My editor Dave asked me to “note why” Harry Harrison’s scenes in Deathworld are strong. I gave this some thought after listening to it on librivox.org. Here is my take on it;
First, I noticed that Harrison doesn’t use much verbose language. It is simple, direct, and to the point. Sort of “in your face” and seems to set a good tone for this very action packed, boom boom boom, drama that keeps coming at you; chapter after chapter. This could easily become a movie these days. Took a look at HH’s website and sure enough, seems someone has optioned it. The CGI guys are going to have a field day
I almost mistook this book for being written in the first person. The POV is from Jason, and we follow him from one scene to the next. Even without the First Person, It does not lead to any monotony at all, and I was quite impressed with the effect. It makes you feel like you are there.
To better understand the writing style, I looked at the book’s text as well. As expected, the sentences are fairly short, and Harrison seems to use many paragraph breaks for emphasis. I even saw something I was unfamiliar with. Single line paragraphs, that stand alone to break out some piece of the story for dramatic purposes. Here is one example in Chapter 3 that caught my eye;
“Wait-I can’t take it now, you’ll have to return in the morning, to the bank. In normal business fashion,” Ellus decided firmly.
Kerk reached over and gently drew the paper out of Ellus’ hand.
“Thanks for the receipt,” he said. “I won’t be here in the morning so this will be satisfactory. And if you’re worried about the money, I suggest you get in touch with some of your plant guards or private police. You’ll feel a lot safer.”
I myself would be tempted (or at least consider) to put “Kerk reached…” prior to his dialog and drop the, he said. However, I see that the dramatic effect of taking the check from Ellus’ had is greater by using a one sentence paragraph.
At other times though, the action is broke up into small paragraphs where the emphasis in on the end of the paragraph. Here is an example I found in chapter 22 when Jason flees for his life by escaping in a life pod;
Solid fuel launchers exploded and blasted the lifeboat clear of the parent ship. Their brief acceleration slammed Jason to the deck, then he floated as the boat went into free fall. The main-drive rockets didn’t fire.
In that moment Jason learned what it was like to know he was dead. Without fuel the boat would drop into the jungle below, falling like a rock and blasting apart when it hit. There was no way out.
The paragraphs are broken up and we have these nice “short” ending sentences that have a punch. I liked this effect and I remember it sounded good too when being read.