This month Harry Harrison, writer of the highly popular
Stainless Steel Rat
book series, visited the UK for a Convention to promote his new SF novel,
Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus.
ORBzine sent along our ace reporter to interview him, and sure enough we
managed to catch hold of him briefly before he rushed off to the closing ceremony!
First of all I would like to apologise for springing this interview on you.
I know you're a busy man.
No problem, I'm happy to do this interview. As long as we're finished by 5
o'clock, when we have the closing ceremony.
I hope I don't cover too much ground you've been through already.
Well, there's a lot of ground left to cover.
I know you've written a lot of books, and you've done a lot of short stories. Now,
not only do you have your new Stainless Steel Rat book out in hardback, but you've also got
a collection of short stories out - 50 stories for 50 years.
I'm working on it at the moment.
I'm looking forward to reading it. You mentioned that your first Science Fiction
story was The Rock Diver. Is it going to be included in the compilation?
Oh yes. It was originally called I Walk Through Rocks, and it is about
this guy who's a sort of a rock diver.
Damon Knight changed the title to Rock Diver and gave me $100
for the short story. That was when I realised that if I was going to make
money writing Science Fiction I had better get better titles.
And that was published as Rock Diver.
And was that your first published work?
Oh, no, no. At that time I was a commercial artist drawing comics and writing
comics. In fact the first thing I wrote was for a writers' magazine called the
Writer's Digest, a How to Write for Comics.
Back then inside the comics the scripts were so bad, I worked
out rules of how to write better comic books. Then I started editing comics, I started writing
the scripts for them, then I started writing articles for various magazines, fiction and non-fiction.
So I was in publishing as an artist, doing comics, book jackets, Science Fiction illustrations, everything.
And when comics fell apart in the 40s I moved into editing other magazines, fiction magazines.
I sold, on and off, odds and sods. I always liked Science Fiction, I was always a fan even as
a kid, but I was a professional in editing and publishing long before I became a writer.
Are you still into comics?
No, I hate comics, I always hated them. I got into them inadvertently. I always
wanted to be an artist, I never wanted to be a writer even though I wrote a lot. I really loathe
comics, having drawn them, written them, published them and I really can't stand them. I never
read them any more, except Mobius, I love his stuff.
Do you like The Fifth Element?
The movie The Fifth Element based on his work.
I never saw that movie, but I DID write the original screenplay for
[Mobius-inspired film] Heavy Metal.
I was living in Wicklow at the time and I went to London once a month.
It was extraordinary what I was doing - between artists and animators, I was doing the storyboard,
not a real script at all. Mobius came over and drew this damn flying dragon thing. Great! But
the rotten Frenchman had never signed the contract, he just left it with his lawyer in Paris. Eventually
because they were so slow Columbia dropped it. The Canadian Film Board picked it up, and
they have a rule that it has to be 95% Canadian so they gave me a kill fee for my script. They
had a rotten screenplay, and rotten music and rotten parts.
If we had done Heavy Metal the
way I wanted, we could have had a really great production with the Hungarian
guy who did Animal Farm.
You know the one I mean. With him we could have done some really good stuff.
Did you ever get any use out of the work you did? Did you rework the screenplay?
No, they had to drop my screenplay completely. They gave me a kill fee and they
went and did an original screenplay. It was nothing to do with what I had done, the storyboarding,
and it was completely original and very, very bad. If we had done the original it would have
been very, very good, with good animators. I know Science Fiction and I know art. I would
have translated the comics, the really good comic stuff in Heavy Metal
into the animated film.
Boy, I really wish we had done it. I'm really happy that I got money out of it, but the film I wrote,
I worked on it very hard for 6 months, would have been a very, very good film.
And did you ever re-use the ideas that you had?
No, I was adapting Heavy Metal's artwork - you've read the original magazine,
I'm sure. It's really good, we took stories out of thatI had gotten for the screenplay. I used the
device of having Arzak, the guy with the flying dragon, and having him fly between worlds and
get into adventures. So I tied them all together and got these professional animators, working
with old what's-his-name, the Hungarian who did Animal Farm,
he's in London now. Anyhow,
I was very happy to do it, and very unhappy about it, for all the obvious reasons.
Now, we were talking about comics there. Your Stainless Steel Rat books,
three of them so far, have been adapted for comic-book format.
Ah yes, for 2000 AD.
And are you happy with those adaptations?
I'm happy and I'm unhappy. The art is fantastic, by a Spanish artist [Carlos Ezquerra].
I met with the writers and the editor, I even met him. They were all Science Fiction fans. I kept
Ignore the book, this is a comic - put more of Carlos' art into it,
make it more visual, put some colour and art into it.
They kept putting lots of dialogue in. And I couldn't
convince them that it should move a lot better. I only gave permission for it, I had no time to
write the script. I really wish I had been more involved in the script, I could have made it move
faster. But it worked pretty well. All I'm going to say is the fans wrote in to every issue. Now,
what was the best-selling thing?
The best-selling is Judge Dredd, because he has people blown
to bits. The little wankers who read the magazine seem to like it. This Spanish artist had beautiful
shapes, movement, women with big breasts and everything. It was always second to Judge Dredd.
Through the years, it went on for quite a while, I mean in overall sales the
Stainless Steel Rat
books sold more than any other thing. A lot of it came from the comic readers. The books sell
100,000 copies, and when they grow up they read the same thing, the
Stainless Steel Rat.
An awful lot of readers of Stainless Steel Rat grew up reading comics.
It's odd that you should say that. You say you like Carlos Ezquerra's work -
Oh yes, it's beautiful, I love it.
- but you don't like Judge Dredd, and he was the original concept artist.
No, I've nothing against Judge Dredd books at all.
It's very simple, obvious plot with lots of motion, and the kids love it.
I was referring to the Polls of the readers.
They always like it ahead of everything else.
The only thing is, I think people would have liked The Rat
a lot better if it had a better script.
Dredd is very simple and straightforward. I mean the only
thing that's wrong with it is Sly Stallone, because that's proof you can screw
anything up. But for a comic, Dredd works very well.
The art of Dredd is incredible, he's doing a great job.
You mentioned the Judge Dredd Movie. Now, you mentioned in a previous interview
[with a UK SF magazine] that you wanted to wait until the James Bond franchise had really wound
down so Stainless Steel Rat could step in and sort of replace it.
That's not quite true, exactly that way. The producers are working on the film
right now, hopefully. They see the Stainless Steel Rat movie as hopefully a pilot for a series.
If it works well, - there are 10 books so far, and if the first one works, and it has all the necessary
things - it has a continuous central character, adventure, colour, action, humour, good effects.
They're hoping to do more than one film, it will be a 65 million dollar film. They're hoping
that this will just be the first - I'm hoping too that we can get a good sale on the first run and
go on to more after that. There's a general feeling that there should be more than one single film.
It will probably be a one-off, that's it.
Independence Day, that was a one-off. But this character,
the villainous hero, is an idea that could be carried on for more than one film. We all hope.
What I mean is, now that the Bond franchise has gone down-hill and Pierce Brosnan
is purported to be leaving the role.
There is no connection to the Bond films. It will hopefully be a bond-type film.
20th Century Fox and the Director and the Producers hope to have a success at one film so we
can do a sequel film. But there is no connection with the Bond films, except that we want to make
the same kind of money Broccoli and the Bond films are making.
So you want the same kind of popularity.
Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus.
is available from the ORB bookstore [www.orb-store.com] via our
suppliers. We will publish a review of it in next month's edition!
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