Planet of the Damned 
by Harry Harrison

 

 

Planet of the Damned
"Planet of the Damned"

 

We decided to a go a little pulpy in this week's installment of "Free Reading".  When I was in middle school, I remember reading the "Stainless Steel Rat" series on a bean bag chair in the cubby of my creative writing class.  I discovered it in an old green milk crate of books that had been earmarked for donation.  I didn't understand, at the time, the significance of Harrison's contributions to Science Fiction.  In truth, I mistook the sappy and obvious humor of the books as some anachronistic writing methodology.  As an adult I came to understand that it was an unsubtle means of relaying satire.  Harrison was good at tearing down institutions and portrayals of institutions using the portayals themselves.  

Harrison started his career as an illustrator for EC Comics' "Weird Fantasy" and "Weird Science" two of that publishers' science fiction comics.  Later, in the 60s and 70s he would become the primary contributor to the "Flash Gordon" comic strip.  At one point he even ghost wrote an installment of the famous British series "The Saint".  My personal favorite came along in the 60s when he wrote "Make room! Make room!" which was adapted for film as "Soylent Green".  More of Harrisons' indictments on institutions and social behaviors that he found absurd are evident in both the film and the book.  If you have time I highly recommend both, in no particular order.


Harrison was known, as I mentioned previously, for using satire and science fiction to point out the absurdity of institutions.  In particular, he had an axe to grind with the military.  Many assume this was due to having been drafted during World War II.  "Bill, the Galactic Hero" is believed to be a direct satire of Robert Heinlein's "Starship Troopers".  

This week we are offering a free download of Harrison's work "Planet of the Damned".  It's one of the darker and somewhat less satirical works of Harrisons, and its also a bit more pulpy.  It takes place on a distant world where the inhabitants participate in something called "The Twenties" in order to cope with extreme swings in weather conditions.  The Twenties are a fitness challenge reminiscent of Takami Koushoun's "Battle Royale" or Suzanne Collins "Hunger Games".  The winner of The Twenties gets approached by a previous winner to undertake a mission to a distant and desolate planet, whose inhabitants are threatening the inhabitants of another nearby planet with nuclear destruction if they don't surrender.  It sounds like a pretty straight forward space adventure novel, but there are a few twists and turns that defy that expectation.  Despite it's comparative pulpiness, it a fun read and no less thoughtful than many of Harrison's other works.  You can download your free copy of "Planet of the Damned" below.

Planet of the Damned