The Stainless Steel Rat
Harry Harrison
Walker and Co., 1961.

When the office door opened suddenly, I knew the game was up. It had been a money-maker -- but it was all over. As the cop walked in I sat back in the chair and put on a happy grin. He had the same somber expression and heavy foot they all have -- and the same lack of humor. I almost knew to the word what he was going to say before he uttered a syllable.

"James Bolivar diGriz I arrest you on the charge--"

I was waiting for the word charge, I thought it made a nice touch that way. As he said it I pressed the button that set off the charge of black powder in the ceiling, the crossbeam buckled and the three-ton safe dropped through right on the top of the cop's head. He squashed very nicely, thank you. The cloud of plaster dust settled and all I could see of him was one hand, slightly crumpled. It twitched a bit and the index finger pointed at me accusingly. His voice was a little muffled by the safe and sounded a bit annoyed. In fact he repeated himself a bit.

"...On the charge of illegal entry, theft, forgery--"

He ran on like that for a while, it was an impressive list but I had heard it all before. I didn't let it interfere with my stuffing all the money from the desk drawers into my suitcase. The list ended with a new charge and I would swear on a stack of thousand credit notes that hight that there was a hurt tone in his voice.

"In addition the charge of assaulting a police robot will be added to your record."

The first few paragraphs of The Stainless Steel Rat tells you nearly everything you need to know about the book, and indeed everything you need to know about the entire series. Although there is one thing you can't tell from the intro, namely that this book is very nearly a science fiction classic. The definition of classic is somewhat fuzzy, but for decades this series was known of by just about every fan of science fiction. Not always well-liked, but certainly a familiar sight on the shelves.

Various parts of this book appeared in the August 1957 issue of Astounding Science Fiction Magazine and the April 1960 issue of Analog Science Fact & Fiction Magazine. The expanded novelization appeared in 1961, and it was popular enough to inspire 12 sequels.

Overall, this is a fun book, and the start to a fun series. It is, however, very much pulp SF, with corny jokes, a rakish but somewhat shallow hero, and very little in the way of hard science fiction. It is really just a comic crime caper set in the distant future... which is not a bad thing to be. However, the con jobs that James diGriz pulls are mostly nothing special, at least not by today's standards, and the tone is very much that of a 60s pulp. This includes clunky, dumb robots, clunky, dumb computers, and clunky, dumb broads. (Some of the later books are much better in the area, but the original TSSR didn't much care to develop the character with two X chromosomes).

Overall, this book is worth reading if you are a fan of old SF pulp adventures, and otherwise you should give it a pass. However, it is a quick, fast-moving read, so if you are on the fence, I'd give it a shot.

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