Michail Akhmanov

Harry Harrison - our Russian writer

The article was written in October 2008 and supplemented in December 2012

No doubt, Harry Harrison is a member of the Russian fantasy fiction community; he regularly comes to our "convents" and, as competent literary critics have informed me, is even more popular with Russian readers than with American ones. We are very fond of him. As early as in the Soviet period his novel "Deathworld" was included in "The Library of Modern Fantasy" (1965-1973) - a most honorary edition. The only English writing authors represented there by their full-size novels were Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, Simak, Wyndham and, naturally, our Harry Harrison. We have proved that we estimate him as highly as these authors, maybe even higher, for nobody in Russia has written sequels to "Goblin Reservation" by Simak or "Foundation" by Asimov, while Harrison's "Deathworld" has had as many as four "offsprings".

I first met Harrison in 1998 or 1999 at one of the "Interpresscon" convents which are held annually in the environs of St Petersburg. We even were photographed together, though Harrison could hardly imagine that a person next to him was Mikhail Akhmanov, his future co- author. As for me, I had no idea of it as well. At this convent I had an opportunity to listen to the talk he gave and I was impressed by the formula of a mutually beneficial exchange between him and the Russians: "I write books and you read them. You make vodka and I drink it". I admired the depth of his thought.

But in a year or two the cultural exchange was treated in a broader sense: "Eksmo", the largest publishing house in Russia, stroke a contract with Harrison enabling Russian authors to supplement the "Deathworld" series with four sequels whose title pages were to bear two names: Harrison and the name of a Russian author. To put it plainly, Harrison sold his name. I happened to read angry comments about it on the Internet, saying it does not befit such a high-profile figure as Harrison with his popularity among fantasy fans. In my opinion, nobody can blame him: the author has the right to dispose of his books, his name and his fame. As for me, I am grateful to Harrison for the opportunity to continue his "Deathworld" series, my favorite among his books.

The story ran as follows. As far as I remember, in year 1997 Leonid Shkurovich,, the head of the "Eksmo" fantasy department, suggested that I took part in a project, the essence of which was to remain a secret until I gave my consent. Being too busy at that period, I declined, which

I have been regretting ever since. Mr. Shkurovich wanted to do good to me and many readers and I missed the hit.

In due time, I met Mr. Shkurovich again and this time the subject of our discussion was more definite. By then three sequels of the original Deathworls series had already been written, published and sold out, their success diminishing with each new book. I perused these three novels, saw it was sloppy work (nonsense) and decided that I was not able to continue the results of Harrison-Skalandis collaboration. The publishers granted me a favor - they agreed with my idea to base the new sequel on Harrison's original work. Thus, the novel "Deathworld. Aliens in mind" came into being. While writing this book I had no contacts with Mr. Harrison and could not draw on his advice, but I tried to preserve and convey the spirit of his books. I am very glad that my novel was a success. I'd like to remind that "Eksmo" issued "Deathworld. Aliens in mind" in 2001-2003, it had three printings, 32 000 copies in total, but has not been published since.

Naturally, after considering the history of this book I decided that it would be good to introduce it to Mr. Harrison. My good friend Maria Zhukova, a philologist in full command of English, translated half the novel and I handed it over to Mr. Harrison during his visit to "Eurocon-2008", the convent which took place in May 2008 in Moscow. .

At this convent, Harry Harrison gave a press-conference which brought together about three hundred people. Mr. Harrison, aged 83, with his interpreters settled on the stage of a large hall and kept answering questions for more than an hour and a half. I admired his energy: he moved with some difficulty, of course, but he gave his witty answers loudly and clearly, and talked his interpreters. into exhaustion. I will not discuss the questions and answers, but there was a funny episode I would recall.. Harrison did not like a question asked, it seems, by a very obnoxious lady, so not rising from his chair he stretched out his hand in a majestic manner and announced: "From there - no more questions!" He could have said: "Shut up, lady!" as well. Indeed, he was not soft on his audience.

As the curtain fell, Mr. Harrison started signing his books. Our booksellers offered the most expensive editions and they sold like hot cakes. People with packs of books rushed to the stage and made a long line. Harrison worked hard, after signing books for half an hour he decided to move into a large room next to the hall, where tables and armchairs were arranged. Harrison and his interpreter took their seats, behind them stood people with cameras and I as his co-author.

The queue did not get any shorter because people in it wanted Harrison to sign at least several books purchased for themselves, their friends and their neighbours. I admired Harrison's stamina and his respect of the reader: in the most conservative estimation he signed about a thousand books that day. And he did not simply put his signature, but asked for the addressee's name, had it translated into English and only then wrote it on the white page. He was obviously tired out, but while people with his books were coming up he remained where he was.

One of the last to approach Garrison was a funny looking young photographer. "How shall I sign it?" - Mr. Harrison asks. - "To Behemoth", - he says looking at Harrison as fondly as one could looks at his beloved grandma. Harrison did not understand and repeated the question. "Hippopotamus", - explained the interpreter, but the seeker of autograph, though impatient to get it, shook his head violently. "No, not Hippopotamus. Behemoth. Be- he-moth. This is my nickname". So Harrison signed the book, spelling Behemoth as Begemot (the Russian transliteration) letter by letter. The guy was thrilled to bits, he leaned over the table and kissed Harrison on both cheeks. "You are ours!", - he kept repeating, tears in his eyes. People with cameras first were taking these pictures with enthusiasm, then did their best to pull the guy away from Harry Harrison whom he would not leave.

About an hour passed, the autographs were done with, and I handed over my typescript to Harrison. He was very tired, but he seemed to be really interested, took the text, disk and note with my address. He said he would absolutely read it, but to my regret, I have not received any response from him. There could be hundreds of reasons: maybe in the last years of his life he did not have time for me, as when one is over eighty, health problems are unavoidable. I am not upset with his silence. If I live to his age (which I sincerely hope for), I am going to write quite a few books in these twenty years and I will try not to offend people who read English only.

Recently I received heavy news from my friend Robert Silverberg: he informed me that Harry Harrison had passed away. Silverberg wrote to me that Harry Harrison was his first publisher and they were friends for sixty years.

Tempus fugit...

Captions to photographs

1. Harry Harrison at the "Eurocon-2008" convent, May 2007, hotel "Lesnye Dali", Moscow area

2, 2a. Harry Harrison signing his books

3. Harry Harrison and Mikhail Akhmanov

4. Mikhail Akhmanov waiting to present Harry Harrison their co-authored book

5. The interpreter explains to Harry Harrison that Akhmanov's gift is "Deathworld. Aliens in mind" in English

6. Harry Harrison, the typescript in hand, promises to read it.