Review: Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

“One time we had the whole world in our hands, but we ate it and burned it and it’s gone now.”
~Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!

Plot summary

“A gangster is murdered during a blistering Manhattan heat wave. City cop Andy Rusch is under pressure solve [sic!] the crime and captivated by the victim’s beautiful girlfriend. But it is difficult to catch a killer, let alone get the girl, in crazy streets crammed full of people.

The planet’s population has exploded. The 35 million inhabitants of New York City run their TVs off pedal power, riot for water, loot and trample for lentil ‘steaks’ and are controlled by sinister barbed wire dropped from the sky.

Written in 1966 and set in 1999, Make Room! Make Room! is a witty and unnerving story about stretching the earth’s resources, and the human spirit, to breaking point.” More on Goodreads

On Harry Harrison
Soleil vert, a 1973 film based loosely upon Harrison's novel Make Room! Make Room! Photo: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES (CC0 1.0)
Soleil vert, a 1973 film based loosely upon Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room! Photo: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES (CC0 1.0)

“Harry Harrison (born Henry Maxwell Dempsey) was an American science fiction author best known for his character The Stainless Steel Rat and the novel Make Room! Make Room! (1966), the basis for the film Soylent Green (1973). He was also co-president of the Birmingham Science Fiction Group.” More on Goodreads

“‘By an accident of time and space I was born in the New England state of Connecticut and grew up in New York City,’ he wrote in 1975. ‘My mother was from Russia and my paternal grandmother from Ireland, so it is easy enough to visualise a hiccup in time that might have had me in the Russian army, rather than the American one, or planting spuds for a living. (…) I wasn’t interested in writing very much when I was young, I was more of an artist. I did write and draw for the school magazine, sort of half and half. I won an art competition when I was in grade school, for ‘Save the Animal Week’ or something – I drew a squirrel saying ‘We want more nuts!'” ~Harry Harrison

Key concepts
  • The indifference a murder awakes
  • Film noir meets population control
  • Plague of people

“We got a plague of people, a disease of people infesting the world. We got more people who are living longer. Less people have to be born, that’s the answer. We got death control—we got to match it with birth control.” ~Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!

Crowd. Photo: James Cridland (CC BY 2.0)
Crowd. Photo: James Cridland (CC BY 2.0)

According to a feature series in New Scientist, “(t)here are 7.4 billion people on the planet – nearly three times as many as there were 60 years ago. The UN estimates that in another 60 years we will be approaching 11 billion. Others say that population will peak soon, then fall gradually as we hit resource limits. There is another possibility: that hitting those limits causes our surprisingly fragile civilisation to collapse, triggering a global die-off.” (MacKenzie 2016)

Another article in the same New Scientist series views the UN prediction above as unlikely. “After hitting the demographic doldrums, no country yet has seen its fertility recover. Many demographers expect a global crash to be under way by 2076. Governments may try to halt the fall – though Singapore has been trying for a generation and still has the world’s lowest fertility rate (…).” (Pearce 2016)

Make Room! Make Room! is the dream come true for all claustrophobes. Well, quite the opposite actually. It’s also a nightmare for people who love cold and try to avoid heat at any costs. Okay, enough of advertisement for the novel, one doesn’t want the novel to sell out overnight.

The novel is sort of a mix between a film noir type of crime investigation and a dystopian sociological study of human population in an overcrowded city. And additionally, it’s a twisted love story. But these things aside, mostly it’s an eco-conscious account of what happens when overpopulation rules the Earth.

The refreshing feature of the novel is that is portrays everyday characters that are no heroes. They simply try to get by in dubious circumstances, living minute-by-minute in an unbearable world where luxury is uncommon and struggle is daily.

“Everyone has got their own ideas and they push them and say to hell with everyone else. That’s the history of the human race. It got us on top, only now it is pushing us off. The thing is that people will put up with any kind of discomfort, and dying babies, and old age at thirty as long as it has always been that way. Try to get them to change and they fight you, even while they’re dying, saying it was good enough for grandpa so it’s good enough for me. Bango, dead.” ~Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!

Other novels and stories on overpopulation
  • Cyril M. Kornbluth: The Marching Morons (1951)
  • Isaac Asimov: The Caves of Steel (1954)
  • J.G. Ballard: Billenium (1962)
  • Anthony Burgess: The Wanting Seed (1962)
  • Philip K. Dick: The Crack in Space (1966)
  • Frank Herbert: The Green Brain (1966)
  • John Brunner: Stand on Zanzibar (1968)
  • Robert Silverberg: The World Inside (1971)
  • Michael G. Coney: Friends Come in Boxes (1973)
  • T.J. Bass: The Godwhale (1974)
  • David Brin: Earth (1990)
  • Matthew Stover: Heroes Die (1998)

More information
– Locus Magazine: Harry Harrison: When the World Was Young, published in the March 2006 issue, link retrieved on 9 December 2016
– Debora MacKenzie: The world in 2076: Civilisation was more fragile than we thought, published in New Scientist on 16 November 2016, link retrieved on 20 November 2016
– Fred Pearce: The world in 2076: The population bomb has imploded, published in New Scientist on 16 November 2016, link retrieved on 20 November 2016
– David L. Ulin: Revisiting doomsday, published in the Los Angeles Times on 10 April 2008, link retrieved on 9 December 2016

Other novels and series by Harrison
  • Deathworld Trilogy (1960-1966)
  • Stainless Steel Rat Series (1961-2010)
  • Planet of the Damned (1962)
  • Bill, the Galactic Hero Series (1965-1992)
  • The Technicolor Time Machine (1967)
  • Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers (1973)
  • To the Stars Series (1980-1981)
  • West of Eden Series (1984-1988)
  • Hammer and the Cross Series (1992-1995)
  • Stars & Stripes Series (1998-2002)

“But doing something means that people must change, make an effort, use their minds, which is what most people do not like to do.”
~Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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