Thursday, February 13, 2014
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!, by Harry Harrison
The plot is very space operatic, humanity facing an alien menace that seeks to wipe them out from the galaxy to the last person, but it seems almost incidental to everything to be perfectly honest. Jim's actions certainly influence the course of the war, but we never really see it happening on the front lines and never really get a true sense of how big it is. I guess what you really get is how one man is able to influence events in small ways well beyond the scope you would normally expect out of one person. The story ultimately is really about Jim and his adventures rather than the war for survival humanity has found themselves involved in.
The other big thing about this book is that it brings back the Gray Men, the main villains from The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge who act largely from behind the scenes and use their limited numbers, much like Jim, to influence events in their favor. This book does a really good job of humanizing an enemy and making you understand why they behave a certain way, albeit in a very short amount of page matter. While I certainly would not condone the Gray Men's methods, I can at least understand why they do what they do. Sadly, I don't think they appear in any later novels and so fall by the wayside as characters after this story.
The one thing I really noticed about this book, and again, I think this is an result of the book being written when it was written, was that Jim repeatedly states during this novel that he takes a little bit of pride in being a male chauvinist pig. What he seems to mean by that is he enjoys being a philanderer and womanizer and doesn't seem to hold women in quite the same regard as he holds men, and he refuses to apologize for it. And yet during the novel he runs into a culture that is the very extreme of male chauvinism where women are really little more than property and do what they're told, which makes him more sympathetic to the women's liberation movement.
Again, this is rather jarring to a twenty-first century audience because no one would declare with pride that they're a male chauvinist. Okay, there are some people who do, but they're very quickly attacked for their ill-informed and hurtful viewpoints as they should be. I feel like a lot of audiences might tolerate some playful philandering but there becomes a point where people are no longer going to tolerate it because we find that behavior creepy and socially unacceptable. I'll accept it as character growth for Jim DiGriz, though, and hopefully in later novels he grows out of that male chauvinist pride.
The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! is a pretty short novella that you could probably read in a day off with no trouble. If you've got a lazy day and want something fun to read you could certainly do worse.