Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison

I picked up the Berkley-Medallion paperback of Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat in July, 1971. The book cost me 75 cents and it was worth every penny. Here was an irreverent and charming character that was a cross between Johnston McCulley’s Zorro and Baroness Emmuska Orczy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. Slippery Jim diGriz could change personalities in a flash, rob any bank he desired, and spew witticisms faster than William Shatner with a  bad script in his hand. At 160 pages, The Stainless Steel Rat is short by today’s standards; but, frankly, most of the hardcore science fiction on the market today is inflated both in content and price. The Stainless Steel Rat is a short novel that is vastly superior in construction than most (but admittedly, not all) of the titles being published by Baen or other big name groups. This is a novel that can be enjoyed for what it is; or it can be studied as an example of character development through a first-person narrative structure. Basically, it’s just a lot of fun. The larcenous Slippery Jim diGriz is recruited by The Special Corps, sort of an intergalactic police unit. When the former crook becomes a cop, things heat up and the pulp fiction slams into high gear. Harrison lays on the satire and action in equal doses. Harrison went on to write many other Stainless Steel Rat adventures, but this first one is still my favorite. Of the books that followed, I own The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, The Stainless Steel Rat is Born, The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!, and The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell. One day I do intend on tracking down copies of The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus, The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues, The Stainless Steel Rat For President and The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted. I can only guess at the quality at those latter titles, published after Harrison had enjoyed mass market success. Incidentally, I have been told that at least one of these books was published in Esperanto, the first modern constructed language. Kie oni parolas Esperanton? Well, Forest J. Ackerman told me years ago that more people are learning to speak Esperanto every year. Esperanto speakers are legion. Even Slippery Jim diGriz speaks Esperanto. Ni nomigas la mondon de la Esperanto parolantoj “Esperantio.” Nuff said.

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