Audiobook Review: A Stainless Steel Rat is Born by Harry Harrison

3 10 2011

A Stainless Steel Rat is Born by Harry Harrison (Stainless Steel Rat, Book 6)

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Length: 7 Hrs 16 Mins

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A Stainless Steel Rat is Born had some great moments early in the novel, but in the end suffered by a sudden change of pace that did little to advance our understanding of the development of the Stainless Steel Rat.

Grade: B-

Ah, the prequel. For many long running series, in which the author is looking to shake things up, do not be surprised to find the prequel. We have met our main character or characters, we have seen them in the current state, with allusions to how they became what they are, but do we ever really know the whole story. Not unless the author takes us on that ride using the vehicle known as the prequel. I understand why many authors like doing this, it gives there creative chops a chance to examine their character from a whole new angle. I also understand why fans enjoy it. Who doesn’t love a good origins story? I mean there would be no Batman without the murder of his parents, and no Superman without the destruction of Krypton. If a persons adult life is highly influenced by nature and nurture, don’t we need to examine the Nurture side to truly understand the character. How can we truly understand Slippery Jim D’Griz, thief, confidence man, and over the top Galactic hero unless Harry Harrison takes us back to his days living in boredom on the old Porcuswine farm, on the planet Bit O’Heaven. A Stainless Steel Rat is Born is the tale of how little Jimmy D’Griz become the Stainless Steel Rat.

A Stainless Steel Rat is Born has quite a different feel than the previous novels in the series. Jim D’Griz is not the cocksure and headstrong character that you find in later editions. Throughout this tale his over confidence is peppered with a lot of self doubt. I found the early parts of this novel to be quite fascinating, from his attempts to find training in the criminal life by getting himself arrested and put in jail, to his struggle to find an elusive master thief to become his mentor. It all was an interesting look at how the young D’Griz realized his potential for mayhem. While the humor wasn’t as rapid fire and the pace, while fast, wasn’t as frantic as the past, you still felt that you were getting the classic Slippery Jim tale but with a more intimate feel. In fact, I found the moment where his mentor The Bishop taught Slippery Jim his philosophy on being an outsider and how their criminal ways were a service to the community to be quite endearing, allowing you to understand his future justifications for his many heists. Yet, as the story progressed taking Jim and The Bishop to the feudal world of Spiovente, things started to get muddled down, and surprisingly, for this series, boring. I personally felt that that part of the novel did little to advance what I thought the purpose of a prequel novel was, to learn how the character became what he was. If Harrison had ended the tale with Jim and the Bishop escaping Bit O’Heaven, I probably would have been pleased, but the tale of Jim slogging on campaign under the thumb of a corrupt Capo, really seemed out of place in the usually fast paced series. A Stainless Steel Rat is Born had some great moments early in the novel, but in the end suffered by a sudden change of pace that did little to advance our understanding of the development of the Stainless Steel Rat.

As always Phil Gigante handled the narration, giving Jim a younger, fresher, yet shakier voice that fit well with the production. He found the right tone for Jim’s fleeting moments of self doubt and captured Jim pulling himself from the cusp of despair perfectly. While most Stainless Steel Rat novels have lots of strange alien characters for Gigante to play with, this novel lacked the diversity of vocal opportunities that the pervious editions had. In fact, the lack of any truly significant female characters was disappointing, and lessened the chance for Gigante to perform some of the back and forth dialogue that he excels at. Yet, despite my issues with the novel, it is definitely worth a listen to hear Gigante’s performance, and experience the early parts of the novel which are quite enjoyable.

Audiobook Review: The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison

28 06 2011

The Stainless Steel Rat for President by Harry Harrison

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: A slower paced Stainless Steel Rat novel, yet still full of fun and humor. Another winner for the franchise.

Grade: B+

So, I have nearly reached the halfway point of the Stainless Steel Rat series. My latest listen, The Stainless Steel Rat for President, is the fifth of eleven total novels in the series. So far, the ride has been a blast. I have reviewed the audiobook versions of three of the first four, and they have all been glowing reviews. What I have grown to love about this series is it’s over the top nature, and the sense of comic timing shared between the author and the narrator. Most of the novels of the series are pretty short, around five to seven hours, and the fit nicely between two serious, humorless or dire novels. They are a perfect break up in my reading allowing for a quick entertaining ride full of laughs and hi-jinks. In fact, I just finished listening to the latest Thomas Covenant novel, which was even more depressing that the previous eight, and a blast of the Rat was just what I needed.

In The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Slippery Jim, with the help of his brilliant but deadly wife, and his twin sons, are off on another cosmic adventure. This time, they are attempting to overthrow an evil dictator by the most nefarious of means, a democratic election. I have to admit, this was probably my least favorite of the Stainless Steel Rat novels so far, which means I laughed out loud perhaps ten times during the novel, as opposed to my usual twenty. I think this was a slower tale, as compared to the supersonic paces of the previous novels, so the humor was still there, but it came at you in a slower pace. Slippery Jim spends more time out thinking his opponents, as opposed to out acting, and Angelina, while still a presence, didn’t have as big of a role.  Yet, for all that, it’s still a Stainless Steel Rat novel, and that’s an awesome thing. This series offers enjoyment in its purest form, without pretension and I for one am looking forward to that pure enjoyment in the next six novels as well.

Again, Phil Gigante was the narrator, and again he was the embodiment of our slippery friend. Gigante puts his all into the reading of this series, and it shows. In this edition of the series, he handles the various accents of the mostly Hispanic planet of Paridiso Aqui with ease, a standout being the pomposity he gives to Paradiso’s evil dictator. I should also add that he gives Angelina such a sultry sexy voice that I have a few awkward moments when I remember it’s actually a dude reading her lines. Yet, again the pure genius of Gigante’s reading is Slippery Jim’s inner monologue, which is where most of the true belly laughs come from. So, while a slower paced novel, The Stainless Steel Rat for President is still another winner in this excellent franchise.


Note: A Special thanks to the good people of Brilliance Audio for providing me with a Review Copy of this title.

Audiobook Reviews: The Stainless Steel Rat (Saves the World) (Wants You!) by Harry Harrison

7 04 2011

The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (Book 3) by Harry Harrison

The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (Book 4) by Harry Harrison

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Perfectly narrated, hilarious Science Fiction satires which should gain the series new fans, and invigor the old.

Grades: A-, for both.

So, it would probably be pointless for me to rant and rave again about how much I enjoy Harry Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat series. I gave it enough praise in my review of The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge, as well as justly deserved praise for the excellent narration by Phil Gigante. One thing I do love about the series, is most of the books are around 5ish hours, and are nice audiobooks to keep queued up on your MP3 player of choice for when you find yourself finished a book earlier than you thought. That way you already have a quality book ready to start, but not one that requires a huge time commitment. That’s the situation I found myself in for both The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World (Book 3) and The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (Book 4). So, instead of making my normal lengthy reviews, which would contain overly repetitive fan boy praise, I decided to make one post reviewing both novels.

In The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, Slippery Jim D’Griz must do battle with that most annoying of Scifi tropes, Time Travel. Not only must our Rust Proof hero take on “He” the enemy who started the Time War, but he must deal with ‘80 Punk Bikers, Napoleon,  The French, Paradoxes, Alternative Time Lines, bumbling scientists, Martians, local constabularies, and the affections of his lethal wife Angelina. All in a days work, I suppose. As with the first two novels, the pace moves at a manic speed, jumping from time line to time line, from one dire situation to the next. As always, Slippery Jim is smarmy and cocksure, and offers us rapid, sure fire jokes. Whenever he seems to be on the verge of destruction, of course, he is saved by Professor’s Copyu’s time manipulations and Angelina’s ruthlessness. This tongue and cheek play on Time Travel novels is another hit in the series.

In The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! Slippery Jim again needs to save the world. This time his battle is against a coalition of the slimy, if you will, a mass grouping of all the slimy, multi-limbed, repulsive alien life forms who have decided to join together to wipe out the humans whom they find aesthetically unpleasant. Working undercover as a slimy alien himself, Slippery Jim offers some of the more laugh out loud moments of the series, especially when it’s discovered that the alien suit Jim is utilizing, seems to be the ultimate in sexy to the repulsive aliens. Of course, the book also undergoes some radical shifts in plot, as this series is well know for, sending Jim from a cold, ruthless planet, to alternate realities. The winning part of this novel is that Jim finds himself battling not just the alien hordes, but multiple bureaucracies that try to hamper him along his way to eventual victory.

As always, the shifts, and rocket pace of these novels are handles brilliantly by Phil Gigante. These audiobook versions are true gems for scifi fans.  Long time fans of Slippery Jim can experience his adventures again in a whole new format that will enhance their memories of this great series of books.

Audiobook Review: The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge by Harry Harrison

29 03 2011

The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge by Harry Harrison

Read by Phil Gigante

Brilliance Audio

Genre: Science Fiction

Quick Thoughts: The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge is science fiction action comedy at its finest made even better by the excellent performance of the narrator.

Grade: A

As a reviewer one of the things I hate most to do is review a “classic.” I mean, there are reason these books are classics. People who are much more important that a simple reader/listener who just happens to own a computer and is savvy enough to start a free blog where he can write his opinions on audiobooks, have deemed said book to be worthy of acclaim. So, who am I to disagree? Yet, conversely, on rare occurrences, those self declared experts on distinguished letters may be so blunted that what they deem as a brilliant classic, may just be, if I can use my customary eloquence, an over hyped turd. So maybe us simple minded blogger types serve as an everyman’s counterpoint to those elitists declaring what is and what isn’t a classic. Well, all of this reasoning and counter reasoning is truly moot, because The Stainless Steel Rat series is that rare combination of deserved classic, yet brilliantly accessible yarn pleasing even to us who enjoy Homer Simpson potty humor and pulpy fiction.

The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge is the second book in the series about “Slippery Jim” James Bolivar D’Griz, aka The Stainless Steel Rat. Slippery Jim is a futuristic conman, thief, master of disguise and all around anti-social fellow, who occasionally, when not busy robbing banks or other institutions, works for the Special Corps fighting evil and what have you. D’Griz can be called an anti-hero, I guess, because his crimes really do serve the public good by providing entertainment for the masses, as well as training for the police forces he must contend with. And that is the beauty of Slippery Jim, he is as talented in self justification as he is at breaking and entering. As the main POV character, his actions are filtered through his delusions of grandeur and public service. The jokes and witticisms come a mile a minute, and rarely do they miss. The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge moves as fast, and is as unapologetically over the top as an episode of 24, yet, one with a well times sense of humor. Despite the fact that this novel was written in 1970, it does not feel dated in the least bit. The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge is science fiction action comedy at its finest and a much needed break from the overly serious offerings that sometimes clutter genre fiction.

The Stainless Steel Rat series is perfect in audio form. Phil Gigante blows me away with his reading of the novels. He reads Slippery Jim with just the right amount of pretentious glee. He seems to take pleasure in the vast amounts of strange names, accents and personalities that he must bring to life. You can tell when a narrator is enjoying himself and there is no doubt Gigante is having himself a hell of a good time. If I have any complaints it’s that the jokes come so fast and furious, often times I found myself rewinding the audiobook to pick them up. The first novel in the series was justly nominated for an Audie, and there is no let down in book 2. The Stainless Steel Rat’s revenge is fast, furious fun, and a delight for the listener.