Sunday, April 24, 2016

A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born - Harry Harrison

   1985; 219 pages.  New Author? : Yes.  Genre : Science Fiction; Humor & Satire.  Book #1 (or Book #6) in the 12-book Stainless Steel Rat series.  Overall Rating : 8*/10.

    James Bolivar “Slippery Jim” diGriz.  A name feared throughout the galaxy.  Well, maybe not by everyone.  But at least by every bank, jewelry store, and owner of any other merchandise that’s worth stealing.

    But how and where did this thief extraordinaire get his start?  Surely he didn't spring from the womb skilled in the art of purloining.  Someone almost certainly mentored him in the art of light-fingered lifting.

    And there’s got to be a story behind his moniker.  The Stainless Steel Rat.

What’s To Like...
    The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born is set in the 25th century, on a planet called Bit O’Heaven that, legend has it, was originally colonized by settlers from some faraway planet called “Dirt”.  Young Jim diGriz is a thief with ambition, and wants to be further tutored on his craft from the best there is, so he deliberately allows himself to be caught robbing a bank in order to go to prison and find a guru (where else would you find one?).  Needless to say, things do not go as planned.

    The story is written in the first-person POV (Jim’s), and in a jaded, witty, and anti-hero style.  The chapters are short, and each one ends with a teaser.  I liked that.  There aren’t a lot of characters to follow, although keeping track of the capos got a bit confusing at times.  The story is written in “English” (tonnes, etc.), not “American”, and I always enjoy that.

    There are only two worlds to visit, Bit O’Heaven and Spiovente; but I suspect there will be a bunch more before this series is over.  The world-building is very good, especially Bit O’Heaven, where we spend the first 125 pages or so.  Harrison seems to relish in creating a plethora of details to heighten the scene-setting.  If the Police Floaters seem a bit been-there-seen-that, the fearsome porcuswine are not, and the culinary experience at your local McSwiney’s is a delight not to be missed.  Then there are the Boy Sprouts and the Black Monks.

    All of this makes for an easy, although not necessarily quick read, with the emphasis on lighthearted entertainment, not epic space opera.  We’ll learn to be “Citizens of the Outside” alongside Jim, which means we answer to a higher calling, and never refer to ourselves as “criminals” or “crooks”.

Kewlest New Word. . .
Doss (v.) : to sleep in rough or inexpensive accommodations.  A Britishism.
Others : Skrink (v.); Fillip (n.)

    “Get knotted yourself, toe-cheese.  My monicker is Jim.  What’s yours?”
    I wasn’t sure of the slang.  I had picked it up from old videos, but I surely had the tone of voice right because I had succeeded in capturing his attention this time.  He looked up slowly and there was the glare of cold hatred in his eyes.
    “Nobody – and I mean nobody – talks to Willy the Blade that way.  I’m going to cut you, kid, cut you bad.  I’m going to cut my initial into your face.  A ‘V’ for Willy.”
    “A ‘W’,” I said.  “Willy is spelled with a ‘W’.”   (pg. 13)

    “How long do we stay slaves?” I asked.
    “Until I learn more about how things operate here.  You have spent your entire life on a single planet, so both consciously and unconsciously you accept the society you know as the only one.  Far from it.  Culture is an invention of mankind, just like the computer or the fork.  There is a difference though.  While we are willing to change computers or eating implements, the inhabitants of a culture will brook no change at all.  They believe that theirs is the only and unique way to live – and anything else is aberration.”
    “Sounds stupid.”  (pg. 144)

 If you should ever be tempted to unlock a door with a key in your teeth while wearing handcuffs I have only a single word of advice.  Don’t.  (pg. 89)
       The Stainless Steel Rat Is Born is actually the sixth book in Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series, but the first in the saga’s timeline. Harry Harrison perhaps sets a record for randomizing a series’ timeline.  According to Wikipedia, the chronological order of the 12 stories is : 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 1, 2, 12, 3, 9, 10,11.

    Therefore this book has the same problem that Star Wars Episode 3 (Revenge of the Sith) has – namely, matching the ending up with the beginning of a previously-released effort.

    Here, this difficulty manifests itself in a somewhat flat and unsatisfying ending.  The storyline doesn’t really get wrapped up, it just pauses for a moment as the bad guys get away, and The Stainless Steel Rat gets transported elsewhere.

    Still, it’s no worse than the ending of any Star Wars movie that doesn’t conclude a trilogy, including the latest release.  So if George Lucas can get away with this, I guess we’ll allow Harry Harrison to do the same.

    8 Stars.  In retrospect, it might have be wiser for me to start reading this series in the order that Harrison wrote them.

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