Thursday, February 20, 2014
A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, by Harry Harrison
In A Stainless Steel Rat is Born we get to meet Jim as a young man, which is a bit of a refreshing change from his usual adventures. Instead of the calm, confident, intergalactic con man we're familiar with, we get to meet Jim as a wet-behind-the-ears youth who only stays ahead of the authorities because of his wits and a decent amount of luck. As the novel progresses we get to see Jim develop his skills and become the smarmy and charming con man we all have come to know and love in the previous novels.
As a Star Wars fan I am painfully aware of how badly an origin prequel can go and how the main characters that you enjoy become objects of scorn as children. I feel that Harrison actually does a really good job in writing this prequel because Jim is still believable as a character. He may be young an inexperienced, but we can still see the potential for the universe's greatest con man and criminal so it doesn't suffer the same frustrations with other prequel installments. And this prequel certainly serves an important purpose because Jim's backstory was never really explored in previous books and with all of the material reasons for turning to crime eliminated by the peaceful galactic community it actually begs a really good question why someone would turn to crime. Although Jim's reason of sheer boredom with the culture he grows up in may seem a little thin, it's certainly understandable for someone who's clearly much brighter than everyone around him.
The one thing I also noticed, and this may because the book is a little more recent, is the casual sexism of Jim seems to have disappeared. I'm not sure if that's changing cultural viewpoints or if Harrison decided to eliminate it from the book, but it's thankfully gone and no longer a frustrating irritant to an otherwise enjoyable novel.
If you want to read this novel and are debating on whether to tackle the books in chronological order or publication order I'd certainly recommend publication order. I feel like you have to come to know Jim as a character before you can be bothered to care about his past and how he became who he is. Otherwise you're just reading the story of a guy who will eventually go on to do great things but you don't know what those things are yet so you have no reason to care. Definitely worth waiting for.