I finished reading The Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison and was really happy for having done so. This is a really fun book. It was first published in 1961 and that’s a picture of my copy. My copy is published by Pyramid Books. I actually looked this up: Pyramid Books is now known as Jove Books, which is a paperback publishing company, founded in 1949 by Almat Magazine Publishers. Jove is actually part of the Penguin Group of publishers. Anyway, this is the first in the Stainless Steel Rat series by Harrison.
There are a lot of reasons to love this novel. It’s written in the first person with a style and tone that makes the main character always seem as if instead of lecturing you, he’s having a casual conversation with you. Harrison has a light-hearted, witty, and fluid writing style in this novel that makes the pages turn quickly. The novel starts in media res with a robotic police officer arresting Jim DiGriz, who is in the middle of a robbery. Immediately, the reader finds a polished crook who has plenty of workable philosophical ideas on society and who, while committing crimes, avoids physically harming others. Right away in chapter two, on page 12, we learn why Jim DiGriz considers himself a “stainless steel rat.”
Wikipedia has this to say about Jim DiGriz, the charming anti-hero of this novel:
“He is charming and quick-witted, a master of disguise and martial arts, an accomplished bank robber, an expert on breaking and entering, and (perhaps most usefully) a skilled liar. A master of self-rationalization, the Rat frequently justifies his crimes by arguing that he is providing society with entertainment; and besides which, he only steals from institutions which have insurance coverage.”
In any case, after attempting another heist, DiGriz is actually caught and is maneuvered into working for the government. He joins the Special Corps, which is the elite law-enforcement and spy agency led by the former greatest crook in the Galaxy, Harold P. Inskipp (a.k.a. Inskipp the Uncatchable). DiGriz discovers that the organization is composed mostly of ex-criminals like himself, and he develops a unique friend/enemy relationship with Inskipp.
The rest of the novel involves some of DiGriz’s adventures chasing Angelina – on behalf of the Special Corps. He finds himself very attracted to her, but she is an inveterate criminal on par with DiGriz’s skills. Indeed, she always seems to be several steps ahead of DiGriz, which both frustrates and amuses him. The story is interesting and is something like reading Ocean’s 11 or The Italian Job, but in space with a bit of a fuzzy line between what a criminal is and what a hero is.
In chapter 6, DiGriz says something about sending a psigram about a theft. I like this concept of psigram – and I feel it has had a lot of derivatives since Harrison wrote it. For example, I immediately thought of the psykers in Warhammer 40k. This is a pretty neat little concept just tossed in the middle of the overall plot, but it’s a nice touch for a science fiction adventure story. I enjoyed the book and it was a fast read throughout, although the chapters taking place in Freibur did slow down a bit. Freibur is a planet on which DiGriz has caught up with Angelina and is trying to arrest her, so he involves himself in her own plot of trying to cause a revolution on the planet. These chapters were good, but I do feel they went on a bit too long. At the end of this section, I was somewhat disappointed with what I thought the ending/resolution was – until the last page! I read the last page and grinned at my paperback copy because the last few paragraphs fix everything and make me desperate to read the next in the series.