Tag Archive: Peter Elson

spacer [ˈspeɪsə] n,  3. (Astronautics) a person who travels in outer space

Mechanismo Spaceport, by Jim Burns

The humble spacer. Possibly one of the most enduring of science fiction/space opera character archetypes. The Han Solos and Chewbaccas, the Malcolm Reynolds, Pyanfar Chanurs, Ace Garps, Commander Jamesons, Baltechs, Ellen Ripleys and many others while not always heroes they seem to capture the imagination more than most. Average Joes doing their average work in extraordinary ways and with exceptional skill. They know what a hydro-wrench is (and isn’t) for and won’t take shite if someone says otherwise. They can repair a hyperdrive assembly in a few minutes with paperclips, but can’t fix a coffee machine worth a damn.  They know what they know well and thanks to them, they’re responsible for many an SF novel or story.

A worn-out, semi-shady, yet good natured space freighter crew is almost a cliche to me. It occurs frequently as a plot facilitator or lynchpin of the story. There’s been as a many variations on the theme as there are authors. Out and out smugglers, like Han Solo/Chewbacca, borderline freedom fighters like the crew of the Serenity, grungy truckers like the Nostromo crew in Alien, even socially deranged peeps on Red Dwarf. For every story there is a slight variant with a schtick.   But why? You’d think that in the far future, when we have reliable and frequent space travel, there’d be far more interesting jobs out there to do. So why does it, at many times, come back to the “spacer?”

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I’m usually not one to write eulogies for people I don’t know personally, but I have to admit that the news that Harry Harrison had died struck me very hard. Who was Harry? Well, to a lot of people he was the SF writer that influenced people yet they didn’t know his name. He wrote “Soylent Green”, or rather the novel it was based on “Make room, make room!” But to me, he was the author of the Stainless Steel Rat books.

Reading “The Stainless Steel Rat saves the world”, on loan from a good childhood friend, was literally the thing that made me think I could create worlds rather than just reading about them. After finishing that, I read every HH book I could get my hands on: all of Deathworld, Bill the Galactic Hero, Technicolour Time Machine, West of Eden… And of course, every Rat book. I think I slowed down at “A Stainless Steel Rat is Born” simply because it brought the series full circle. Harry’s writing had soul: his pulpy style of writing (and I mean that as an honorific) was fun, fast paced and respected. He knew how to have fun writing, like the grenade dispenser in “The Stainless Steel Rat wants you”… Yep, the tail… Of a dinosaur costume… 😉

Harry’s work was part of a perfect storm for me. It dovetailed with my teenage imagination at the same time I was heavily into the Traveller SF RPG and it led me to learn Esperanto and ultimately put pen to paper writing SF and Fantasy. Even as an artist he influenced me; through his books, I discovered Jim Burns artwork, which in turn influenced my art and writing (specifically his Mechanismo paintings and Planet Story, still influencing me today in the form of my novel).

Harry had a long and amazing career and published his last Rat book only two years ago. While i don’t think he was awarded the title Grand Master of SF, he was one in my eyes.

Sir, you deserve your break! I hope to meet you on the flip side, if there is one. /tips hat

If you want to honor him, go read his books.

Image Credit: the pioneering SF artist Peter Elson for Sphere Books, also sadly missed.

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