I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
In this prequel to the Stainless Steel Rat, Slippery Jim is a brash 17-year-old who has left his parents' porcuswine farm, planning to embark on a life of crime. The book opens with Jim bungling a bank job so that he can be arrested and sent to prison, where he plans to learn the art of being a master criminal. Deciding that the Bishop should be his mentor, Jim sets about proving himself worthy of the master's attention. He eventually has to flee his home planet of Bit O' Heaven with the Bishop, but Garth, the Captain of the ship who promised them safe passage, sells them into slavery. The latter part of the book details Jim's adventures on the planet Spiovente, a semi-industrial world fighting feudal wars with weapons smuggled in (against League regulations) by Captain Garth.
Harrison breathes some new life into the Stainless Steel Rat series by going back to Slippery Jim’s beginnings. Prequels must have been a fairly new phenomenon in the mid-1980s, as the author feels the need to explain them in a foreword. How times have changed—now we have all kinds of numbering orders and it feels quite normal.
Going back to Jim’s genesis was an inspired idea. Fresh off the porcuswine farm, he is determined to get sent to jail, where he anticipates meeting some impressive criminals who can provide a master-class in crime. Instead, he finds that the wise guys aren’t in the joint, they are free and doing what they do best. After escaping, he must hatch a plan to lure in the smartest criminal of all time, The Bishop.
We watch as Jim meets his mentor, develops his “code,” and adopts the SSR persona. Very entertaining and great for a couple of evenings of reading. Very cute, if somewhat repetitive. The writing is serviceable, but kindly don’t expect anything of Raymond Chandler quality. Harrison must have blasted these books out quickly and for fun, between other projects (or whenever he needed to top up the bank account).
Book no. 195 of my science fiction & fantasy reading project.