for those who don't know, this series was one of my favorites as a kid. unfortunately, most of the books are out of print. the first three were reprinted together in the adventures of the stainless steel rat and the three prequel books were reprinted in a stainless steel rat trio, but unfortunately that leaves out four of the books as well as the choose your own adventure book.
i'm doing a re-read and i'm on the fourth book. i've already reviewed the first three as "nostalgia reviews" where i re-read a book i haven't read in a long time, to see if it's still good:
and now we have the stainless steel rat wants you:
first things first: immediately, you'll notice that these books are... "larger than life." the dialogue is anything but realistic. everyone's too witty and they set each other up for the perfect lines. no one gets in a jam without having the right tools to get out, even if they don't realize they have them at first.
but the more you read, the more you realize this is very much a parody of golden age scifi. it's super self-aware and a lot of fun. harry harrison doesn't try to justify his science with an attempt at impressive sounding technobabble. nope. there's often no explanation and ridiculous names for everything.
the premise of the stainless steel rat wants you is that terribly ugly, gross, disgusting aliens have discovered humans and because they think humans are too gross to look upon, with our dry skin and lack of eye-stalks, they need to destroy us.
of course, it can't be that simple. the grey men return, and you get to learn a lot more about them.
there are some spoilers following, so beware.
while all of the books are kind of problematic, harry harrison seems to recognize the issues at hand. if he's going to use one of the various sexist skiffy tropes, he's at least going to attempt to subvert it or cross the line twice. it's really more about showing how ridiculous those tropes are.
but there's kind of an unsettling thing that's not well-addressed in this book that i certainly didn't pick up as a kid.
the grey men have, as a survival method on a bleak and barren planet, eliminated emotion for the most part. they have a code of "moral philosophy" that teaches them that they are superior. and hence they are trying to destroy all other human civilizations because they are weak and unfit.
so why is this problematic? all of the grey men have japanese names. because, you know, the japanese are cold, authority driven, and have a huge superiority complex.
now, i think harry harrison might have tried to subvert that a bit because the grey men end up being the key to the human race's salvation (but of course, also the ones who set up the destruction) but it ends up being a white savior plot. they are too unimaginative to see that they could fix this. the stainless steel rat (actually, his wife) has to point it out.
somehow, if it had been more over the top and a real attempt to subvert it, it would have not felt so icky.
still, there's a lot of fun with shadowy groups that are even higher than the special corps that show up, in really lovely ways. really brought a smile to my face.
so, even though the book was rather enjoyable on the surface and it was a fun ride, it's really only ★★★☆☆ instead of four. and to be honest, it is probably the nostalgia glasses bumping it up from two.