We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment…
― Harry Harrison, The Stainless Steel Rat
I’m not exactly sure how old I was when I was able to graduate out of the children’s library. However I do remember exactly the first book I borrowed from the adult section. It had this strange cover with a stylised rat on it and an even stranger title – The Stainless Steel Rat Conquers The World…
Harry Harrison went on to become basically my favourite author up until my late teens when Iain Banks came along. I devoured all the Rat books, the Deathworld series and his short story collections plus many of his other books. A lot of them were bought second hand as was often the case back then; I’ve still got all my copies even if some are getting a little musty now. He books were always very readable (and re-readable) and were a huge influence on me – not just for the sf but I like to think they also contributed to me ending up a bit of a leftie as there was a deep progressive humanity in them. Plus, whilst always tense and exciting, the excessive macho military traits of some of the worse of American sf at the time were entirely missing, in fact many of them were explicitly anti-war. And of course many of them were very funny.
The early Rat books were adapted into comic strips in 2000AD drawn by Carlos Ezquerra – who happened to be my favourite artist as a kid. At one of the Dreddcons sketching sessions, instead of the usual Strontium Dog I asked Ezquerra to drawn me a Stainless Steel Rat and he was kind enough to reciprocate (it especially kind as he had to dash off to quickly check how he used to drew him).
I met Harrison once at a con a few years ago. I managed to get him to sign my old copy of The Stainless Steel Rat and had a brief conversation – though that was mainly me gushing at him.
I still occasionally go back to the best of his books and, though obviously pulpy in places, they seem to have aged better than most of their era. Time for another revisit soon I think.