Harry Harrison

 

The Stainless Steel Rat

 

I first enjoyed this decades ago, but thought I should re-read it before attempting a review. The reread wasnÕt a problem,  but unfortunately months have passed since IÕve had a chance to write about it, and the bookÕs largely fallen back into whatever bit of my memory it sat in before.

 

Slippery Jim Degris is a bit of a James Bond stereotype, sure, but Harrison is well aware of the conventions and is celebrating them. ItÕs not as easy as it looks, and a lot of writers get the humour, suspense and credibility mix wrong. Not so Harrison: the scenarios are ludicrous but often clever; it doesnÕt get too self-aware, nor does it take itself too seriously. It is just a bit of fun, but the core idea of a rat running about in a sanitised Star Trek future is appealing. I was actually disappointed this second time around in noticing that Harrison doesnÕt stick with this idea: in contrast to the idea that crime (and excitement) have been essentially erased Š hence the justification for an intelligent non-violent criminal Šmost of the places Jim finds himself in are characterised by petty crime. Rather than Degris being qualitatively different Š which is the claim ŠitÕs sometimes more a difference of skill and scale.

 

I also felt a tension between the usual SF dismissal as unjustifiable that a government should reprogram a criminalÕs brain Š something abhorrent to Jim for himself Š and the happy ending of doing exactly the same thing to mass-murderer Angelina.  

 

Still, these are relatively minor criticisms.  Overall the classic character of a likeable, cunning thief is well-realised within a workable SF environment.

 

June 2007