Title: The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!
Author: Harry Harrison
Series: Stainless Steel Rat, #4 (Publication Order)
If you've read any of my other Stainless Steel Rat reviews, you'll know the drill: this is larger-than-life, over-the-top pure skiffy goodness that's a self-aware parody of Golden Age Science Fiction. Needless to say, though, they have their problems. This one is one of the more problematic books in the series due to the way it's handled, however, it didn't ruin the enjoyment... at least for me.
When I say it's over-the-top, I'm talking dialogue that's way too witty and always sets up the next line. I'm talking how no one gets in a jam unless they've got some amazing way to get themselves out of it. The protag isn't pure, but he's a gentleman who's really just a criminal because he's bored and it's good for the economy.
But Harry Harrison seems perfectly aware of what he's doing. It's more of a parody of the books written like this that take themselves oh so seriously. No, he doesn't attempt to justify anything with impressive sciency sounding technobabble. Everything's named something completely ridiculous and has no explanation whatsoever.
I mean, they all speak Esperanto, for god's sake.
The problematic issues of Golden Age SciFi come up too, but for the most part, Harry Harrison seems to recognize this. Frex, with sexism, which comes up the most, he at least attempts to subvert it or cross the line twice. He's trying to show how ridiculous these tropes are. Now he doesn't always succeed, but it at least feels like he tried.
However, he really, really misses the mark in this one. And to explain, I'll need to spoil a bit, so if you want to read this without spoilers, just know that there's some weird racism in it. Otherwise, read on:
The premise of The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! is that terribly ugly, gross, disgusting aliens have discovered humans... and they think we're just as nausea inducing, without dry skin and lack of eye-stalks. And the natural response here is, of course, to try and destroy us.
Although, no, that's not really what's happening. The Grey Men that we've run into before are really the masterminds behind this operation. This time, we get to learn a lot more about them.
Now, I really didn't pick up on the weird racism involved with the Grey Men as a kid, probably because well, it's subtle. But it's not addressed at all. We find out that their race 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 this makes them superior. Hence, they are trying to destroy all other human civilizations because they are weak and unfit.
Basically, they're Daleks.
But what makes this problematic? All of them 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 attempted to subvert this a little because the grey men end up being the key to the human race's salvation (but of course they are the ones who set up said destruction) but it ends up being a white savior plot. They themselves are too unimaginative to see what they could do to fix it. The Stainless Steel Rat (actually, his wife) has to point it out.
And it just felt icky because it was sitting there without Harry Harrison poking fun at it.
At least there's a lot of fun with shadowy groups that are even higher up the food chain than the Special Corps who show up and do some really silly, lovely things that made me laugh aloud.
So, even though the book was honestly enjoyable on the surface and it was a hella fun ride, it's really only three stars instead of four. And if I'm going to be entirely honest with myself, it's probably the nostalgia glasses bumping it up from two.
However, next is The Stainless Steel Rat for President, which is already waiting for me at the library...