Or should that be who is…..
See until I actually read the thing I assumed that the Stainless Steel rat was a ship in the same vain as the Millennium Falcon. Now sure Harry Harrison got there in 1961 which pre-dates Star Wars by a couple of years but you never know. Wibbly wobbly and all that. But no the question is who is………….
Anyway where was I? Oh yes the book. No in fact the Stainless Steel Rat is in fact Jimmy diGriz a con man and opportunist operating in the distant future. Mankind has colonized the stars, formed an Empire and then watched it crumble to the ground. But don’t worry we’re making a come back apparently and the fact that we’re ordering around robots and able to screen out any potential nasties and undesirables at birth means that everything is going quite well for us as a species. But not everybody is caught by the early screenings and occasionally the odd troubled soul slips through.
Jimmy is one such soul using his quick wit and every ones assumption that the person next to them is a generally decent sort, to pull off con after con. Setting up factories to resell stolen tinned goods, hijack shipments and other such things are taken in stride giving Jimmy the thrill of the chase, the money to live by all before moving on to the next mark before anyone gets wise. Or occasionally after someone gets wise.
We get to see two such cases before things go south and Jimmy meets his match.
For there is a corp set up to catch such criminals as Jimmy diGriz and they do so by using proverb and adage, fight fire with fire. See the corps is staffed by ex-cons using their own wit and intellect to out manoeuvre folks like diGriz. Once in their custody Jimmy has few options, one is to join them and help them in their quest to rid the galaxy of people like himself, another is life imprisonment and the last is to have his mind erased and replaced with a more gentle disposition.
Jimmy unsurprisingly takes the first option and after a glossed over training period he is given his first case. Well he kind of takes it without caring what those around him think but still it beats sitting through the debriefing scene.
It seems that a small back water planet is building a cruiser in their dockyards, the only problem is that it looks rather similar to an Imperial battle ship, an old design not seen any more and with enough power to destroy an entire planet. It is up to diGriz to go and see who is running this long game and to what end.
Okay I’m a little unsure how far to take this synopsis as the book I read is technically three stories about the life and times of Jimmy diGriz all coming from the pulp adventure magazines of old. They work well together though you can easily tell where one leaves off and another begins. That being said the main threat of the book doesn’t come in till about the half way mark and there are a number of twists and turns to try and keep you guessing, or more likely to make you come back for the next ‘thrilling instalment’.
Slightly related to this is the notion that though this is sci-fi don’t go expecting anything too deep and I think that’s why I liked it so much. See this a future that has strived to eradicate crime and has more or less done so by screening people at birth and forcibly altering those that do not conform. Yet this isn’t some introspective thought piece of human freedom versus liberty. Humans seem a much more docile species than we are used to and yet the writer doesn’t think twice about them smoking cigars and pouring scotch on their corn flakes. The idea of being mentally rewritten scares Jim but only because the current Jim thinks that will be quite boring.
Likewise the tech on display is a curious mix of future advanced and slightly out of date. Robots are general all purpose machines that can do whatever the plot demands and fall short when ever needed though it was nice to see the “Human Empire” realizing that they can’t give them out willy nilly for fear of affecting the workforce of a given world. These extra little details sprinkled about help to flesh out the world a little more and stop it ever feeling truly two dimensional.
Now the series comes from the fifties so don’t go expecting an overly politically correct novel but having said that I didn’t see too much in any of the deadly -ism’s here and any you do stumble across can be written off as following a con man and a thief who might not, despite being the main protaganist, be the nicest person the galaxy has ever seen. Think of him like Harry Dresden, except robbing people, and you won’t be too far off. Now that might not suit everyone but it suits me and I think this is a great, light, fun little slice of pulp from the days when men were real men.