“I am slippery Jim diGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat. There aren’t many like me in the universe. I can change personalities in a flash, rob any bank in any solar system no matter if the guards are human or robot, con a space captain out of his ship, start a war or stop one, whichever pays the most. So when the cops finally caught up with me, naturally there is only one thing they could do: they made me a cop.”
A bit of fun, Harry Harrison’s The Stainless Steel Rat (1960) is space adventure in crime. Jim diGriz the gentleman thief, he breaks in, gets out, gets the dough, but never kills, and ultimately is in the gig for the adrenaline. Ordinary life too heavy, he prefers disguises and cigars, whiskey and the excitement of dabbling in crime—and the reader had better appreciate such suaveness if they too hope to enjoy the novel.
Caught in a bank robbery gone wrong, diGriz finally meets his match at the opening of The Stainless Steel Rat. Easier to fight than join, he becomes a member of the Special Core which brought him in. His first days on the job fruitful, he uncovers a major plot to construct a battleship that would threaten League interests in the galaxy. Sent to the scene to use his talents as a con man and bring in the perpetrators, confronting the criminals everything goes as planned until… the tables are turned. Nonplussed, the Rat spends the rest of the tale getting even—at least so he thinks.
Delivered in cool, rebellious style, Harrison combines a secret agent and lovable criminal to create the Stainless Steel Rat. Humor, adventure, and entertainment the aims, Harrison’s greatest feat in this context is to make his protagonist suspensefully fallible. Though indeed slightly larger than life, diGriz is nevertheless not without his blind spots, leading to scenes wherein the reader truly never knows whether his wit will open, or close doors. No hero-takes-all, he capers his way to the currents of crime and secret agent life pursuing both the Special Core’s agenda and his own to the tunes of both success and defeat, personal and material. The tone light and brisk, diGriz’s tales unravels with ease as he commits and uncovers crime across the galaxy.
In the end, The Stainless Steel Rat is a spot of light fun that tickles the enjoyment bone for the time it takes to read, but engenders discussion no deeper than plot or likeability of character. DiGriz the lovable gentleman thief turned space detective, his story runs through robbery and romance, undercover work and living on the edge of life in a big, wide open galaxy. Little more to say, the novel does not engage below this outlay. Popcorn sci-fi, it’s crunchy but ultimately unfilling.