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!

*

Stainless_Steel_Rat

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?

Comments are closed.