .

Sources