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Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
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Make Room! Make Room! (1966)

by Harry Harrison

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Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
This was a much better dystopia than I expected—dark and gritty, just the way I like them. It is dated and not just in that it takes place in the far future of twenty years ago. Despite having some attitudes that were radical for its time, it is full of gender stereotypes as well as sprinkled with some racist terms for the Chinese that I'd just as soon neither read nor remember.

Despite its flaws, I find it interesting that the book addresses that which we have still failed to fully grasp: the single most effective thing we can do to reduce our carbon footprint is to reduce our reproduction. Make less babies. Despite everything, access to birth control is still denied, often quite deliberately, to women. In some places, it is entirely unavailable, and even in those places where women are freer, we still must fight to maintain our access. Reproduction is still viewed so strongly as a sacred right that one cannot even discuss the concept of incentivizing people to have less children without responses of horror and approbation.

Of additional note, this is a loose book-to-film adaptation. Even if you've never seen Soylent Green, there's one thing you know about it, and that isn't even in the story. Don't come into this book expecting the movie. Furthermore, this isn't scifi in the technology sense. It's byline is in fact "A Realistic Novel of Life in 1999", so it was never even intended to be. Dystopia is generally considered a subgenre of science fiction, much like alternative history is, but don't come here expecting robots, spaceships, and other such tech either. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Mar 8, 2019 |
(Original Review, 1980-08-19)

Pournelle's virulently infectious optimism is severely misplaced. Other people have already pointed out that his strategy involves the probable abandonment of Earth and the bulk of its population (what-the-hell, they're just gooks anyway); I'll just add that even RAH [2018 EDIT: Heinlein] saw this approx. 30 years ago (in FARMER IN THE SKY a character acknowledges that even with the huge ships in use they can't possibly take off more than a fraction of the population increase -- or absorb it in a colonial world; they're simply hoping to have some racial survival after Earth is ruined).

Addressing the question of a breakthrough:

There are a number of intended-to-be-humorous laboratory "rules" which many computer people are familiar with even though they are less applicable in the terminal room (I got a full dose of them because I used to be a chemist). Aside from the 1001 permutations of Murphy's Law, there are such gems as "First draw your curves; they plot the data." and "Don't just believe in miracles--rely on them." I contend that this latter is what JEP, JSOUTH, etc. are in fact doing because a technological breakthrough fits many of the usable definitions of a miracle, of which the most important is unpredictability under known physical laws. It's all very well to treat such laws as temporary and superable obstacles in research, but to expect/ to defeat them is foolish.

Looking at the specific example of THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, there is proposed a particularly miraculous breakthrough: the transmutation of lunar rock into food and water. (I suspect that Heinlein may have been deliberately Biblical at this point, since by other evidence he's quite familiar with that overrated book.) The computer which assumed any such breakthrough in even the most optimistic current modeling system would be thought squirrely, and Mike himself admits that he is looking for a breakthrough on the order of 50 years (i.e., 5-500 years, says Weinreb) away --- and he expects cannibalism (not given this breakthrough) in less than 20 (*).

Without more statistics than can conveniently be transmitted, I'm not prepared to accept either of his simple models ("dogmatic" or "enlightened"). Malthus' food production model was in fact optimistic. Granted, certain technologies (hardly breakthroughs either; most are over-application of ancient practices) have increased productivity per acre, but such gains have been near zero in recent years --- in fact, we have to keep producing new insecticides (and sometimes herbicides) to keep pest populations under control as they evolve to deal with current methods. I find the figures recently given for rate of loss of arable land quite credible, especially in view of this month's SMITHSONIAN, which carries an article from someone surviving on a farm that is useless according to current high-technology agricultural standards; the best estimates show a loss of 3 to 5 feet/ of topsoil, the accumulation of over a hundred millennia, in the past 150 years. Nor have I seen any challenges to the assertion of the 1959 edition of the World Book encyclopedia, hardly a gloomy publication given the date and audience, that since the arrival of white men in America the countrywide average depth of topsoil has gone from 9" to 6".

The gas diffusion model of innovation, like many simple models, leaves out a few important factors --- such as the fact that laboratories require substantial amounts of space. Technologists would hardly be immune to the debilitating effects of population pressure --- does anyone believe that a researcher in the world of MAKE ROOM, MAKE ROOM would be as effective as one now, given the effects of poor nutrition, bad air, simple lack of personal space, etc.? (The geniuses in cubbyholes have commonly been those who worked best alone.) Statistics suggest that despite our slowly increasing population this country is producing fewer and fewer people capable of contributing to even the basic drudgework of research from which a breakthrough is most likely to come.

Recall that the first portion of the industrial revolution in Britain had relatively little to do with farming --- I wouldn't be surprised if any increase in the rate of population increase could be attributed to the fact that Britain was producing more manufactured goods which could be traded for food (my recollection is that Britain has been a net importer of food for some time). In any case we are now dealing with a qualitatively different problem; it was trivial, then, to say that if food could be harvested faster and stored better there would be less spoilage, but the total loss today in the fields and in storage (especially if we discount spoilage of grain stored for several years because of policies which encourage the continued production of unusable surpluses, further removing trace nutrients from the land) is small.

I would suggest that believers in ultimate salvation by technology consider the modern tomato as a measure of that potential salvation. Bred to a consistent size and ripening time and to a consistency suitable for mechanical harvesting, it is picked green and gassed to make it turn red (which does/ not/ ripen it); the result is something not worth the energy to throw it out. The problem with any technological "progress" is choosing the parameters; as SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN pointed out 6 1/2 years ago the traditional choice in energy has been to spend a lot of [energy] finding new sources and very little conserving.

It is not surprising that science fictioneers should take guidance from Malthus, he provided a simple mathematical relationship between population (exponential growth, or geometric as he put it), and food production (constant growth). Such a formula is extremely useful since it can be applied to any society or time. Oh, for younger days before I was awakened from my dogmatic slumbers. I too once believed that the world was becoming overcrowded, and that poverty, starvation, disease, and war were due in large part thereunto. Historical study, current observation, or theoretical considerations (if you're a pure Marxist or pure capitalist at least) show things are not so simple. Starting arbitrarily with a million, let us construct a list of areas containing a million people ordered by density. Let us do likewise with 10 million, 100 million, 1 billion, and downwards too if you like.

Correlate this with starvation. It won't. Likewise historically.

The practical and theoretical joker is Malthus' food production model. I suggest that he was observing the beginnings of exponential growth in productivity, and not having a model for it (as he did for reproduction), he assumed linear growth. Seventy years ago, conventional wisdom would have insisted on unlimited exponential growth. Today, in spite of only minor, if any, setbacks, it is stylish to insist on low and immediate absolute limits.

Let me suggest another model, seemingly unrelated: that innovation transfer can be considered as a gas diffusion process. (**) This would indicate that in order to increase our production, we require a denser if not a greater population. I think this was true in the jump from hunter-gatherer to agricultural. It would be interesting to try to figure out whether the population increased before or after the start of the industrial revolution in G.B., but I suspect they didn't keep good enough statistics. (Exercise for the reader - try to apply this model to the difficulties of central and southern Africa in their attempt to industrialize, or even feed themselves).

I'm glad J.E.P. put in his ounce of gold on the recent doom and gloom model before I got in my 2 cents (which would have been on the Club of Rome LIMITS TO GROWTH model anyway). I have a question though, how does one model breakthroughs anyway?

I just had an ironic thought. I got to this point via RAH, and now I'm on the other side of prof's position in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS. There, if you recall, prof. forced Mike to predict famine in n years (where n was a small integer), as opposed to Mike's original position which included a technological breakthrough. The rest of the plot stems from this prediction.

I personally am not expecting doom (although I am/ hedging a few bets) --- unless the people who believe that there just isn't a problem at all get their way.
Eat, drink, and be merry,
Astragen (2018 EDIT: My moniker from back then…]

(*) I recall at least 3 different numbers given (of which at least 2 must be wrong) but all of them were under 20 years).
(**) I ought to credit somebody, but I can't remember the name.

[2018 EDIT: This review was written at the time as I was running my own personal BBS server. Much of the language of this and other reviews written in 1980 reflect a very particular kind of language: what I call now in retrospect a “BBS language”.] ( )
  antao | Nov 16, 2018 |
This is another novel set in the future (1999, written in 1966), looking at the effects of over-population. The New York of 1999 has a population of 35 million, one tenth of the population of the United States, in a world where the population is 7 billion (what is actually became a little later in 2011). Most of the population of New York (the only part of the world we see in the novel) lives a hand to mouth existence, the economy has collapsed through almost complete depletion of resources, and even water is rationed for most of the year. This is the backdrop to a well written novel in which the details of the everyday life of police officer Andy Rusch and those with whom he associates in his work and private lives form the focus of the narrative. The plot based around the hunt for a murder suspect (who is known to the reader, but not to Andy and his colleagues) seems fairly incidental, and the collective condition of the city's inhabitants is really the central character as such. The book was the rough basis for the cult film Soylent Green, made in 1973 starring Charlton Heston. The food substitute soylent appears in the novel, though without the dramatic impact seen at the end of the film. A good read and a worthwhile addition to the dystopian/speculative fiction genre. ( )
  john257hopper | Jan 12, 2018 |
Such an interesting book! This is the book that the movie "Soylent Green" was based on.
It was written in 1966 and set in the future "1999"! Well, we're pretty far past that so it was kind of cool to think what the author, in 1966, thought the future was going to be like.
Well, in this future there was no birth control. For religious reasons, birth control was not allowed so population growth went crazy. Therefore, the 344 million people living in the United States did not have enough food, water, clothing, medicine, or places to live. And, for some weird reason, they were still trying to vote down a bill that would allow some kind of birth control. It was really awful to see how people lived, or tried.
There was a story thread about a cop, one of the main characters, who was trying to solve a murder case, and that kept the story moving.
I just thought it was interesting to see the "future" through eyes of the past. ( )
  TerriS | Sep 12, 2017 |
Harry Harrison was a favorite author of mine growing up, and this book was a very unique take on dystopian future drama for its time. We all know Soylent Green was based on this story, but I personally prefer the book. Personal preference, I suppose. In any case, I've always enjoyed Harry's style, and this book is no exception. ( )
  Scott_Baron | Jun 13, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Harry Harrisonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ehrlich, Paul R.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peroni, PauletteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Solie, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To TODD and MOIRA For your sakes, children, I hope this proves to be a work of fiction.
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Prologue: In December 1959 The President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said: 'This government ... will not ... as long as I am here, have a positive political doctrine in its program that has to do with this problem of birth control.
Text: New York City -
- stolen from the trusting Indians by the wily Dutch, taken from the law abiding Dutch by the warlike British, then wrested in turn from the peaceful British by the revolutionary colonials.
Quotations
So mankind gobbled in a century all the world's resources that had taken millions of years to store up, and no one on the top gave a damn or listened to all the voices that were trying to warn them, they just let us overproduce and overconsume until now the oil is gone, the topsoil depleted and washed away, the trees chopped down, the animals extinct, the earth poisoned, and all we have to show for this is seven billion people fighting over the scraps that are left, living a miserable existence--and still breeding without control.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765318857, Paperback)

The world is crowded. Far too crowded. Its starving billions live on lentils, soya beans, and —if they’re lucky—the odd starving rat.

In a New York City groaning under the burden of 35 million inhabitants, detective Andy Rusch is engaged in a desperate and lonely hunt for a killer everyone has forgotten. For even in a world such as this, a policeman can find himself utterly alone….

Acclaimed on its original publication in 1966, Make Room! Make Room! was adapted into the movie Soylent Green in 1973, starring Charlton Heston along with Edward G. Robinson in his last role.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:35 -0400)

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" ... adapted into the movie Soylent Green in 1973 ..." "In a future New York City groaning under the burden of 35 million inhabitants, detective Andy Rusch is engaged in a desperate and lonely hunt for a killer everyone has forgotten. For even in a world such as this, a policeman can find himself utterly alone ..."--Back cover.… (more)

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