Book Review: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Best known for it's film adaptation Soylent Green, Make Room! Make Room! is an unflinching look at an overcrowded future which has nothing to do with exactly what people are eating.

It's 1999 and a record breaking hot summer is baking the 35 million residents of New York City. Andy Rusch is an detective in the over-stretched police force trying to keep a lid on the massively overcrowded population which doesn't have enough food or water to keep itself alive. Investigating a murder, he falls in love and tries to find some enjoyment in a life driven by pressure and his own sense of duty to his work.

The characterisation is excellent. Andy, his flatmate, girlfriend, and Bobby, a local criminal, give a real sense of what living in a people-choked future would be like. All of the characters have flaws, Andy is a workaholic, Shirl uses her body to get what she wants, Bobby will do anything he can to get out of his situation.

The grimness of the story is unrelenting. We watch Andy gain happiness, then you can see it going wrong as he tries to juggle his responsibilities in his work and home lives, a situation made worse by Shirl's own behaviour and what she wants out of their relationship. All of them the characters are desperate in their own ways, with only Charles, Andy's elderly flatmate, able to be cheerful and give a glimpse back to how glorious the world used to be before humanity bred itself too large.

This is very different from most of Harry Harrison's books. There is some black humour, but nothing like the lighthearted jokiness of the Stainless Steel Rat books. This is a grim warning of a horrifying world we seemed to be pushing towards during the 1950's: too many people, not enough resources. It pulls no punches about a future where our own selfishness has finally caused the world's natural resources to run out, and what happens when there isn't enough to go around a massive population.

While the timescale wasn't quite accurate, when I have one of those days where I just seem to be tripping over people wherever I go, and everyone wants whatever they want immediately, and can see no reason why they can't have it, and the news is full of stories of animals becoming extinct and oil running out, everything in this book springs back in my mind. It's still a warning we could heed, and more voices have joined it, but will it become a prophecy, or a quaint story reflecting mid-century paranoias?

Title: Make Room! Make Room!
Author: Harry Harrison
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 0-780140-026641
Published Date: 1966
Pages: 224

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Review by Paul, 2004