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 (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)
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).