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Saturday, 1 September 2012

Stainless Steel Style

My first exposure to Harry Harrison's writing was actually via an adaptation of his work for the UK sci-fi comic 2000AD. The Stainless Steel Rat appeared in issues in the late seventies early eighties, written by Gosnall and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra (who drew Jim like James Couburn). It was quite different to a lot of 2000AD stories, as it captured the irreverent humour of Harrison well, and I loved the idea of a space-age thief (because let's face it we all wanted to be Han Solo, not Luke Skywalker).
A few years later, when I started to read a bit more sci-fi (mainly Heinlein) I decided to try the SSR books, and from there got into Deathworld, Bill the Galactic Hero, and the Eden books.
Harrison was a skilled writer. His style was easy to devour, avoiding the pomposity of many sci-fi writers and he managed to write humour without deriding the genre. I found it interesting that Harrison's origins were in the comics field- he was an illustrator and a writer of syndicated comic strips in the 1950s.

Deathworld was Harrison's first SF novel. It was originally serialised, as were many of the fantasy and SF books of that era. Its hero, Jason dinAlt, is a typical Harrison rogue--he is a gambler with some psychic ability--and he meets and accompanies Kerk Pyrrus to the planet Pyrrus (the Deathworld of the title). When I read the book first time I was blown away by the mixture of action and humour that typifies Harrison's work. Harrison wrote three Deathworld books in the sixties, but it was the Stainless Steel rat series that produced the greatest output.

After discovering them in 2000AD I read the first seven books through the 1980s, four of which had been written when i got into the series, and three after (SSR for President, SSR is Born and SSR gets Drafted). The decision to write SSR books about Jim's youth was a great idea, in my opinion, as the series was turning into a little of a family affair by the fourth book.

Jim DiGris was a perfect anti-hero. He was a moralistic thief and con-man who abhorred killing, justified his thievery by saying it provided the galaxy with something to talk about, and was dedicated to his missus and kids. His love, Angelina, has less compunctions about bumping people off. The concept of the Special Corps (a group of largely ex-criminals who now fight crime) formed the basis for the early books, and highlights Harrison's love for the rogue in SF.

Harrison lived until 87, which is fair going, and its hard to be too sad about his passing as he leaves an astonishing catalogue of work behind. I'm planning to catch up on the SSR books that I never read, and indeed the Bill, Galactic Hero sequels. There are so many books and so little time!

1 comment:

  1. I read a great deal of Harry Harrison's work as a teenager. I had to filch it from my father's library, and then try to replace it with out his knowing, as they considered it to be too lurid for me. I read all the great sci-fi and fantasy works that way. I now think my father knew, and as long as I was slick he didn't raise a fuss but of course he would never go against the established code in the home, as they always presented a unified front to us. It was my father who gave me my first typewriter and told me to write.