Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison was made into the classic, some would say camp classic, 1973 Charlton Heston movie Soylent Green. In those days, before the advent of widespread, cheap special effects, science fiction movies were about ideas instead of spaceships and strange looking creatures. The movie is much better than its reputation–I rewatched it this year and found it holds up fairly well. The book, which is widely different from the movie, holds up fairly well, too. Both have components that have become dated, but the overall message, a plea to act soon to avoid environmental catastrophe, is still a pertinent one.
Make Room! Make Room! is a classic police procedural set in a dystopian future. Detective Andy Rusch is called on to investigate the murder of a very wealthy man, apparently the victim of an attempted robbery that went very wrong. The victim, lived with his beautiful “girlfriend” in one of the few functioning high rise apartments left in New York City. Det. Rusch lives on one of the upper floors in a broken down tenement building without water and power that function only rarely. He shares his apartment with Sol, an older man who lives as much in his memories as he does in the present. Det. Rusch’s building is overwhelmed nightly by squatters who camp out on the stairways, the only space in the city they can find for shelter.
People do eat Soylent products in Make Room! Make Room! but they are all made out of beans in the novel. Instead of talking the reader down that rabbit hole, Make Room! Make Room! follows a more ordinary plot line– the detective works to solve a hopeless case, he becomes involved with the victim’s girl, the case opens up windows on the corruption of society as a whole and on certain parts of the government in particular, then it all kind of fizzles out. It’s much more like The Long Goodbye or Chinatown than it is like Soylent Green.
Books like Make Room! Make Room! are often much more a reflection on the societal worries of their time than they are on a potential future. Once society has moved on to other problems, interest in books of this genre tends to fade away. I have been reading many of them lately and finding that I quite like them. They do provide entertaining reading and they provide an interesting glimpse into history; it’s fun to see what people in the past thought our lives today would be like. Well, sometimes it’s fun.
If you’ve never seen Soylent Green here’s the trailer for it. See if you can guess the secret of Soylent Green.
I first ran this review on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2009. I’m still moving all of my old reviews over to this new blog. I’m almost up to 2010. I used to read and review three or four books a week. I have to say that looking at this trailer today, Soylent Green looks a lot cheesier than I remember it being. I did like the book quite a bit.