The Deathworld Trilogy Critical Essays

Harry Harrison


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Deathworld books suffer unfairly the stigma of being “only” adventure novels. They were written to Astounding Science-Fiction editor John W. Campbell, Jr.’s specifications and were hugely popular when they first appeared. Deathworld, Harry Harrison’s first published novel, appeared five years before Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), which is widely regarded as the first science-fiction novel to deal with the entire ecology of an alien planet. Wittier than the humorless Dune, Deathworld also preaches the important message that people come to resemble their enemies.

Far from being a cartoonish arena appropriate only for an unthinking blazing-guns romp, the Pyrran ecology can be seen as the lengthiest exploration ever undertaken of the “pathetic fallacy,” the ascription of human emotions to the environment, as in the phrase “the cruel sea.” Harrison demonstrates on a planetary scale how “inner space” influences outward reality: The colonists’ own emotions make their world a hell.

Similarly, in Deathworld 2, Jason lands first on what appears to be a plain by the sea. When he attempts to escape his slavery there he suddenly encounters gullies and ravines that the text had not prepared readers for, foreshadowing the dark, twisting, deceptive nature of the world. He then travels through two likewise appropriate settings, a desert that seems to symbolize the barrenness of...

(The entire section is 577 words.)