Book Review: The Stainless Steel Rat

Book Name: The Stainless Steel Rat
Author: Harry Harrison
First Published: 1961

Harry Harrison was a writer from the world of comics and science-fiction magazines of the 1950s. An amazingly prolific author, Harrison was an extremely popular icon in the science fiction world. He was known for his self-aware wit combined with biting satire, his distrust of the military and tax officials, and above all his intelligence combined with a range of moral, ethical and literary sensibilities.

His best known work consists of fast-paced parodies of traditional space-opera adventures including the Deathworld series, The Stainless Steel Rat books, and the books about Bill, the Galactic Hero. His writing presented many interesting contradictions. Harrison wrote his novels in the parlance of a conservative minded voice, but framed his ideas with the conscience of a liberal and laced with a sharp awareness of the lack of literary values in the works he was parodying.

Harrison started out his career by being drafted into the US Army Air Corps during World War II. He became a sharpshooter, a MP, a gunnery instructor, and a specialist in the proto-types of computer-aided bomb-sights and gun turrets. During his military service, he learned Esperanto, a language that would be featured in many of his future novels. Once he was discharged, he went to study art at Hunter College in New York. By the end of the 1940s, Harrison was running his own small studio specializing in selling illustrations to comics and science fiction magazines. He thought himself as a commercial artist at this time instead of as a writer. However, he slowly moved from drawing illustrations to editing a few magazines. As the market for comics began to dwindle, Harrison began writing stories for science fiction magazines to supplement his income.

Due to the low pay involved with writing, he moved his wife Joan and their children to Mexico where living expenses were cheaper. It was the first of many international moves for his family. From Mexico, they went to Britain, then to Italy, and then to Denmark. They stayed in Denmark for seven years since he and his wife believed it a good place to raise their two children, but eventually they returned to the west coast of the United States. Later, because Harrison had an Irish grandparent, he was able to become a citizen of Ireland and took advantage of the Irish tax exemption where writers enjoy tax-free status. Harrison remained in Ireland until his wife Joan died in 2002. The blow of her death disheartened him and he moved to Britain and lived his remaining years there until he died in August of 2012 at the age of 87.

The cover blurb of Harrison’s novel The Stainless Steel Rat proclaims: “We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment.” Harry Harrison thus introduces Slippery Jim deGriz, the self proclaimed rat of a sterile society that has bred out the criminal element among humanity. In an earlier age, he would have been a soldier of fortune with a heart of gold, seeking adventure and treasure. In this tale of the far future, he is a mastermind criminal who is recruited by a mysterious “special corps” to seek out and and fight what little crime is left in human inhabited space. His first assignment is to hunt down a serial killer, who turns out to be a beautiful woman. Naturally, the Rat falls in love, but has he met his match?

During my high school years, I had a habit of reading seven to eight books a week, more if they were shorter. I could be seen riding my bicycle with a large backpack filled with volumes at any give day of the week. I ended up “reading out” our two local public libraries in the small town that I grew up in. Harry Harrison’s novels were part of that long list of books I absorbed during this time period and the characters and humor have stuck with me down through the years. Are the stainless steel rat stories classics? Maybe not, but they have surprisingly stayed fresh down through the years. Slippery Jim deGriz and his lovely wife Angelina are memorable characters that should not be missed.

The Stainless Steel Rat series is not in the public domain. You can find copies at any well stocked book store or at your public library.

The Stainless Steel Rat Book CoverNovels:

The Stainless Steel Rat (1961)
The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge (1970)
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (1972)
The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat (1978)
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You (1978)
The Stainless Steel Rat for President (1982)
A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born (1985)
The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted (1987)
The Golden Years of the Stainless Steel Rat (1993)
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues (1994)
The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell (1996)
The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus (1999)
The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (2010)

Comics:

The Stainless Steel Rat, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 140–151 (Nov. 1979 to Feb. 1980).
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 166–177 (June to Sep. 1980).
The Stainless Steel Rat for President, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 393–404 (Nov. 1984 to Feb. 1985).[2]

All comics were adapted by Kelvin Gosnell and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra drew Jim with an appearance modeled on the actor James Coburn.

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

NaNoWriMo is approaching. How is YOUR novel outline coming along? To rid yourself of pre-NaNo stress, here are a few writing links to take your mind off of November.


2 Free Word Count Trackers for NaNoWriMo Authors

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Three Ways to Use Amazon to Sell More Books

Fill The Shelves – A Great New Initiative To Help Underfunded School Libraries

4 steps to using mind mapping for story ideas, blog topics

How Poetry Makes Us Better Business Writers

How To Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in Writers

5 Ways for Writers to Blast Through Self-Doubt

Exploding the Perfect Writer Myth

Five Motivational Techniques for Writers

Life As A Writer

I had a dream. An idea for a novel burst into my mind one night and it would not let me go. I had not written a story in over a decade and considered myself long past the point where being a writer was an option for a career choice. I was an artisan jeweler and gemologist. I published articles, but they were non-fiction pieces about jewelry making, stones, or antique jewelry. However, the siren song of a novel was an earworm. It sang to me in my sleep. It consumed my thoughts during the day. Finally, I could bear it no longer. I started to write it down.

I haven’t stopped writing since.

When we start out as writers, we consider it a hobby. We do it in our free time, enjoy the process of creation, and hope that others appreciate our efforts. Then we gain encouragement and start to consider becoming a writer as a profession. What might that life be like? We dream of sleeping in late, typing on our computer in our bathrobe, and being able to travel to book signings with adoring fans. A life that is the path less taken. The question becomes, how do we function as writers day to day? What changes to we need to make in order to transition from a day job where you work for an employer to become a successful, self-employed writer?

A Dedicated Workspace

Many writers benefit from having a specific area set aside in their homes that is set up as their workplace. Perhaps a spare bedroom is set up as an office complete with a desk, computer and research materials or perhaps simply an unused corner of a larger room. When you set up a dedicated workspace in your home for writing, it tells the other members of your family that this space is off-limits for other tasks.

My first workspace was a modest table in my bedroom. The table held a desktop computer, a fax machine, and an area for writing in notebooks. Inexpensive wire cubes served as my organizer to create vertical storage. Years later, when my husband and I were able to afford our house, I left my little table behind and gained one of the smaller rooms of our new home as my own studio workspace. I did not have a large budget to spend, so I bought a cheap particle board desk to hold my desktop computer and a folding table where I clamped a board from the lumber yard to become my jewelry workbench. Eventually, I added a used jeweler’s bench so I could forge metals, hang a flexshaft and gain more space for my ever growing pile of specialized jeweler’s tools.

I’m shifting gears once more and changing the room again. I put in a modern glass L shaped desk for my computer, notebooks, and drawing supplies and removed the old table and board. My studio now allows my writing to take more precedence in my work flow and the jewelry making is secondary. The desk has a more professional and mature look, making the room a true office space, and I feel that removing much of the clutter of my jewelry supplies from sight will be an aid to my production of articles, short stories, and novels. I will not be embarrassed to bring a guest in here now and have a comfortable chair to offer them to sit in or use the chair myself for reading.

Limit Interruptions

One of the main habits I use as an artisan and writer is to set up a work schedule for myself. Otherwise it is easy to fall into the habit of puttering in your home. It is important to set up certain times in the day to write and then make sure you are seated in your dedicated workspace and writing at that time. Your family and friends need to learn that this is your work time and that you need to be able to work in peace without interruptions just as if you were going to a physical office outside your home. If you set up a schedule and post it on the refrigerator or perhaps a joint google calendar that everyone in your family is aware of, it will be easier to arrange for this necessary time to get your work done. For physical interruptions, being able to close an office door can be helpful. When it is the phone that is the problem, using caller ID and voice mail to screen calls can keep your down time to a minimum. I will always take a call from my husband during the day, telemarketers not so often.

I have found that once I set up my working space in a spare room and had the ability to close the door, I was able to gain the quiet time I needed to work. Since I have an artisan jewelry business in addition to my writing, I divide my time between my two jobs. I generally work on articles for magazines, ghost writing, blog posts, and other non-fiction works in the morning. My afternoons are spent at my jeweler’s bench making stock or managing the tasks of my home such as cleaning or shopping. Night time is when I feel the most creative and that time is reserved for short story and novel writing. My weekends are often spent away from home at conventions, festivals, and renfairs were I sell my jewelry, however I am not away every weekend and do schedule in time to be with my husband and have fun. Sometimes I feel that I work more hours than if I had a regular nine to five job away from home, but I do have the ability to take off on a whim and go to the beach or go shopping mid-week when I do not have to deal with crowds. I often work in my slippers and my co-worker is my faithful dog. I am responsible for my own destiny and I embrace the freedom that this gives me. It is a trade-off, relative security for personal responsibility, but one that I value.

Limit Distractions

While working at home is now more common, you will still find people will believe you are “available” because you are home. Family and friends will ask you for favors during the day because they do not perceive what you are doing is a real job. Learn to say no in a firm, but polite manner. Remind them that what you do is as real job as the one that they do and that you need time to work. Once a few royalties or paychecks come in, this perception that you are “playing at home” will diminish. I also find that because I am away at venues on weekends to sell my jewelry as later I will be at book festivals to promote my books, I tend to miss out on family and friend’s social gatherings more than most people. When I mention that I work on the weekend, I often receive a groan of sympathy, as if this were a heavy burden. To me it is not a burden at all, but it does involve some acceptance of sacrifice on my part.

In this age of technology where we are all interconnected via our smartphones, tablets, and computers, it is easy to allow this information submergence to cut into your writing time. For me, the most insidious distraction is the internet. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and forums are all interesting reads. My ebooks are just a finger touch away. I might innocently start to read a forum or two and the next thing I know I’ve lost several hours of prime work time. I’ve developed several strategies to combat this issue.

In my office, I have learned to use a timer system. I work without turning to the internet except for direct research of an article for a certain amount of time that I’ve set. Once the buzzer goes off, I’m allowed a short period of time to look at Facebook or forums as a reward. I also limit the pulling of email to three times a day. Once in the morning, in the early evening and late at night. Another thing that I will do is to leave my office behind. I pick up my Alphasmart Neo or my NEC MobilePro which has no internet access along with my writing journal for research notes and go to the library, my local Starbucks or the park to write. I set a writing goal for the day and do not come home until I’ve met it. I am only human. I do succumb to the distractions of the internet more than I should, but I do find that these methods help a great deal.

Make Time To Socialize

The work of a writer is somewhat lonely. It is important to reach out via networking, both for marketing your work and for making friends to enrich your life. I belong two groups. The first is Nanowrimo and the other is The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society.

Nanowrimo is filled with wannabe writers, but there are many accomplished writers that have come up through the system that still participate in the event or now offer to mentor young writers. Through Nanowrimo I’ve learned many basic writing tips, about new software and tools for writing, and gained encouragement to continue forward with my writing goals. While most of the activities with Nanowrimo is in November, there are enough events scattered through the year to keep you active.

The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society or GLAWS is a group of professional writers, most of whom are published, and it is a place to meet writers or to attend lectures and workshops. Our members come from all over the state of California and beyond. GLAWS also offers writing critique groups to help you improve your writing.

I find that the information I gain from each group is different. The professionals are more old-school both in how they market their books and in the tools that they use. The Wrimos are more contemporary with their methods and writing tools, more focused on the joy of writing than on making a living with their words. Between the two I find that there is a delightful balance of information.

This Is Your Life

The life of a writer can be a solitary experience and it is not for everyone. You need to have self-discipline and a sense of self-reliance to be successful. You must live in a constant balancing act between putting the words on the page and getting out of your office to meet with the local community. It is likely you will work longer hours than your friends with “normal” jobs and you will face rejection and low pay for many years until you create a catalog of titles to sell. Is it all worth it? Speaking as someone who has been self-employed for most of her life, I believe that it is. I enjoy a lifestyle of freedom that many people only dream about. I can schedule a day off to go to the beach with no one looking over my shoulder to ask why I am not in my office. I travel, meet interesting people with wildly varied viewpoints, and yes, I do work in my slippers on occasion. The dream is now a reality that I have created. It is life as a writer and artist.

Will you live it too?

Author Interview: Chico Kidd

I’d like to extend a warm welcome to Chico for consenting to be interviewed here on No Wasted Ink. As you can see, Chico has quite a catalog of titles to her name with many more to come on the horizon. I hope you enjoy her interview as much as I did.

Author Chico KiddI am Chico Kidd, author and artist, whose ghost and dark fantasy tales have been published in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia and Europe. Over the last few years I’ve been busy with a sequence of novels and stories featuring Luís da Silva, ship’s captain and reluctant demon-hunter. Demon Weather, the first novel in the series, has recently been published by Booktrope; the Portuguese-language rights have been bought by Lisbon-based Saída de Emergência. The next three novels, The Werewolf of Lisbon, Resurrection, and Sinned Against, are complete; a fifth is in progress. The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror 13 and Dark Terrors 6 featured three short stories between them. Others have appeared in Supernatural Tales, Acquainted with the Night, Poe’s Progeny, and elsewhere.

My first novel, The Printer’s Devil, came out in 1996 from Baen and was reprinted last year by Booktrope. It’s a tale in the classic English Ghost Story tradition of M.R. James, as were most of the stories in my first hardback anthology Summoning Knells (2000). I also write in collaboration with Australian author Rick Kennett, and our collection of Carnacki the Ghost-Finder stories No. 472 Cheyne Walk was published in 2002 (both Ash-Tree Press).

When and why did you begin writing?

I have been writing for as long as I can remember— by age 10 I was telling people that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Luckily everything I wrote prior to 1979 has vanished into the mists of time. Why, is also easy. I loved reading. I devoured books like a starving book-eating creature. I wanted more books like the ones I loved to read, and spent hours thinking up titles and storylines and designing the covers for them. The earliest thing I recall writing was one set in Narnia, and I also worked my apprenticeship by writing stories in imitation of authors as diverse as Dick Francis, P.G. Wodehouse and Tolkien. There are now many, many more influences on my writing!

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

Since 1979, when my first published story, An Incident in the City, appeared in the first issue of Rosemary Pardoe’s long-running Ghosts & Scholars series. I’ve had writing jobs ever since I graduated, from greeting-card verses to advertising, but don’t really think that counts. For quite a long time, I wrote only ghost stories, mostly in the tradition of M.R. James. They found modest homes in anthologies and in small press, to which I contributed seven collections of my own: Change & Decay, In & Out Of The Belfry, Bell Music, Bells Rung Backwards, Wraiths & Ringers, and Ghosts, Scholars, Campanologists & Others. Nearly all these stories went into Summoning Knells. And then I got writer’s block, which was completely horrible. And it was cured by Captain da Silva, who barged into a story from heaven knows where and took over my writing life.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

Although Demon Weather is the first novel to feature the intrepid Captain, chronologically it is the 14th of the Da Silva Tales. The preceding stories do not need to be read to make sense of the novel! (Although I think readers might find it fun to find out more about some of the characters’ backstories.)
Luís da Silva is the captain of a barque, the Isabella, in the days when sail is in its long decline and steamships have more or less taken over the seas. He is rather more well acquainted with the night than he wants to be, but the powers that be have different ideas. (These are not the sort of powers that be that make prophecies and steer people towards destinies, but rather the kind that say to themselves “This fellow would be good at doing certain kinds of stuff, so let’s give him a nudge in the right direction,” or even just “Let’s give him some abilities that will make his life suck”.) As Riley Finn once said to Buffy, “It turns out I suddenly find myself needing to know the plural of apocalypse.” And he also has a rather shady past, which in this case comes back to bite him in the shape of a not-at-all-nice sorcerer out for revenge.

Luckily the Captain has allies in the form of a Scooby Gang which includes a werewolf, a man who can fiddle with time, an English antiquarian, a bad-tempered witch and an almost-corporeal ghost, not to mention his very resourceful wife, Emilia, and a young son and daughter who are sometimes more hindrance than help.

What inspired you to write this book?

Well, as I mentioned, I’d had a bad case of writer’s block, but once the dam broke I found myself writing like crazy. I was averaging around 10,000 words a week for a while. And so I zipped though a ton of stories that were like episodes from a series, before coming face to face with an idea that was a lot more complicated and needed the length of a novel to do it justice. I wrote the thing in three months!

Inspiration covers a lot more than that, however. I am inspired by boats and the sea, by the way Joss Whedon blends horror and comedy, by inventing characters and exploring milieus, by the city of Lisbon, by folklore and legend and the sheer fun of writing.

Do you have a specific writing style?

I do, and Rick Kennett has dubbed it “Weird Noir”. It’s Chandleresque, basically, when the Captain is doing the narration. I use a mixture of tenses in the first-person bits, because it’s a mixture of his memories, his thoughts, his actions, and it all makes it more immediate: he’s telling you the story, but it’s happening now in his mind. But I also tell the story from multiple points of view, and try to get personality across by variations in style. I sometimes make use of a version of José Saramago’s style (not many full stops, bit stream-of-consciousness-y). Harris the werewolf’s thoughts are a big part of his personality. There are a few bits of omniscient-narrator stuff where I need to describe something outside of everyone’s experience. It’s all kind of a mixture, I think it’s quite cinematic, with jump-cuts and voice-overs and zooming out and in.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

That’s kind of interesting. I’m usually good with titles, and they often come before I write the story— sometimes a title actually triggers the story. But it wasn’t till about halfway through Demon Weather that I settled on that title. It was called Hunting Souls up to then.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

Whoa, no! I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t count demon-slayers, werewolves or even ship’s captains among my acquaintances. Much of the Captain comes from me, I guess, in terms of philosophy at least. But I don’t agree with that old truism “Write about what you know”. If everyone did that, there would be no fantasy or SF at all!

What authors have most influenced your life?

My life? No. My style, most certainly. But I love certain authors without wanting to use anything of theirs: Terry Pratchett, for instance, Ursula Le Guin, Elizabeth Moon, John Connolly. I suppose I have to say that Joss Whedon is the single most obvious influence on the DaSilvaverse, with my diverse gang of supernatural-evil battlers and the mix of action, horror, humor and characters you care about (I hope!) But I am a magpie, I pick up shiny things from all over the place, books, movies, TV, tradition, history, art, my own travels…

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor?

No, I can’t say that there is. I am terrible at following examples, instructions or rules, I don’t idolize any writers, although I do admire a good many. My real-life heroes are people like Aung San Suu Kyi and the late war correspondent Marie Colvin.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

*coughs modestly* I did it myself. One of the first things I do when I have a character who I know will be with me for a while is draw their face. It’s a shortcut to getting inside their skin, until I get used to them.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Write what you enjoy. Get inside the skins of your characters. Never stop writing, and don’t be afraid to run with the story.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Welcome to my world— I hope you enjoy the ride!

Demon Weather Book CoverChico Kidd
London, England

Chico Kidd’s ghost stories have been published in the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and continental Europe. Chico was born in Nottingham, England, and now lives, writes and paints near London.

Demon Weather is published by Booktrope.

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No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

This week I thought that the selections might be a little simpler. So we have easy methods to do technical writing, why you should go and walk in the park (my personal favorite activity) and other more relaxed subjects. Enjoy! Let me know how you like the links.

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