Monday, April 22, 2013

Stainless Steel Reviews - Part Three

The much-anticipated sequel to Part One and Part Two of our journey through the biblioverse with a certain well-known intergalactic rodent. (Reproduced from Goodreads.)

The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!

My version of this book doesn’t include an exclamation mark after the title, but it feels like it should have one. It’s maybe the daftest adventure in the series but it’s also the boldest.

To date the League universe has been devoid of aliens, so Harrison kicks off by remedying that – and then some. He could have settled for introducing one alien species as the sworn enemy of the human race, but no, he pushes every boat out and makes sure the galaxy is suitably swamped by an invasion force of countless different slimy, blobby, be-tentacled beasts, all improbably banded together against us, united in their hatred and disgust for just how ugly we look. It’s like B-movie scifi monsterdom meets Cecil B DeMille with its cast of a thousand creatures.

Then to top off the silliness, Harrison has Slippery Jim become Slimy Jim, infiltrating the enemy disguised as the ultimate man-in-a-suit monster. Accompanied by one of his sons, secreted inside a fake robot. It almost feels like a merciless mick-take of Doctor Who and is all the better for it.

It also benefits from having Angelina and the other of the diGriz twins kidnapped by the alien nasties, neatly removing the danger of having Jim bailed out by the missus another time too many.

And when you have fully embraced the absurdity of it all – which Harrison makes it all too easy to do – and you’re sitting back and enjoying the ride, that’s when it hits you with the big twist and we’re suddenly dealing with a darker (let’s say greyer) foe. An old enemy, if that’s not giving too much away – which it is really. Harrison makes the transition from daft romp to dumping Jim in more serious jeopardy with aplomb and it all fits together surprisingly well. We’re spared the brutal torture scene that was such a sharp kick in Revenge and maybe that would’ve been a step too far, tough to stomach in such a full-on happy meal.

The resolution’s a little convenient and idealised, but it’s reasonably neat and in keeping with the tone. And overall it leaves you with a sense that when the Stainless Steel Rat points and says he Wants You (with or without an exclamation mark) you did yourself a favour by stepping up and volunteering your time.

The Stainless Steel Rat For President

So we come to the end of our travels with the Stainless Steel Rat. And Harry Harrison makes sure Slippery Jim goes out in grand style.

The Peter Ellison cover of my copy portrays an older Rat, bewhiskered and bemedalled, amid a shower of bunting and ticker-tape as some hig-tech fighters perform a celebratory fly-past overhead. It's fitting as the whole thing feels like a party. Perhaps more of a retirement party than a political parade as there seems to be a stated intent to send the Rat off to rest as the book concludes.

All good things do come to an end and it's best if they go out on a high. Like The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You this is bold and daft and at least as enjoyable as all those bottles of 'ron' that Jim puts away during the course of this adventure. It also pulls off that trick of retaining a slightly nastier edge in the midst of all the comedy, managing to paint a vivid - and even vibrant - picture of a brutal totalitarian state in a tropical paradise. When hasn't a corrupt South/Central American dictatorship been ripe for a humorous poke or two? But it's quite nifty to be able to build them up as a convincing enemy while knocking them down like coconuts in a carney.

Paraiso-Aqui is nicely realised, allowing Harrison to sugar the mix with his linguistic skills, and further shows the author's taste for a blend of futuristic and retro. The mechanical semaphore towers that are a feature of every noble estate are an especially nice touch. There's all the usual twists and turns and bumps on the road, all the reliance on gadgetry and wit - along with less reliance on the miraculous eleventh-hour rescues that perhaps got used one too many times in other books in the series.

Jim, Angelina and sons, James and Bolivar, operate well as a family unit without tarnishing the Rat's status as the Stainless Steel hero. It's hard to see Bond settling down and bringing his loved ones along on a mission or two with anything like the successful results seen here. But then, it's too easy to stretch that Jim DiGriz/James Bond comparison as once again plenty of light is shone on the Rat's moral stance on the use of guns, violence and killing. DiGriz has a reticence in these areas that Bond doesn't share and it makes life that little bit harder as he goes up against murderous foes like dictator Zapilote and his chief henchman Oliveira. It also makes things more interesting.

Good zip-along action, the humour at Harrison's sharpest and definitely a fond farewell to the series. Obviously I can't condone crime, but there's a something refreshingly honest and optimistic about having a thief run for political office. And not just in a corrupt South/Central American totalitarian state.


No comments: