The world is crowded. Far too crowded. Its starving billions live on lentils, soya beans, and —if they’re lucky—the odd starving rat.
In a New York City groaning under the burden of 35 million inhabitants, detective Andy Rusch is engaged in a desperate and lonely hunt for a killer everyone has forgotten. For even in a world such as this, a policeman can find himself utterly alone....
Acclaimed on its original publication in 1966, Make Room! Make Room! was adapted into the movie Soylent Green in 1973, starring Charlton Heston along with Edward G. Robinson in his last role.
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Harry Harrison, author of innumerable science fiction novels and stories, divides his time between Ireland and California.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The August sun struck in through the open window and burned on Andrew Rusch’s bare legs until discomfort dragged him awake from the depths of heavy sleep. Only slowly did he become aware of the heat and the damp and gritty sheet beneath his body. He rubbed at his gummed-shut eyelids, then lay there, staring up at the cracked and stained plaster of the ceiling, only half awake and experiencing a feeling of dislocation, not knowing in those first waking moments just where he was, although he had lived in this room for over seven years. He yawned and the odd sensation slipped away while he groped for the watch that he always put on the chair next to the bed, then he yawned again as he blinked at the hands mistily seen behind the scratched crystal. Seven . . . seven o’clock in the morning, and there was a little number 9 in the middle of the square window. Monday, the ninth of August, 1999—and hot as a furnace already, with the city still imbedded in the heat wave that had baked and suffocated New York for the past ten days. Andy scratched at a trickle of perspiration on his side, then moved his legs out of the patch of sunlight and bunched the pillow up under his neck. From the other side of the thin partition that divided the room in half there came a clanking whir that quickly rose to a high-pitched drone.
“Morning . . .” he shouted over the sound, then began coughing. Still coughing he reluctantly stood and crossed the room to draw a glass of water from the wall tank; it came out in a thin, brownish trickle. He swallowed it, then rapped the dial on the tank with his knuckles and the needle bobbed up and down close to the Empty mark. It needed filling, he would have to see to that before he signed in at four o’clock at the precinct. The day had begun.
A full-length mirror with a crack running down it was fixed to the front of the hulking wardrobe and he poked his face close to it, rubbing at his bristly jaw. He would have to shave before he went in. No one should ever look at himself in the morning, naked and revealed, he decided with distaste, frowning at the dead white of his skin and the slight bow to his legs that was usually concealed by his pants. And how did he manage to have ribs that stuck out like those of a starved horse, as well as a growing potbelly—both at the same time? He kneaded the soft flesh and thought that it must be the starchy diet, that and sitting around on his chunk most of the time. But at least the fat wasn’t showing on his face. His forehead was a little higher each year, but wasn’t too obvious as long as his hair was cropped short. You have just turned thirty, he thought to himself, and the wrinkles are already starting around your eyes. And your nose is too big—wasn’t it Uncle Brian who always said that was because there was Welsh blood in the family? And your canine teeth are a little too obvious so when you smile you look a bit like a hyena. You’re a handsome devil, Andy Rusch, and when was the last time you had a date? He scowled at himself, then went to look for a handkerchief to blow his impressive Welsh nose.
There was just a single pair of clean undershorts in the drawer and he pulled them on; that was another thing he had to remember today, to get some washing done. The squealing whine was still coming from the other side of the partition as he pushed through the connecting door.
“You’re going to give yourself a coronary, Sol,” he told the gray-bearded man who was perched on the wheelless bicycle, pedaling so industriously that perspiration ran down his chest and soaked into the bath towel that he wore tied around his waist.
“Never a coronary,” Solomon Kahn gasped out, pumping steadily. “I been doing this every day for so long that my ticker would miss it if I stopped. And no cholesterol in my arteries either since regular flushing with alcohol takes care of that. And no lung cancer since I couldn’t afford to smoke even if I wanted to, which I don’t. And at the age of seventy-five no prostatitis because . . .”
“Sol, please—spare me the horrible details on an empty stomach. Do you have an ice cube to spare?”
“Take two—it’s a hot day. And don’t leave the door open too long.”
Andy opened the small refrigerator that squatted against the wall and quickly took out the plastic container of margarine, then squeezed two ice cubes from the tray into a glass and slammed the door. He filled the glass with water from the wall tank and put it on the table next to the margarine. “Have you eaten yet?” he asked.
“I’ll join you, these things should be charged by now.”
Sol stopped pedaling and the whine died away to a moan, then vanished. He disconnected the wires from the electrical generator that was geared to the rear axle of the bike, and carefully coiled them up next to the four black automobile storage batteries that were racked on top of the refrigerator. Then, after wiping his hands on his soiled towel sarong, he pulled out one of the bucket seats salvaged from an ancient 1975 Ford, and sat down across the table from Andy.
“I heard the six o’clock news,” he said. “The Eldsters are organizing another protest march today on relief headquarters. That’s where you’ll see coronaries!”
“I won’t, thank God, I’m not on until four and Union Square isn’t in our precinct.” He opened the breadbox and took out one of the six-inch-square red crackers, then pushed the box over to Sol. He spread margarine thinly on it and took a bite, wrinkling his nose as he chewed. “I think this margarine has turned.”
“How can you tell?” Sol grunted, biting into one of the dry crackers. “Anything made from motor oil and whale blubber is turned to begin with.”
“Now you begin to sound like a naturist,” Andy said, washing his cracker down with cold water. “There’s hardly any flavor at all to the fats made from petrochemicals and you know there aren’t any whales left so they can’t use blubber—it’s just good chlorella oil.”
“Whales, plankton, herring oil, it’s all the same. Tastes fishy. I’ll take mine dry so I don’t grow no fins.” There was a sudden staccato rapping on the door and he groaned. “Not yet eight o’clock and already they are after you.”
“It could be anything,” Andy said, starting for the door.
“It could be but it’s not, that’s the callboy’s knock and you know it as well as I do and I bet you dollars to doughnuts that’s just who it is. See?” He nodded with gloomy satisfaction when Andy unlocked the door and they saw the skinny, bare-legged messenger standing in the dark hall.
“What do you want, Woody?” Andy asked.
“I don’ wan’ no-fin,” Woody lisped over his bare gums. Though he was in his early twenties he didn’t have a tooth in his head. “Lieutenan’ says bring, I bring.” He handed Andy the message board with his name written on the outside.
Andy turned toward the light and opened it, reading the lieutenant’s spiky scrawl on the slate, then took the chalk and scribbled his initials after it and returned it to the messenger. He closed the door behind him and went back to finish his breakfast, frowning in thought.
“Don’t look at me that way,” Sol said, “I didn’t send the message. Am I wrong in guessing it’s not the most pleasant of news?”
“It’s the Eldsters, they’re jamming the Square already and the precinct needs reinforcements.”
“But why you? This sounds like a job for the harness bulls.”
“Harness bulls! Where do you get that medieval slang? Of course they need patrolmen for the crowd, but there have to be detectives there to spot known agitators, pickpockets, purse-grabbers and the rest. It’ll be murder in that park today. I have to check in by nine, so I have enough time to bring up some water first.”
Andy dressed slowly in slacks and a loose sport shirt, then put a pan of water on the windowsill to warm in the sun. He took the two five-gallon plastic jerry cans, and when he went out Sol looked up from the TV set, glancing over the top of his old-fashioned glasses.
“When you bring back the water I’ll fix you a drink—or do you think it is too early?”
“Not the way I feel today, it’s not.”
The hall was ink black once the door had closed behind him and he felt his way carefully along the wall to the stairs, cursing and almost falling when he stumbled over a heap of refuse someone had thrown there. Two flights down a window had been knocked through the wall and enough light came in to show him the way down the last two flights to the street. After the damp hallway the heat of Twenty-fifth Street hit him in a musty wave, a stifling miasma compounded of decay, dirt and unwashed humanity. He had to make his way through the women who already filled the steps of the building, walking carefully so that he didn’t step on the children who were playing below. The sidewalk was still in shadow but so jammed with people that he walked in the street, well away from the curb to avoid the rubbish and litter banked high there. Days of heat had softened the tar so that it gave underfoot, then clutched at the soles of his shoes. There was the usual line leading to the columnar red water point on the corner of Seventh Avenue, but it broke up with angry shouts and some waved fists just a...
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