Terrifyingly brilliant (Soylent green is PEOPLE!)
Make Room! Make Room! ― Harry Harrison
I bought this book while I was at university for a class I was taking on utopias and dystopias, but I was somewhat ambitious with the amount I expected to read, and invariably this one was left untouched, until now.
Written in 1966, and set in 1999 Make Room Make Room is a dystopian science fiction novel, set in New York City, which follows the lives of several characters, exploring the potential repercussions that unchecked population growth could have on humanity. Set in a future where New York has a population of 35 Million, the earth itself has a population of 7 million, and humanity is more or less on the brink of collapse. The city is overcome by overcrowding, resource shortages, crumbling infrastructure, disease, crime and poverty. The welfare state is no longer able to support the growing population, fresh food is a distant memory, water is rationed, social housing has been extended to include sewers and in times of crisis only the young are given medical care. Despite all this, the population of New York city is divided over the issue of birth control.
Harrison wrote ‘Make Room Make Room’ as a social commentary, with the underlying theme of the novel being the importance of sustainable development and population control. The bleak world Harrison portrays, is that of future generations left to deal with the wasteland left behind once all the natural resources are used up, and the earth is no longer able to sustain itself. The book opens with a dedication to Harrison’s two children Todd and Moira – ‘For your sakes, children, I hope this proves to be a work of fiction’. With the Earth’s current population having just reached 7 billion the book has proved to be a work of fiction – so far. ‘Make Room Make Room’ is a terrifying reminder of what could be waiting for our children real efforts are not made to move towards sustainable growth, and population control.
The Book really is truly excellent. Harrison is able to paint a bleak, desperate and depressing view of New York City, but without going off into long tiresome descriptions. Through the eyes of the characters that Harrison creates the reader is able to view the city, and get a real feel for atmosphere of this dismal future, which may not be too far away. The reader is transported into a place where the streets are lined with filth, the poor huddle together in stairwells and burnt out cars, and riots caused by food and water shortages are quickly becoming the norm.
Through his choice of characters Harrison was able to portray the problems faced by the wretched citizens of New York through several different perspectives, while ultimately keeping the underlying issues same: Billy Chung, the poverty stricken boy who is so desperate to escape he will do anything; Shirl, a girl whose only hope of escaping reality is her body; Andy, a police officer who works his fingers to the bone for literally nothing; and Sol, the pensioner who remembers the time before, but can do nothing to change the course of history. All the characters are helpless, helpless to undo the damage caused by those who came before.
‘Make Room Make Room’ really is an excellent, thought provoking book. I have explored a few dystopian novels and this is the first one which really hit home for me. Despite having written this book almost 50 years ago, the issues Harrison explores are incredibly topical, and while the world Harrison painted did not come to light at the turn of the century, there is every possibility that it could still be waiting just out of sight.