Review: The Stainless Steel Rat For President

There are people who will assert that Mary Sue characters are solely the product of female writers.  These people have never read a Stainless Steel Rat novel.  Harry Harrison’s Slippery Jim DiGriz only fails to fit the bill by being older.

I hadn’t read a Stainless Steel Rat novel since I was in high school, but I remembered them rather warmly. I did remember that I stopped reading them after a few because they had become formulaic. I was right.  Even with a couple decades of time off, the formula is pretty easy to spot.

It’s a shame that Harrison’s execution leaves me so cold.  There are a few fun ideas running around in here, including the basis of the series.  The idea is that in the future as authority gets more repressive and effective, criminals must similarly become more ruthless and effective to continue their trade.  The insights that we’ll always have rule-breakers and that evolution improves everything are well taken, as is the To Catch A Thief conceit that some criminals – like DiGriz – will use their skills to help society.

But, like I say, the execution leaves much to be desired.  DiGriz and his family of hyper-competent criminals are never challenged by any of the plot twists.  None of the main characters experiences the slightest self-doubt or concern about taking on a planet of corrupt officials.  No one ever breaks a sweat or really slows down to do anything but compliment DiGriz.  The rest of the family are machines, right down to having no agency.

Worse than simply being lazy writing, it undermines the main premise.  Everyone outside the DiGriz family is so ineffectual that the very idea that society bred a super-criminal is unbelievable.  If these guys are all DiGriz has to go up against, he’d never develop the super-competency that he needs.

There are a couple nice set pieces in here.  DiGriz is an atheist with a code against killing.  Harrison supports those positions simply and clearly, and it’s a welcome change from today’s bloody action heroes.  Still, overall I can’t recommend the Rat.

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