The Stainless Steel Rat

Posted: July 29, 2015 in Book reviews
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By Harry Harrison


Last year I inherited the first seven Stainless Steel Rat books, so even though I have read a few over the years, I thought I’d take the chance to read through them all in order, starting with the first appearance of the master criminal turned secret agent, Slippery Jim diGriz. Technically the book came out in 1961, but the initial chapters were apparently published in 1957 as a novella.

diGriz is a human living thousands of years in the future. In a universe where anyone with criminal tendencies tends to be identified at birth and reeducated he has somehow managed to slip through the net, crime does still exist in the future; there are just far fewer criminals.

diGriz is as adept at con artistry as he is bank robbery, in fact pretty much the only crime he won’t commit is murder. After pulling an audacious crime on one planet however, he is captured. He expects psycho surgery and behavior modification, but instead he is recruited by an organization called the Special Corps, a crime fighting body made up of ex criminals. Soon he’s on his way to stop a villain every bit as devious as him, and a damn sight more ruthless, a villain with their own battleship…

With its pulpy prose and slender page count The Stainless Steel Rat is very much a product of its time, but I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. Nowadays the book would probably be required to be twice as long, and people would likely expect more depth to the characters and the world building, but the nowadays version might not be nearly as much fun.

As a character diGriz is refreshingly free of angst, he’s a free spirit in a universe that’s more than a little humdrum, and he sees his escapades as brightening up the days of the ordinary man and woman on the street. Harrison doesn’t waste time navel gazing, which gives the novel a frantic pace as diGriz leaps from one crisis to another. Sure sometimes it would be nice to know a little bit more about his backstory, and yes at times every planet seems awfully similar to the last (which may be the point) but it’s the nature of pulp novels to scrimp on the detail sometimes.

With its gun battles and smoke bombs, cunning disguises and unexplained Faster than Light interstellar travel this isn’t remotely hard science fiction but given the era it harkened from that’s another thing to be grateful for. The Stainless Steel Rat is a fun little romp and I enjoyed its space-operatic shenanigans, witty dialogue and a central character it’s hard not to like.

Lightweight fluff it may be, but it’s really good lightweight fluff! Now if you could just direct me to the first bank of Nizblizzett please, me and my .75 caliber recoilless want to make a withdrawal.…

  1. I really need to go back and read some of these – I tried them as a young teen and didn’t like them, but suspect i’m more capable of appreciating them now.

  2. Kibbin says:

    I’ve just started reading the first one myself, I like how light it is on sci-fi. This isn’t some thought experiment about the dullness of a perfectly calculated future or if it is it fails to account for the some of the things that we know today are bad for you. In this pristine future you can smoke a cigar before breakfast and have scotch on your cornflakes without anyone batting an eyelid.
    Very fun though the serial nature of it does show through a little bit at times.

  3. […] But don’t just take my word for it. […]

  4. […] quite a gap between them, given than Harrison published this around 1970 and the first book (which I reviewed here) came out almost a decade […]

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