October 26, 2003

The Stainless Steel Rat Joins The Circus, by Harry Harrison

This is the latest (I think) in Harrison's long-running "Stainless Steel Rat" series, and I confess I have mixed feelings about it.

Slippery Jim diGriz is a thief, fraudster, and bank robber--a self-proclaimed rat living in the walls of modern society. And he's a stainless steel rat, because in his world "modern society" is high-tech indeed, spanning thousands or hundreds of thousands of worlds all across the galaxy. At times, diGriz has been an agent of the Special Corps, the galactic police force, following the old "set a thief to catch a thief" principle.

The series is written for laughs, and historically has included some of the best light comedy in science fiction. But the quality is spotty--a Stainless Steel Rat book is generally a good time, but it's the difference between a top-notch rollercoaster at a theme park and those rattly little things they sometimes have at neighborhood carnivals to scare the five-year-olds.

What's unusual about this particular volume is that the quality varies from neighborhood carnival to theme park just over the course of the book.

The first half or so has some amusing moments, but is mostly just dumb. Slippery Jim spends virtually all of it sitting around and imbibing alcoholic beverages while his wife and sons pull rabbits out of hats in the best deus ex machina fashion. I began to think that Harrison had completely lost it.

The last half picks up considerably. Every Stainless Steel Rat book has elements of the caper novel, and it's only in the last half that they show up, along with a sense of real danger, so that the characters are no longer just drifting about with drinks in their hands but are actually doing things.

I dunno. At the time I read it I was in the mood for something light and airy, and it kept me occupied for a few hours. But Harrison really is capable of better.

Posted by Will Duquette at October 26, 2003 07:32 AM