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 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.