Review of The Stainless Steel Rat (1961)


Harry Harrison (writer).

Read in 2018.

A gleefully antisocial superhero steals only from the insured and does not kill. He hunts and beds a villainess who is “all woman”, though her similarly antisocial behaviour is a product of having been ugly.

The premise exists purely for vicarious reader identification with the superman, a remarkably extreme implementation of a film noir archetype: The individual “free” from society, as if the two were opposites. He is also free from his body, going through a number of disguises, plastic surgery and a brush with death. At one point he is saved by bulletproof underwear.

The worldbuilding and form of the novel are perfunctory. It is essentially empty of ideas. The main plot is markedly sexist. The only interesting episode is the building of a battleship misunderstood to be a freighter by almost everyone involved in the project. The thematic core of that motif is handled better in Quatermass II (1955).

References here: A Clockwork Orange (1962), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963), Altered Carbon (2002).

text fiction