I chose to read Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel Make Room! Make Room!, primarily because it hits close to home with my fear and hatred of crowded places, but also because I think the book is quite relevent to our recent discussion of global warming, human consumption, and environmental change.
The author, Harry Harrison, was born in Stanford Connecticut in 1925, and died on August 15, 2012 at the age of 87. He was drafted into the military at the age of 18, where he worked with secret military computers, as an armourer and gunnery instructor, and as a sergeant and military policeman. His experience in the military left him with a hatred for war and the military in general. Harrison got his inspiration for the book from reading scientific journals about the threat of overpopulation and through his own research on the topic, and the book itself later served as inspiration for the 1973 film Soylent Green.
The book takes place in a dystopian (what was then) future, in the year 1999, in New York City. In the book, the characters live in a hot, barren, crowded and poisoned earth created as a result of human consumption and an unchecked population growth. The poor mostly live out on the streets, or if they’re very lucky, in crowded tiny apartments that are poorly maintained and falling apart. They get only a limited, unreliable electrical supply during the day, which shuts off at night. Since is not enough farm land to grow enough food for everyone, and not enough jobs to go around to pay for it even if there was, they get rationed out food and water from the government as welfare, the food mostly being either seaweed, plankton, or small fish which is either canned, pressed into crackers, or pressed into “steaks”, the latter of which is rare and highly sought after among the poor.
The rich, on the other hand, lived in a walled-up community, have limitless electrical power, and expensive but still not really limited amounts of water. They even have access to actual meat, vegetables, and even beer and whiskey, albeit in highly expensive and limited amounts.
The increased population seemed to decrease the value of human life, crime was incredibly rampant, especially murders, burglaries and prostitution, most of which cases the police don’t even bother to investigate, and the prettier women were basically used as accessories for rich men.
Regarding the economics of the situation, it is interesting to note that the value of currency has deflated rather than inflated, to a point where $20 can show you who are the have’s and the have-not’s (of course, resources like meat are still at inflated price due to scarcity). Presumably this is a product of a shrinking economy as more space is allocated to residential use and less to industry/farmland; there would be no point in printing more money because the limited resources simply can’t be spread any thinner. It suggests industry had become so productive that it destroyed itself from the products of its production (which polluted the earth and caused massive population growth), which is somewhat similar to what environmentalists are saying will happen to our fossil fuel industry, and what did happen to our farming industry back during the dust bowl.