I was with great sadness this morning that I awoke to read of the passing of Harry Harrison. Mr Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books have been personal favourites of mine ever since I read the first in the series many years ago. I can't remember exactly when in my early teens I read The Stainless Steel Rat, but I do remember that I discovered it in Lillington Library, and on finishing it raced back to borrow every other book in the series that they had in stock. These books were something of a departure from my general reading diet at the time - long time readers of The Book Zone will know that most of the books I was reading at this point were mystery stories and thrillers - but I was captivated by his masterful blend of space opera sci-fi and comedy. And most of all, I wanted to be James Bolivar DiGriz.
In my opinion "Slippery Jim" is up there with Simon Templar as one of fiction's greatest anti-heroes, and it is a huge shame that he never reached the lofty pop culture heights managed by The Saint. The 'one man vs the universe' adventures of this thief, trickster, con-man turned intergalactic trouble shooter are invariably thrilling and always hilarious and despite having read them all so many times, I still return to them when I go through those horrible periods of struggling to get into other books, as I know I can rely on Harrison's stories to lift me.
If you have boys who love science fiction and/or comedy then I simply cannot recommend them enough. As my own personal tribute to Mr Harrison I have re-read The Stainless Steel Rat today and yet again I was left with the feeling that it, and his other stories, are timeless and can have just as much appeal with 12+ boys today as they did with me back in the 1980s. Aside from Jim DiGriz himself they are full of great characters - Angelina, the ex-psychopath who still harbours minor homicidal tendencies, especially where Jim's safety (or fidelity) is concerned; Inskipp, the forever grumpy and long-suffering director of the Special Corps; the diGriz twins, just as devious and charming as their father. And on top of this Harry Harrison also writes damn good villains - the Grey Men are a particular favourite, appearing in The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, and also in a later book in the series (which I'm not going to name as it might contain spoilers).
The Stainless Steel Rat books have such broad appeal as they encompass so many different genres. It doesn't matter whether you love comedy, science fiction, action, adventure or stories of Hustle-style con-men, you will find something to love in these stories.
Rest In Peace Harry Harrison, and thank you for providing me with some many hours of reading fun.