No…where were you in the 80s?
Okay, so it’s been a while since the Stainless Steel Rat was popular but, trust me, he was huge. Harry Harrison’s interplanetary hero/criminal was the star of twelve novels and three spin off comic books form 1961 until 2010. The Rat was compared to James Bond as Sci-Fi’s own heroic icon. The role playing game Traveller even referenced him in the book Citizens of The Imperium and held a contest around it. Likening himself to a rat made of stainless steel, James Bolivar DiGriz is an overconfident adrenalin junkie who steals only from the wealthy and refuses to kill anybody due to his sincere atheist beliefs (although he will beat the crap out of folks without compunction).
The Stainless Steel Rat books are pure and simple space opera adventure. Harrison frequently made social commentary in them, sure, but never let it bog down a good chase scene or prison escape. The character of Slippery Jim reminds me of an over-excited teenager, always rushing wherever his passions take him. This, naturally, gets him in a lot of trouble which leads to flashes of self-loathing to be chased away by blustering overconfidence. Frankly, the Rat’s quite a trippy character and by himself makes for most of the fun in the novels. It’s the Stainless Steel Rat’s galaxy, and all the other characters just live in it.
So, why not have him run for president? At least, that’s what Harry Harrison asked himself about 1980 or so. Perhaps he was inspired by Regan’s election, who knows?
To be honest, Slippery Jim would make a better candidate than 75% of those were currently watching parade by in 2016 (my conservative estimate). In The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Harrison puts the Rat on a banana-republic planet where he takes on the self-appointed mission to unseat the dictator by rigging the already rigged election so the will of the people can shine through all the cheating.
I originally read this book in junior high when it still had that “new book” smell (published in 1982). I’m pleased to report the book has not faded in its glory. The Stainless Steel Rat for President is still a fun space romp and makes for good light reading. And hey, if we’re lucky, someday we might have an atheist president who only seals from the wealthy and refused to kill anybody.
I think that would make a nice change.