Best Adventures of 1961 (4)

By: Joshua Glenn
September 8, 2016

One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1961 adventure novels. Happy 55th anniversary!



Harry Harrison’s sci-fi/crime adventure The Stainless Steel Rat (serialized 1957 and 1960; as a book, 1961).

In this, the first-published Stainless Steel Rat novel, the title character — ingenious and multitalented conman, smuggler, and thief James Bolivar diGriz, who our of sheer boredom refuses to internalize the complacency of the settled, end-of-history galaxy in which he finds himself — is conned into helping a secret government agency unravel a nefarious scheme for manufacturing a galactic-class battleship. The Rat falls in love with the master criminal — a beautiful, but sociopathic woman — and tries to reform her. (If the plot sounds similar to Leslie Charteris’s 1931 Saint adventure, She Was a Lady, perhaps it’s because Harrison was a Saint fan; in fact, in 1964 he ghost-wrote Charteris’s Vendetta for the Saint.) Much like Heinlein’s Stranger In a Strange Land, this novel is progressive and fun — Fifties-type political, cultural, and social norms are for losers! — while also disturbingly retrogressive. The brilliant, independent female character is a sociopath, it turns out, because… she was born unattractive. Yeesh. Still, without Slippery Jim, would we have the charming rogue Han Solo?

Fun fact: Harrison was originally a cartoonist for the EC titles Weird Fantasy and Weird Science; the great Wally Wood often inked his layouts. Large sections of The Stainless Steel Rat first appeared in Astounding as novelettes. Chronologically, this is the fourth title in the series.


Let me know if I’ve missed any 1961 adventures that you particularly admire.

What do you think?

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