The Stainless Steel Rat — Harry Harrison (1961)

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Publisher: Orion Press

First Orion Edition, 1997

Cover Art: Walter Velez

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Max Handsome and Chelsea Goodbust of the Space Spy Corps were in it deep. Behind enemy lines, their cover was blown, and they had to make their escape lest they be captured, tortured, and executed for high treason. The details of their mission were highly classified, limiting their options significantly—with no hope of rescue by their own government, they would have to sneak out of the enemy’s stronghold and steal a ship. This is exactly what Max was telling Chelsea as they ran through corridor after worryingly-similar corridor. “You’ve really got no idea where we are going, do you?” Chelsea whispered, as they ducked behind a corner to avoid the Security Police. “Calm down,” Max said. “I’m sure it’s this way. Wait, no. This way.” Max indicated a lavender door on the opposite side of the hall. “That’s it, I’m sure!” They rushed across and barreled inside, to be confronted with the interior of a closet. As the door closed behind them, the telltale “click” of an automatic mechanical lock sliding into place gave Max goosebumps. “Well, erm…” Max muttered. “Huh. Well, that’s a noodle-scratcher.” Chelsea was more than a little miffed, and, to calm her down, Max gestured to the contents of the closet. “Look, Chels, we’ve clearly ended up in a well-stocked liquor pantry. Why don’t we wait for one of the patrols to come ’round and check in here? When they open the door, we’ll take them by surprise, beat some directional info out of ’em, and make our way home? Might even end up with the 4-1-1 on a ship.” Chelsea, doubtful but out of options, resigned herself to the shitty, shitty plan. “Okay,” she said, “but I’m having a drink. You are the worst partner in the history of partnerships, and I’m not dealing with you sober for one more minute.” “Fine,” Max replied. “It’s not like we don’t have time. But don’t overdo it.” As it turned out, the incompetence of the spies was in direct proportion to that of their pursuers, and it was more than a couple of hours before they were found out. When the door finally opened, the security police were met by the stench of boozy breath, followed by a barrage of empty bottles. It was a sloppy but effective method of escape, and the hammered Max, carrying the passed-out Chelsea, shot his way through to the shipyard with the characteristic luck of the drunkard. Unfortunately, the remains of his stolen ship were discovered scattered across the planet’s moon. Don’t drink and drive, kids.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: This had been on my to-do list for a while. Those seeking depth of philosophy will be disappointed here, but those people are stuffy pricks. The Stainless Steel Rat is good, clean fun. I’m hoping that the commercial success of the series is warranted, because this first novel inspires the same kind of loyalty that carried me through most of the Xanth novels—it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it knows itself for what it is, and it makes excellent use of both of those facts to craft an engaging narrative that stays yummy and chocolatey and doesn’t go soft in milk. Let’s face it—if the universe were all Dhalgren and fuckin’ Dune, nobody’d be happy about it except the aforementioned stuffy pricks. Every so often, something lighthearted and fun is refreshing, and this fills that role very very well.

Rating: 9.0 Explosive False Bellies

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • What Whedonverse fuckery ends up with Xander Harris in the far future?
  • Who the hell swoons like that outside of an early Dracula flick?
  • Could the lady be fainting because she suddenly realized what she was wearing? Or perhaps because she smelled the fella’s breath? Or, perhaps, she’s faking it to lean up against those beefy moose thighs?

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