Sunday, June 6, 2010

Review Ragout Two: Part Three, The Sci-Fi

--Very Hard Choices by Spider Robinson -- Sigh. Spider Robinson always has been and always will be one of my favorite sci-fi writers. But I'm coming to recognize that it's going to be for a fairly small batch of his earlier work. Far too often his later books have been filled with righteous hippies touting the wisdom and joy of marijuana while saving the world from ├╝ber-villains who are much more like charicatures of evil than actual characters. Alas, such is the case here.

Spider's a good enough writer that this book was reasonably entertaining for the most part. But, really, I expect better than reasonably entertaining from him. Based on his early work, I had really thought Spider Robinson was going to go down as one of the all-time great sci-fi writerss. But instead I find myself wondering if some of his characters weren't the only ones enjoying a bit too much weed for the last thirty years.

Sigh.

C'mon, Spider. You can do better than this. I have higher expectations of you.

--The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat by Harry Harrison (Amazon.com) collecting the first three Stainless Steel Rat novels: The Stainless Steel Rat (1961), The Stainless Steel Rat Returns (1970), and The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (1972).

Slippery Jim DiGriz is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi characters, and so from the moment I saw this paperback on the shelves of John K. King books, I knew I'd be rereading me some Stainless Steel Rat this year. This collection of the first three novels in the series -- there are ten in all with the first new one in more than a decade supposedly coming out later this year or next year, woo-hoo! -- is a great introduction to one of the great adventure heroes of science fiction.

The basic premise is simple: To Catch a Thief in outer space. Slippery Jim DiGriz is the self-styled Stainless Steel Rat, an anarchist con-man and thief who makes his way by happily throwing a one-man criminal monkey wrench into the stainless-steel corridors of modernity. Until, that is, the Special Corps catches up with him. But instead of throwing him into prison -- what prison could hold the galaxy's greatest escape artist, anyway? -- they recruit him to become a galaxy-saving special agent. Mayhem, merriment, and defeat for the forces of evil ensues.

The first Stainless Steel Rat novel is the most serious of the books, a sci-fi adventure with a clever swath of humor thrown in. Later entries are played more for laughs as Harry Harrison takes a few swipes at many of the curses of the 20th century. It's all grand fun written by a genuine Grandmaster of Science Fiction.

If you've never read one of these books, do yourself a favor, dig up a copy, and meet one of the great characters of genre fiction.

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