Jim was left in the custody of the League Navy, this story opens with him escaping from his prison cell on the League base on Steren-Gwandra, where he is awaiting deportation back to his home world. He has discovered that Bibs, a crew girl from Captain Garth's ship, is also a prisoner. Jim holds Garth responsible for the Bishop's death, and plans to hunt him down, with Bibs' help. Garth is really the crazed Captain Zennor, head of an army which continually defies League peace treaties, and now plans to invade and conquer the planet Chojecki. The people of Chojecki are pacifists, having no armies and no police. But Garth's generals decide to attack anyway, since there are no medals for "generals who bring back the troops intact." Jim must save the people of Chojecki before he can face Garth.
The Stainless Steel Rat series is definitely an iconic one in the scifi community—it played with the idea of the charismatic criminal in that genre. It seems to me that Harrison’s SSR proved that science fiction didn’t need to just be space ships and ray-guns, it could also involve elements of the thriller and of comedy. In some ways, Jim diGriz reminds me of a more competent, less up-standing version of Maxwell Smart (of the Get Smart TV show) in the way he bumps along from problem to problem.
These books are light and fluffy. They are great when you need an easy read that will make you smile. As a female reader, you will have to put up with a certain amount of sexism, but at least to my mind it is sexism light. By this point in the SSR franchise, the ideas are quite tired and well worn. This volume is another prequel, dealing with Jim’s early life, but the ideas are basically the same—Jim must think his way out of various scrapes and problems quickly and often in extremely unlikely ways.
The basis of this book is making fun of the military, a rather easy target in many ways. Everyone “knows” that the food is awful, that recruits are worked to exhaustion and yelled at, and that the older men at the top stay safely behind while they send the younger men into battle. Harrison pokes fun at all of these ideas.
If you have found the previous books to be entertaining, you will probably enjoy this one too. If you were bored or disappointed by the previous volume, I would suggest quitting while you are ahead. These books are not getting better and might be arguably considered of lesser quality than the earliest ones.