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The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus
Harry Harrison
Victor Gollancz, 269 pages


Andy Parker
The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus
Harry Harrison
Harry Harrison was born in 1925 in Stamford, Connecticut. Later his family moved to Brooklyn, then Queens, settling there. He graduated from Forest Hills High School in 1943 and was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps. Discharged in 1946, he began an art course at Hunter College in New York City and then attended the Cartoonists and Illustrators School. Work in comics and writing some fiction provided him a living for some years until the sale of Deathworld, the first part of which appeared in the January 1960 issue of Astounding. The Harrisons now reside in the Republic of Ireland.

Harry Harrison Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Bill The Galactic Hero

Past Feature Reviews
A review by A.L. Sirois

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As I've said elsewhere, Harry Harrison has a solid reputation in the science fiction field as a humorist. He's authored half a dozen books about Bill, farm boy turned Galactic Hero, a Candide-like character who wanders into complex and comical situations only to inevitably emerge on the plus side. These books demonstrate Harrison's proficiency in plotting, a trait he shares with many SF writers. The reader's appreciation of the humour is more or less dependant on his/her familiarity with SF in general.

The Stainless Steel Rat books are a little different, in that the humour is less wacky and more situational. The Rat himself, Slippery Jim DiGriz, is a con-man, and as such, generally smarter than anyone whose path he crosses.

This adventure begins with DiGriz in comfortable retirement with his lovely wife, Angelina. He is offered a case that he really isn't interested in: someone is knocking off banks belonging to the richest man in the universe, Imperetrix Von Kaiser Czarski, and Kaiser Czarski wants DiGriz to put a stop to it.

The problem is that after a successful career, DiGriz has plenty of money of his own: enough to be able to indulge himself however he wishes. Thus robbed, if you will, of the con man's primary motivation -- to make money -- DiGriz only takes action when his own interests or safety are at stake. After all, if you don't have to cheat people to make money, why bother? And DiGriz isn't a sociopath, so he isn't into victimizing people just for fun.

So he refuses to accept the gig -- but Kaiser Czarski, although personally obnoxious, is not a banker for nothing. He has manipulated DiGriz's supposedly secure bank accounts: the Stainless Steel Rat is broke and will remain that way, Czarski says, unless he takes the case.

It is, as you might think, a convincing argument. Once The Rat starts his investigations he begins to get interested -- a fact on which Czarski has, you should excuse the expression, banked. Before long The Rat runs into a dead end and tries in all honesty to quit -- but Czarski isn't letting him off the hook, and kidnaps Angelina. Now DiGriz has two tasks: to solve Czarski's problem, and to win back his wife.

DiGriz figures out soon enough that each time one of the banks is robbed, there's a circus in town -- the same circus. The plot twists and turns from there, with some of the fun coming from the societies of the various planets on which the banks are located and some from the deftly drawn characters. Otherwise, The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus, which is after all an essentially formulaic piece of work, would be pretty thin going. Speaking of thin, Harrison seems to want to make The Rat and Angelina into a new Nick (The Thin Man) and Nora Charles. For all intents and purposes he succeeds, making this offering in the series amply entertaining for those in search of a diverting, lightweight read.

Copyright © 2001 A.L. Sirois

A.L. Sirois walks the walk, too. He's a longtime member of SFWA and currently serves the organization as webmaster for the SFWA BULLETIN. His personal site is at http://www.w3pg.com/jazzpolice.


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