Completed 6/28/2014, Reviewed 6/30/2014
I chose “The Stainless Steel Rat” because I felt it was one of those classic SF books that I should read. Besides, one of my favorite blogs right now is called “Stainless Steel Dropping”. So I figured I really needed to get that reference, as well as to see what all the fuss was about. I was a bit worried I was going to get standard space opera. What I found was an incredibly well-written, darkly-comic tale of a gruff but lovable anti-hero. I was hooked at the first page.
Slippery Jim diGriz is a premier thief and con artist in a future where there is almost no crime. For years, he has eluded the authorities until one day, he slips up and is caught. Rather than the usual mine-wipe punishment, he is “persuaded” to join the Special Corp, which consists of former criminal masterminds like him. Who better to capture criminals than those who already think like criminals. His first mission is investigate the possible construction of an illegal warship, which he himself uncovered. Soon he’s on the trail of devious criminal who appears bent on starting an interplanetary terror spree.
The story is told in first person. I think that’s what hooked me so quickly. Unlike other contemporary space operas, the narration creates an immediacy and intimacy with haughty, cigar-chomping Slippery Jim and his exploits that could otherwise be horribly melodramatic. The plot allows for ample opportunity to turn soapy, but Harrison’s wry perspective keeps it fresh and fast-paced. Throughout the book, there were echoes of James Bond’s wit and Han Solo’s swagger in the character of diGriz.
The book was written the year I was born, and gives me a run for my money on how well it holds up for being over fifty years old. The computers still use punch cards. However, there’s an ESP-based immediate intergalactic communications system. While the “psi-“ concept is very old-school SF, this device made me think of the LeGuin ansible, On the softer side of the SF, we’re supposed to be surprised that diGriz’s quarry is a woman. But it doesn’t really end up being that much of an issue. Of more importance in the plot is the understanding and anticipation of the criminal mind. That’s what makes the book so exciting, diGriz using his own experience and thought processes to second guess his prey.
This was a fun read. I think it’s a must for anyone who wants to explore the classic period of SF genre. I hope to get to a few more in the series in the near future. Four stars.