Interstellar Troubleshooter Wants to Shoot the Trouble

Harry Harrison was an US illustrator, editor and Science Fiction writer. Harry was born Henry Maxwell Dempsey on March 12, 1925 in Stamford, Connecticut. Harry’s father changed the family name to Harrison soon after Harry was born (although Harry never knew that until he was 30 years old).

Harry was drafted into the “US Army Air Forces during World War II as a gunsight technician and as a gunnery instructor”. He eventually became a sharpshooter and a military policeman although he also developed a lifelong distrust of generals and hatred of the military (which often comes across in his Science Fiction stories).

After the war, Harry Harrison studied art at Hunter College in New York. He “began his career as a commercial artist about 1946, working chiefly in comics as an illustrator and writer”. He also freelanced and sold illustrations to magazines in a variety of genres. In the 1950s and 1960s, Harry was the main writer of the Flash Gordon newspaper comic strip. He also edited several magazines under the pen names of Wade Kaempfert and Philip St. John.

Harry Harrison’s first short story “Rock Diver” was published in the February 1951 issue of Worlds Beyond. Harry’s short story “The Stainless Steel Rat”, introducing his most memorable character, Slippery Jim DiGriz aka the Stainless Steel Rat, was published in 1957 in Astounding Science-Fiction.  

 Harry Harrison spent many years of his life moving around. He lived in Mexico, England, Italy, Denmark, and Ireland. He learned Esperanto, the “constructed international auxiliary language”, out of sheer boredom when he was in the military and later became an advocate for Esperanto. Many of his characters, such as the Stainless Steel Rat, are speakers of Esperanto.

Harry Harrison was “an extremely popular figure in the SF world, renowned for being amiable, outspoken and endlessly amusing.” He was best known for his later writing, “particularly his humorous and satirical Science Fiction” such as his two series, the Stainless Steel Rat books and the Bill, the Galactic Hero books. These books are action novels with a strong streak of humor “but they are also satirical, knowing, subversive, unapologetically anti-military, anti-authority and anti-violence.”

Harry never won a major genre award for any of his specific works but in 2004 he was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. In 2009, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America named him its 26th SFWA Grand Master.

Harry died in his Brighton, England apartment on August 15, 2012, at age 87, after a long illness.

Harry Harrison’s story, The Repairman, was first published in the February 1958 edition of Galaxy Science Fiction. It’s a short story, Amazon Kindle lists it as being 26 pages. The story rockets along nonstop from the moment our unnamed repairman says “I quit!”

Our poor repairman has an iron clad contract – or actually “a steel-and-vanadium-bound contract that you couldn’t crack with a molecular disruptor” and he has no choice but to head off to repair an ancient, 2000 year old, malfunctioning space beacon.

The hyperspace beacons must be kept in working order to ensure safe space travel:
“For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate fix. For long jumps, navigators use as many as seven or eight. So every beacon is important and every one has to keep operating. That is where I and the other trouble-shooters came in.”      

This is one of the earliest depictions of the hyperspace beacon, a concept that is pretty much considered commonplace in modern Science Fiction. But Harry Harrison was among the first to use the concept in his stories.

Our poor repairman also knows that:
“Hyperspace beacons are made to last forever—or damn close to it. When one of them breaks down, it is never an accident, and repairing the thing is never a matter of just plugging in a new part.”

So off our poor repairman goes. When he arrives at the location of the malfunctioning beacon he finds the repair job will be every bit as difficult as he feared:
“The image blinked, focused – and a great damn pyramid swam into view.”

Our repairman is not the only one nonplused by what he finds. The lizard-like natives are also a bit upset that their “Holy Waters” is not working:
“If the water was still there, the beacon was still there—inside the pyramid. The natives, who, of course, weren’t even mentioned by the idiots who constructed the thing, had built a nice heavy, thick stone pyramid around the beacon.”

“The summit of the stone pile was now covered with lizards of some type, apparently the local life-form. They had what looked like throwing sticks and arbalasts and were trying to shoot down the eye, a cloud of arrows and rocks flying in every direction.”

Unfortunately for our repairman, he can not simply have a “lizard fry” and then swoop in to repair the beacon – especially since there are “spy cells” on his ship that would rat him out and get him in trouble. So he must come up with a plan involving “diplomacy”.

This is a funny and fast paced story. Our repairman is a clever but long-suffering laborer who must work his way up to his actual goal without disturbing the native population too much. The story is loaded with action but, in line with author Harry Harrison’s anti-violence stand, the action is slick and inventive and not reliant on brute force. Our repairman is easily able to think on the run. Nothing phases him for long.

Years ago, I read and was a big fan of the Stainless Steel Rat series. But, over time, and amidst all the new books and authors coming out almost daily, I lost track of Harry Harrison. I was saddened to read that he had died just recently. But happily, several of his stories, like The Repairman, are available FREE in the Public Domain. So I will be able to enjoy re-discovering Science Fiction Grand Master Harry Harrison.

Pleas click this link to go to Feedbooks to download and read The Repairman by Harry Harrison.

Please click this link to go to Project Gutenberg. You can read The Repairman online or download it and read it in several versions.

Please click this link to go to the Internet Archive to listen to or download the LibriVox audio book recording of The Repairman. Two other stories, “Toy Shop” and “The Velvet Glove”, are included in this link.

Please click this link to go to LibriVox and listen to or download The Repairman as read by Phil Chenevert. Two other stories, “Toy Shop” and “The Velvet Glove”, are included in this link and also read by Phil Chenevert.

Please click this link to see other versions of The Repairman offered by LibriVox in collections with other stories.

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