It’s interesting when weird serendipity happens, and it certainly makes my job a lot easier as a writer, but just as I was thinking about the world population hitting 7 billion, I saw that Harry Harrison, the writer of Soylent Green, had passed away. Yes, it’s a sci-fi flick from 1973, but you hear a lot of people referring to it today.
We’ve written about Soylent Green before because it’s one of several end of the world sci-fi flicks Charlton Heston made, along with Planet of the Apes and The Omega Man, the second big screen adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.
With the world population hitting seven billion, especially as we’re trying to come out of the economic collapse, I’m willing to bet that more people will be looking back at Green for sociological clues.
For those who don’t know the film, it’s about over population in 2022, which was a long ways away back in 1973, and poor people are being turned into wafers called Soylent Green because food is a luxury only rich people can afford.
In Heston’s biography, he wrote that Green was his only “message” movie, although the end of Planet of the Apes sure packed a wallop, and the famed actor also wrote, “I strongly believe that over-population is by far the gravest problem the world faces…I’m very proud of the film and delighted by its success.”
Soylent Green wasn’t the only sci-fi flick of the time concerned with over population, there was also ZPG (Zero Population Growth) in 1972, and The Last Child, a 1971 TV movie starring Ed Asner where couples are only allowed to have one baby, and a family has to flee over the border to Canada to have another child.
As for Harry Harrison, he obviously wasn’t as well known in the world of sci-fi as say Ray Bradbury or Phillip Dick, but he does have a cult following, and in fact, a friend of mine recently raved to me about his short story, The Stainless Steel Rat, which the L.A. Times said was his “best known work,” although I’m willing to bet more people are aware of Soylent Green, which was originally called Make Room! Make Room!
Harrison wrote the story in 1966, and he also spoofed Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers with Bill the Galactic Hero. And funny enough, as I learned in the New York Times obit of Harrison, the idea that poor people were turned into Soylent Green was an addition made to the movie that Harrison didn’t come up with.
In the book Soylent Green was made of soybeans and lentils, and Harrison was disgusted with the idea of people having to eat each other to survive. Obviously having to go vegan instead of going cannibal is a much more sensible solution, but in the movies it makes a more dire warning to the audience.