The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World by Harry Harrison
SF Grand Master Harry Harrison passed away last month at age 82. George Kelley recently looked at his retrospective collection 50 in 50; I thought I'd take an opportunity to look at one of his most popular characters, Slippery Jim deGriz, also know as James Bolivar deGriz, and better known by legions of fans as The Stainless Steel Rat.
DeGriz is a galactic thief, a con-man, and a scoundrel. He's smart and resourceful and he can find his way out of any trap. He doesn't mind long odds. He prefers action, taking the fight directly to the enemy. Slippery Jim doesn't like killing, but he'll do it when necessary. He blithely explains his actions away:
"Of all the varied forms of crime, bank robbery is the most satisfactory to both the individual and to society. The individual of course gets a lot of money, that goes without saying, and he benefits society by putting large amounts of cash back into circulation. The economy is stimulated, small businessmen prosper, people read about the crime with great interest, and the police have a chance to exercise their various skills. Good for all. Though I have heard foolish people complain that it hurts the bank. This is arrant nonsense. All banks are insured, so they lose nothing, while the sums involved are miniscule in the overall operations of the insuring firm, where the most that might happen is that a microscopically smaller dividend will be paid at the end of the year. Little enough price to pay for all the good caused."
(See what just happened there? Slippery Jim just solved our current economic crisis! Politicians of both parties please take note.)
The Stainless Steel Rat has, unfortunately been coopted into the Special Corps, a sort of galactic law enforcement/troubleshooting outfit. Also drafted into the Special Corps is his one true love, the murderous sociopath Angelina -- a woman as skilled as she is beautiful. Luckily, the Special Corps burrowed into Angelina's brain and inserted a conscience, an act that causes her some distress. By the second book in the series, The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, Jim and Angelina are married and the parents of new-born twins, James and Bolivar.
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World is the third book in the series (which would eventually cover eleven novels and one "choice your own path" novel) and starts off with all reality disappearing. It turns out that an unknown villain is erasing the timelines of the Special Corps and everyone connected with it. By the end of chapter two, everyone that Jim has known -- including Angelina and his children -- has never existed and Jim has to follow the time threads to thirty-two thousand five hundred and ninety-eight years to the a long-destroyed planet called Dirt (or Earth, or something) and to the planet's local time of 1975. And did I mention that there's no way for him to return to his own time -- if it still existed, that is?
Jim finds himself outside of Chicago, enlists a biker outlaw with a B-movie gangster vocabulary, and robs a bank. He then heads to New York for a confrontation with the villain, known only as He. Once the villain's operations in 1975 have been destroyed, Jim has to travel further back into time to 1807 England for another encounter with He. This England, however, is one that has been conquered by Napoleon. Is he in an alternate reality or a time loop or something else? It may not matter because He is about to destroy everything there also. There is plenty of action and derring-do, a soupcon of humor, more than a dash of paradox, and another twenty-thousand-year time trip, and some Martians. And explosions. lots and lots of explosions.
If this sounds as if it's Saturday afternoon matinee stuff, it is. It's a wild roller coaster ride with more than a few dei ex machina. It's fun and confusing and logical and illogical. It's a romp that makes clear why The Stainless Steel Rat was one of Harrison's most enduring chacters.