The novel The Stainless Steel Rat actually comprises of a novellas The Stainless Steel Rat and The Misplaced Battleship which were then rounded out with additional material completing the story. Perhaps inevitably the origins do show through in the flow of the story.
Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat is a career criminal. He’s not out to hurt people, he’s just out for himself. But “Slippery” Jim diGriz is outsmarted by the Special Corps who then extend an offer for him to join. The book then takes us through diGriz’s first mission for the Special Corps and his personal hunt for Angelina a more murderous echo of himself.
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Harry Harrison’s writing style in these books is lean. Stainless Steel Rat is an action story and Harrison doesn’t waste time with the irrelevant. As a result this is a quick and entertaining read. It’s hard not to like diGriz and his unrepentant criminal ways. Angelina is a little more problematic though.
She’s a murderer and the stories efforts to present her in a sympathetic light in the latter half of the book just don’t sit quite right with me. Since the character plays a significant role in future stories, I’ll be interested to see how she is handled.
The Stainless Steel Rat was published in 1961 and the two short stories were originally published in the 1950s so you won’t be surprised if I say that some of the science here is outdated. There is something quaintly anachronistic about faster than light travel combined with computers that use punch cards.
However Harrison is smart enough to avoid the worst pitfalls. First he sets his protagonist in a universe that has undergone some sort of societal collapse and is slowly re-integrating. This allows for a real mixture of tech levels without pushing the suspension of disbelief too far. Second he injects the entire proceedings with an almost fantastical air that makes the science secondary at best to the escapades of his protagonist.
It’s not hard to see why The Stainless Steel Rat has such a loyal following. A likeable rogue as the central character, a storyline that doesn’t worry too much about the details and just gets straight on with the action and a distinct pulp/noir feel to the whole scenario. It’s a winning formula.eoghann.com..