The Stainless Steel Rat

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James Bolivar diGriz, alias "Slippery Jim" and "The Stainless Steel Rat", is the hero of a series of comic science fiction novels written by Harry Harrison.

A Stainless Steel Rat is Born

A simplistic spirit of adventure, coupled with that most graceful of dramatic entities — the honest criminal. The Rat is just that, a thief (a hacker, really) with an aversion to killing. Like so many teenage boys, The Rat is also a genius living in a world of imbeciles. As far as I can see, Harry Harrison has therefore ticked every box when it comes to pleasing SF fans — and his books funny, adventurous and cross many technological and cultural milieus, from the primitive to the futuristic.

These adventures, billed as the first of The Rat’s great career are among his best. Harry Harrison starts every Stainless Steel Rat book in the midst of a heist, slap bang at the point of drama, and the books never relent on their fast pace, their humour and their attention to detail. The detail is particularly strong in A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, which goes into great depths concerning The Rat’s contraptions, plans and devices.

The Stainless Steel Rat (aka ‘Slippery Jim di Griz’) appears in 12 novels in all. In A Stainless Steel rat is born, the action takes place on Bit O'Heaven, the Stainless Steel Rat's home planet. It’s on this planet that The rat meets The Bishop, a criminal to whom he aspires. The Bishop is a lot less physical in his capers than Jim but like Jim carries out audacious robberies — in his case, always leaving as his calling card a picture of the bishop chess piece.

He retired from robbery before Jim was born, focusing instead on computer crime, and Jim only learnt of his existence from a fellow prisoner while briefly in jail. Jim then contacted The Bishop by using his calling card in a robbery, however as a result The Bishop was forced out of retirement when he underestimated the Police's computer security systems after running a check on Jim himself. The Bishop eventually became Jim's mentor and taught him a great deal about their trade, as well as a code of ethics. Eventually Jim and The Bishop had to leave Bit O'Heaven and on their first off-planet adventure The Bishop was killed. As a parting gift he left Jim a note that he signed with his real name, although the name is not revealed to the reader.

   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...

These lines are from the character known as The Bishop in "A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born". It’s The Bishop who lays out the Stainless Steel rat ethos, and it sticks.

There are twelve works in the Stainless Steel Rat series.

Title Release date Synopsis In-series chronology[1] Notes
The Stainless Steel Rat 1961 The Stainless Steel Rat believes he has pulled off a successful bank job, but is out-conned into working for the Special Corps, the elite law-enforcement and spy agency led by the former greatest crook in the Galaxy, Harold P. Inskipp, and composed mostly of ex-criminals like himself. He believes he has escaped from the Corps, and meets his love interest, Angelina - also a criminal genius, but lacking in Jim's relatively high moral codes and strictures against killing. She is attempting to have an illegal space battleship built on an otherwise peaceful planet. Angelina was born unattractive and committed crimes to pay for her transformation into a beautiful woman; her psychological traumas are treated when Jim captures her, but she retains her allure and her criminal tendencies and joins in the Special Corps. 4
  • Large sections of the story first appeared in Astounding magazine as two novelettes: The Stainless Steel Rat (1957) and The Misplaced Battleship (1960). These were reworked into the opening chapters of the novel.[2]
  • re-issued in Hardcover (1970): Published Walker and Co., Jacket Illustrator Jack Gaughan (two variations), LC #74-103005 [First Edition]
  • re-issued in paperback (1986): ISBN 0-441-77924-7
The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge 1970 The Stainless Steel Rat gets married, but rapidly gets involved in something that so far has proven impossible in the galaxy - the planet Cliaand has successfully been invading other worlds. Jim is sent to infiltrate and investigate, and discovers the mysterious gray Men behind Cliaand's success, encounters a world of feisty warrior women, and becomes father of twins (James and Bolivar). 5
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World 1972 A master criminal from the far future, "He", is attempting to extinguish the Special Corps from its timeline. The Stainless Steel Rat travels to Earth, 1975, and then to Napoleonic France, to stop He from destroying the timeline - but discovers that his own actions might have brought He into being! Finally He is trapped in a time loop, saving the Corps. 6
  • First serialised in 1971 in 'If' magazine in three parts. Parts 2 and 3 were titled, respectively, The Cast Iron Rat and The Stainless Steel Rat's Return. (The latter should not be confused with the Return of... board game or ...Rat Returns 2010 novel).
  • re-issued in paperback (1989): ISBN 0-441-77913-1
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You 1978 After freeing his family from various forms of incarceration (Angelina from the clutches of the Interstellar Income Tax people and the twins from their prison-like boarding school), the Stainless Steel Rat saves the all-human galaxy from invading aliens. At this point, the twins are adults. Additionally, two more Corps are revealed to exist - the Morality Corps whose main concern is that all human actions abide by their code of morality, and the Time Corps, who patrol time itself to prevent any unauthorised tampering with the flow of time. Both new corps outrank the Special Corps; Inskipp is forced to work with them, but Jim (with some help from Angelina) finds a way to work around them. 7
The Stainless Steel Rat for President 1982 The Stainless Steel Rat and Angelina enjoy a belated honeymoon on a planet run by a dictator who rigs elections to keep himself in office, so the Rat (with his family's help) sets himself up as a rival candidate. Very much a satire on banana republic politics and a parody of adventures set in Latin America. 8
A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born 1985 A novel chronicling the beginning of the Stainless Steel Rat's career. He intentionally gets caught trying to rob a bank so that he will go to jail where he can learn from the masters of crime, only to realize (too late) that the true masters would never get caught. 1
The Stainless Steel Rat Gets Drafted 1987 The Stainless Steel Rat, early in his career, hunts the man who killed his mentor, but in the process must save a pacifist planet from an imminent attack. 2
"The Golden Years of the Stainless Steel Rat" 1993 An original short story which finds The Stainless Steel Rat in Terminal Penitentiary, a prison where over-the-hill crooks are sent. 12 Published in Stainless Steel Visions by Harry Harrison (Tor 0-312-85245-2), a collection of 12 reprinted stories, one original.
The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues 1994 The Stainless Steel Rat (in the same earlier timeline as Is Born and Gets Drafted) goes to a prison colony planet to retrieve an alien artifact, which he must find in thirty days or the slow-acting poison he was administered will take its effect. 3
The Stainless Steel Rat Goes to Hell 1996 In the later timeline (to which the stories have henceforth returned), the Stainless Steel Rat searches for his wife, who is abducted by a con man who preys on religious believers, swindling them out of their money and then enslaving them in his mining operation. 9
The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus 1999 The Stainless Steel Rat is hired by a businessman to investigate thefts; the clues lead the Rat to suspect a roaming circus, which he infiltrates. 10
The Stainless Steel Rat Returns 2010 The Stainless Steel Rat is living high on the hog on the planet of Moolaplenty when a long-lost cousin and a shipful of swine arrive to drain his bank account and send him and Angelina on a journey to wander the stars. 11
  • The first three chapters were published as The Stainless Steel Rat and the Pernicious Porcuswine in the anthology Gateways (2010), edited by Elizabeth Anne Hull.[3]
  • original hardback: ISBN 0-7653-2441-5
The Stainless Steel Rat and The Misplaced Battleship 2015 It's more than a little careless to lose a battleship, even in interstellar space. Enter Slippery Jim diGriz, better known as the Stainless Steel Rat, the fastest talking con-man in the galaxy. Jim will need to go undercover to find the missing Battleship and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands. A fast paced comical science fiction romp! 12
The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat (1978) anthologized the first three books: ISBN 0-425-04378-9
The Stainless Steel Rat Omnibus (2008) anthologized the first three books: ISBN 978-0-575-08171-0 (Gollancz)

Based on information in The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World it is possible to work out when the timeline is set: James is sent 32,598 years into the past to 1975, making events happen in and around 34,573 (in the 346th century) – although Professor Coypu also mentions that they are now using a different calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Specifics of the new calendar are never mentioned.

The Stainless Steel Rat

The Stainless Steel Rat from Harry Harrison in 1961 remains one the most essential and most exciting of all science fiction thrillers. I think it’s because of the humour. He has a way of telling it, which is so warm in the way in which you’re invited into the Rat’s world of superior thought, in which he loves more than anything else, to rob banks. When The Rat is co-opted into working for Special Corps — something he does not relish — we enter and alternative criminal universe in which the former greatest crook in the Galaxy, Harold P. Inskipp (a.k.a. Inskipp the Uncatchable), runs the inter-galactic intelligence agency.

The Rat has great adventures. It’s not enough for Harry Harrison that he commits a few chapters of space opera to paper. What he supplies is far greater in scope, in content and amusement factor. In The Stainless Steel rat, the Rat himself comes close to death on several occasions, and he’s better at extricating himself from these fixes than is James Bond — seriously.

After waking up in hospital, the Rat falsifies his records while the robots are not looking, marks himself as dead, allows his body to be wheeled to the morgue, where he robs the dead bodies around him and escapes.

Like all good thrillers, The Stainless Steel Rat also starts with a bang. It’s tremendous, and Harrison flings readers into the action in the most casual and amusing manner, meaning that by the bottom of the first page, you’re wondering how on earth the Rat is going to live to the top of the second. It’s an amazing performance, and although I’ve read widely in science fiction, I read Stainless Steel Rat books and always ask — why can’t more people write like this. It may not be sophisticated, although it often is, and it may not be high on down-to-earth type of reality, but it’s always exciting, and imbued with a hacker ethic that I adore.

Yes, I stand by that. It’s not just the ingenuity that Harry Harrison applies to the character of The Rat, but the fact that devices and bodily adjustments are up for grabs every minute as the next way forward. The Rat simply has a different way of thinking — and in each book, is provided with a new nemesis to challenge him on that level.

The opening lines are tremendous:

   When the office door opened suddenly I knew the game was up. It had been a money-maker—but it was all over.  As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin.  He had the same somber expression and heavy foot that they all have—and the same lack of humor.  I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he uttered a syllable.
   “James Bolivar diGriz I arrest you on the charge—“
   I was waiting for the word charge, I thought it made a nice touch that way.  As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on top of the cop’s head.  He squashed very nicely, thank you.

It is such a great opening and it actually carries on this way. Light, funny, wicked but never cruel, Harry Harrison is in The Stainless Steel Rat is dedicated to your reading pleasure. It’s actually something of a stitch-together as a novel, or at least in its final form it continues of two short stories which originally appeared in Analog.

James diGriz is a most enlightened thief and conman who lives outside the rules of society, and who occasionally, and always reluctantly and in unorthodox manner, acts as an agent for the Special Corps.

Special Corps in The Stainless Steel rat, incidentally appear more competent than they do in certain other stories. In fact, in The Stainless Steel Rat, they seem to be controlling events quite nicely, very like a present-day CIA with their fingers in all sorts of pies, and able to use people as puppets for their own projects and ends.

The future isn’t a surprising place in The Stainless Steel Rat, and in essence it looks and feels like present day America. That’s because the same things populate the various landscapes, such as dumpsters, banks, vehicles, races, bars and everything else that might feature in any other vibrant American genre story. Yet this is the far, far future and it’s supposed that genetic manipulation and have bred the malcontent or criminal gene out of people in general, and society is pretty sterile and homogenous. Not too far a leap then, so it is easy for Harry Harrison to add a whole bunch of funny future contraptions and adaptations to the mix. In fact everything that features in Stainless Steel Rat books is stuff that can be done nowadays — merely in Harrison’s future they do it better, faster and blander.

Slippery Jim is simply a loveable character, and this first person tour through this world in which he has decided to run as a criminal is so memorable. If Harrison hadn’t nailed this voice it wouldn’t have worked but it does, so we have dramedy, action, tricks, spills and difficult corners from which to escape.

Here also we are fortunate to meet his love, another interesting criminal, albeit one with a resentful streak and a dark secret as to why she needs to steal so much money. This is a world of criminal masterminds, and they are all psychologically interesting characters, as you'd expect in the world of The Stainless Steel Rat.
  1. "I've talked to Harry about this, and this is the official order of the books:"