The Stainless Steel Rat Returnsby Harry Harrison
After a ten-year absence, the return of one of the most enduring series characters in modern SF
James Bolivar "Slippery Jim" DiGriz, Special Corps agent, master con man, interstellar criminal (retired), is living high on the hog on the planet of Moolaplenty when a long-lost cousin and a shipful of swine arrive to drain his bank account/b>/b>/b>
After a ten-year absence, the return of one of the most enduring series characters in modern SF
James Bolivar "Slippery Jim" DiGriz, Special Corps agent, master con man, interstellar criminal (retired), is living high on the hog on the planet of Moolaplenty when a long-lost cousin and a shipful of swine arrive to drain his bank account and send him and his lovely wife, Angelina, wandering the stars on the wildest journey since Gulliver's Travels.
In this darkly satiric work, Harry Harrison bring his most famous character out of retirement for a grand tour of the galaxy. The Stainless Steel Rat rides again: a cocktail in his hand, a smile on his lips, and larceny in his heart, in search of adventure, gravitons, and a way to get rid of the pigs.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.
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The Stainless Steel Rat Returns
By Harry Harrison
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2010 Harry Harrison
All rights reserved.
It was that time of day that should be inviolate, one of the rare moments in life when everything is going perfectly. I leaned back in the armchair and turned on the room-sized stereo — woofers the size of locomotives, tweeters that vibrated the teeth in your head — and J. S. Bach's toccata and fugue saturated the air with beauty.
In my hand was a glass of just-poured three-hundred-year-old treasured bourbon, chilled with million-year-old ice brought from one of the outer planets. How perfect! I smiled benignly and raised the glass to my lips.
Like a throbbing toothache, or a mosquito's distant whine, something penetrated paradise. A tinkle-tinkle that clashed with mighty Bach. I felt a snarl twist my lips as I touched the volume control and the great organ throbbed unhappily into silence. The front doorbell could be clearly heard again.
Tinkle tinkle ...
I punched an angry thumb at the button and the viewscreen came to life. A smiling, sun-darkened face leered out at me; broken teeth — and was that a straw hanging limply from his lips?
"You in there, Jimmy? Can't see nothing ..."
A wispy white beard, a battered cap, an accent horribly familiar: I felt the hairs stirring on the back of my neck.
"You ... you ...!" I gurgled hoarsely.
"Guess you can see me allrighty! I'm your long-lost Cousin Elmo come all the way from Bit O' Heaven."
It was like waking from a nightmare — and discovering the terrible dream had been true. A name I thought I would never hear again. The planet of my birth that I had fled so many years ago. Unwelcome memories flooded my brain while my teeth grated together with a grinding screech.
"Go away ..." I muttered through the gnashing.
"Yep — a long way to come. Though I can't see you I can tell yore glad to see me." The imbecilic smile, the bobbing stalk of straw.
Glad! Elmo was as welcome as a plague of boils, a poison chalice, a raging tsunami ... Why hadn't I installed door-mounted guns? ... I thumbed the volume control viciously, which only amplified his hoarse breathing, the straw-chomping lips. I hit the weapons detector, which flashed green. If only he had been armed, a reason to destroy ...
"Let me in, Jimmy, I got some great news for you."
There was a sound now along with his voice — a high-pitched squeal I thought I would never hear again. Trancelike I rose, stumbled to the front door, unlocked it ...
"Why Little Jimmy — you shore growed ..."
A sirenlike squeal drowned out his words as a small black body shot between my legs, quills rattling, heading straight for the kitchen.
"A porcuswine!" I gurgled.
"Shore is. Name's Pinky. Brought her along to remind you of the good old days!"
I was reminded all right! Dull, depressing, stupid, stifling, claustrophobic — yes indeed, I did have memories of Bit O' Heaven! A loud crashing and even louder squealing came from the kitchen and I staggered in that direction.
Destruction! Pinky had overturned the garbage can and was rooting in it happily as she pushed it crashing around the kitchen. Elmo stumbled by me holding out a leather leash.
"Come on, Pinky, be a good lil' swine!"
Pinky had other ideas. She drove the bin around the kitchen, crashing into the walls, knocking over the table, squealing like a siren with Elmo in hot pursuit. He eventually cornered her, dragged her out by the hind leg, wrassled her to a fall — at full scream — and finally got the leash on her.
Garbage covered the floor, mixed with broken crockery. As I looked down, horrified, I saw that I was still holding my brimming glass. I drained it and my coughing joined the angry squeals.
"Shore nice to see you, Jim. Mighty fine place you got here ..."
I stumbled from the room — aiming for the bourbon bottle.
Elmo and companion followed me with grunting companionship. I poured myself a drink with shaking hand, so shocked by this encounter that I actually filled a glass for him. He glugged it down and smacked his lips, then held out his empty glass. I sealed the bottle. That single drink probably cost more than he earned in a year from his porcuswinery. I sipped at my own while his bucolic voice washed over me with stunning boredom.
"... seems there has been a kind of interplanetary secession out our way, futures in porcuswine shares is drying up ..."
With good reason, I muttered to myself — and drank deep.
"... then Lil' Abner diGriz, yore forty-eight cousin on yore papa's side, said he saw you on the TV, he did. We was all talking and Abercrombie diGriz, been to a big school, cousin on your mama's side, he looked it up somehow on the computer and said you was in great shape, a millionaire somehow ..."
Somehow I would like to throttle Abercrombie slowly and painfully to death.
"... so we all kind of chipped in and rented this old spacer, loaded her with porcuswine and here we are. Broke but happy, you betcha! We knew once we got here that you would take care of yore own kin!"
I drank deep, thought wildly.
"Yes, ahh ... some merit in what you say. Porcuswine ranching, fine future. On a suitable planet. Not here of course, this planet, Moolaplenty, being a holiday world. I would hazard a guess that farming isn't even allowed here. But a little research, another agrarian planet, write a check ..."
"Might I interrupt for a moment — and ask just what is going on here?"
Innocent words spoken in a tone of voice of a temperature approaching absolute zero.
My darling Angelina stood in the kitchen door, holding out a broken teacup. I visualized the kitchen — her kitchen — from her point of view and my blood temperature dropped by ten degrees.
"I can explain, my love ..."
"You certainly can. You might also introduce me to the person sitting on my couch."
Elmo may have been a rural idiot but he was no fool. He scrambled to his feet, his battered cap twisting in his hands.
"Name's Elmo, ma'am, I'm Jimmy's kin ..."
"Indeed ..." A single word, two syllables, yet spoken in a manner to strike terror into the hearts of men. Elmo swayed, almost collapsed, could only gurgle incoherently.
"And I presume that you brought that ... creature with you?" The broken teacup pointed at Pinky, who was stretched out and burbling gently in her garbage-stuffed sleep.
"That ain't no critter, Miz diGriz — that's Pinky. She's a porcuswine."
My darling's nose wrinkled slightly. I realized that many years had passed since her last encounter with these animals. Elmo babbled on.
"From my home planet, you understand, a cross between wild pigs and porcupines. Bred there to defend the first settlers against the terrible native animals. But the porcuswine done licked them all! Defended the settlers, good to eat, great friends."
"Indeed they are!" I chortled hollowly. "As I recall during our magical engagement on Cliaand, that you were very taken by a piglet porcuswine named Gloriana ..."
A single icy glance in my direction shut me up with a snap of my jaw. "That was different. A civilized beast. Unlike this uncouth creature that is responsible for the wholesale destruction of my kitchen."
"Pinky's sorry, ma'am. Just hungry. I bet she would apologize iffen she knew how." He nudged the guilty porker with his toe.
She opened a serene red eye, clambered to her feet and yawned, shook her spines with a rattling rustle. Looked up at Angelina and squealed a tiny squeal.
I waited for the skies to part and a lightning bolt to strike the swinish miscreant dead on the spot.
Angelina discarded the shard of pottery, dropped to her knees.
"What a darling she is! Such lovely eyes!"
I swear Pinky smiled a beguiling smile. As from a great distance I heard my hoarse whisper. "Remember how porcuswine love to be scratched behind their ear-quills ..."
Pinky certainly did; she grunted with porcine pleasure. Other than this happy swinish chuckle, silence filled the room. Elmo smiled moronically and nodded. I realized that my mouth was hanging open. I shut it on a slug of bourbon and reached for the bottle.
Swathed in gloom I saw only trouble ahead. All my dreams of swinicide and mass murder vanished with my darling's newfound amour.
"So, Elmo, you must tell me all about your travels with this adorable swinelet."
"Her name's Pinky, Miz diGriz."
"How charming — and of course I'm Angelina to family." A chill look in my direction informed me that all was still not forgiven. "While we're chatting Jim will pick up a bit in the kitchen before he brings in the drinks trolley — so we can join him in celebration ..."
"Just going, great idea, drinks, munchies, yes!"
I made my escape as Elmo's nasal drone hurried me on my way.
I shoveled all the crockery — broken and unbroken — into the disposal and ordered a new set from Kitchgoods. I could hear its clunking arrival in the cabinet as I stepped out of the kitchen and hit the nuclear unbinder in the floor. The binding energy that held the molecules together lessened just enough so that the spilled garbage sank out of sight; there was a satisfying crunch as it became one with the floor when the binding energy was restored.
A sherry for Angelina, a medium-dry one that she enjoyed. I rooted deep in the drinks closet until I found a bottle of Old Overcoat coal-distilled whiskey — proudly displaying in illiterate lettering, "Aged reely over two hours!" Elmo would love it.
I added a bowl of puffed coconuts and wheeled my chariot of delight into the family room.
"... and that's how we done ended up here at yore place, Miz Angelina."
The nasal phonemes died away into blessed silence.
"That is quite an adventure, Elmo. I think you are all so brave. Thank you, Jim." She smiled as she took the glass of sherry.
The room temperature rose to normal. The sun emerged from behind the clouds. All had been forgiven! I poured a tumbler of Old Overcoat for Elmo who glugged it — then gasped as his mucous membranes were destroyed on contact. I sipped happily until the voice I loved spoke the words that sealed my doom.
"We must make plans at once to see that your relatives and friends — and their sweet companions — are well taken care of."
A shipload of refugee rubes and their companion swine well taken care of ...
I could see my bank balance depleting at lightning speed with nothing but zeroes looming on the horizon.CHAPTER 2
Most of my attention was on my drink when the nasal whine of Elmo's voice cut through the dark thoughts of my coming fiscal failure.
"The captain said what?" I broke in.
"Just that we was longer getting here than he thought so we owe him eighteen thousand an' thirteen credits. He ain't letting any more critters — human or swine — offen the ship until we pay up ..."
"That's called kidnapping — and pignapping — and is against the law," I growled. Cheered to have a target for my growing anger. "The name of this miscreant?"
"Rifuti. His first name is Cap'n. Cap'n Rifuti."
"And the ship is called ... ?"
"Rose of Rifuti."
"Don't you think it's past time we paid the captain a visit?" Angelina said. She smiled down at the snoring Pinky — but the chill of death was in her words as she thought of the crooked captain.
"We shall — but in some style," I said, turning to the viewscreen and punching in a number. The screen instantly lit up with the image of a robot — apparently constructed out of groundcar parts.
"Moolaplenty Motors at your service Sire diGriz — how may we aid you this lovely summer's day?" it said in sultry soprano voice.
"A rental. Your best eight-seat vehicle."
"A Rolls-Sabertooth, gold-plated, satellite-guided with real diamond headlights. It will be in your drive in ... thirty-six seconds. Your first day's rental has been debited to your account. Have a good one."
"We leave," I announced, leaning over and scratching Pinky under her ear-quills. She grunted happily, stretched, climbed to her trotters and gave herself a good rustling shake.
The groundcar was waiting for us, humming with barely restrained power; the robot chauffeur nodded and smiled mechanically. The albedo was so high, with the sun glinting off the gold plating, that I had to squint against the glare. I handed Angelina into her seat, waited until the porcuswinette curled up at her feet, and joined her. After Elmo clambered aboard I pressed the pearl- studded GO button on the armrest.
"To the spaceport."
"Arrival time three minutes and twelve seconds, Sire Jim and noble passengers." The robot chauffeur had obviously not looked too closely at Elmo. "And welcome as well to their pet dog ... errr ... cat ... pszip ..." Its voice chuntered to a halt, its computational software undoubtedly unacquainted with porcuswine.
For a few moments I was cheered by the gold-and-diamond luxury; then deeply depressed when I thought of the coming assault on my bank balance.
Moolaplenty was a holiday world and catered to the very rich and even richer. The glint of the diamond headlights drew a salute from the spaceport gate guard as that portal swung wide.
"We're going to the Rose of Rifuti," I said. His nostrils flared at the name; unflared when I slipped a gold cinque coin into his tip pocket.
"You jest, sire."
"Alas, it is our destination."
"If it is, I suggest that you stay upwind. Row nine, pad sixty-nine."
The carputer beeped as the driver heard the location and we surged forward.
While all about me the riders smiled, laughed, grunted porcinely, I was struck down and immersed in the darkness of gloom. I hated the fact that Elmo had ever been born and grown up to invade my happiness. I was cheered that Angelina was cheered, but I had the depressing feeling that all was not going too well.
I was right. Our magic motor stopped, the doors swung open — and we must have been downwind because a certain effluvia crept over us. The eau de barnyard flashed me back to my youth.
"Porcuswine ..." I muttered darkly.
"Not the most welcome reception," Angelina said, frowning at the spacer.
An understatement if there ever was one. Each of the landing fins of the battered, rusted spaceship was attached to a thick chain, which in turn was bolted to the ground. A heavy chain-link fence circled the pad. There was a single large gate in the fence, that was just closing behind an official-looking vehicle. A dozen armed guards scowled at our arrival while a grizzled sergeant stepped forward and jerked his thumb over his shoulder.
"No visitors. All inquiries at the guardhouse."
"But that car just went in!"
"Officials only. They're an inspection team from Customs and Quarantine."
"Understandable. Now Sergeant, would you be kind enough to do me a favor? See that this donation reaches the Old Sergeants' Rest Home and Bar."
The thousand-credit note vanished as swiftly as it had appeared. It tempered our conversation.
"The ship's quarantined. Just those medical officers allowed inside now."
But it wasn't quite working out that way. A gangway had been run out from the lower spacelock. The officials had just started up it when loud cries and a fearful squealing sounded from the open lock. An instant later there was a thunderous pounding as a black horde of quill-shaking, galloping porcuswine poured out of the ship. The officials dived for safety as the stampede swept by. The thundering herd headed for the gate, which was now closed and locked. The lead boars snorted with porcine rage and turned, leading the pack around the circumference of the fence.
Then, waving shovels and prods, the angry farmers poured down the gangway and ran after them in hot pursuit. Round and round the fenced enclosure they rushed. I leaned back against our groundcar and beamed happily.
"Beautiful!" I said. Angelina frowned at me.
"The swinelets might get hurt ..."
"Never! The sows are the best mothers in the known universe!"
Eventually the great beasts tired of their circular performance and were herded back aboard the ship. I resisted the urge to clap in appreciation of the performance. The sergeant waited until the clatter of hooves had died away and considered his litany of woe.
"Quarantined with good reason, I would say, sir. In addition to these sanitary problems there are financial ones. Landing fees, rubbish removal and site-rental charges have not been paid. If you wait here I'll send for an officer to give you the gen."
Then he moved like a striking adder. Kicking the gate open, grabbing the yiping Elmo by the collar and hurling him through it, hauling a squealing Pinky by the leash right after him. The gate slammed shut behind him and he dusted off his hands.
"This guy and that thing got out before the quarantine came down. Somebody is in very bad trouble."
I sighed tremulously and suspected that that person would surely turn out to be me. I dug deep into my wallet again. All I could see ahead was my bank balance spiraling downwards, ever downwards. I also saw that one of the guards was hauling Elmo and the loudly protesting Pinky to the spacer. They went up the elevator in the access gantry. Their arrival in the ship provoked almost instant results. Short moments later a uniformed figure emerged and retraced their footsteps.
Excerpted from The Stainless Steel Rat Returns by Harry Harrison. Copyright © 2010 Harry Harrison. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
HARRY HARRISON, Nebula–winning author of innumerable science fiction novels and stories, divides his time between Ireland and California.
HARRY HARRISON was the Hugo Award-nominated, Nebula Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of the Stainless Steel Rat, Deathworld, and West of Eden series, as well as Make Room! Make Room!which was turned into the cult classic movie, Soylent Green starring Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson. In 2009 Harrison was awarded the Damon Knight SF Grand Master Award by the Science Fiction Writers of America. He died in 2012.
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I'm going to spend this comment taking apart the idiot and dullard of a book reviewer at Publisher's Weekly who tried unfairly to paint Harrison as a racist in his public review. As he hasn't read the series, or Harrison's background from WWII where he worked with black soldiers as a Sgt. while their white jackass Officers were always giving them crap and trying to get them written up or jailed. Harrison wrote an article years ago about his experience of this, and the desegregation of the military and his anti-prejudice feelings. The Reviewer quotes the one sentence where jim remarks: > Jim (himself quite pink) declares that the different skin colors "should > have been bred out centuries ago." Firstly Jim is not pink. His race is never mentioned in the previous books, though he is generally portrayed as a white guy by artists on some covers and the comic book by creative license alone. Harrison (and he has said this before himself) always tried to keep race specifically vague for the main characters in his Rat books so that any reader identifies with Slippery Jim. Jim mentioned here that racial differences on the same planet and same continent were odd BECAUSE in his world (this series) humans had colonized the galaxy thousands of years ago. With an end to racial bigotry in THEIR modern social culture anyone would naturally be likely to marry anyone else regardless of race, so after thousands of years everyone is just a standard light brown color- why this color? It was predicted by scientists back in the 80s that that was what people would look like if all the races mixed out of existence. The result would be sort of brown with slightly asian eyes. Harrison went with this hypothesis in his series. He WASN'T saying that Jim is this color so it is the best some how. The reviewer also writes: > the green-skinned, shiftless, slow-witted majority oppresses the > smarter, slower-breeding, pink-skinned minority I didn't see the greens being any more shiftless than the LIGHT BROWN ones, or any more slow witted than the shipwrecked normal humans who were also savage, unlettered bumpkins. Again its like the reviewer is trying here to compare this story to black-white prejudice and accuse Harrison of being a race bigot. Harrison also invented a species of grey human that were smarter than normal and psychic, in a previous book of the series. They tried to take over the galaxy and Jim and the bureau he worked for back then stopped them. The greens, being a mutated species had an unhuman hive like caste system where the majority were like drones and didn't need to be smart. The minority in the greens were bred to lead by their own culture and so had higher intelligence. This had nothing to do with the unchanged shunned humans who lived separately. There was no use of comparison. When Jim landed, the smart leader greens colored themselves different "pure bred" human colors they remembered from the past to be most pleasing to who ever they might be talking to. The remaining normal humans there interbred over the centuries giving the "nice healthy brown" that would be normal to his universe, again Harrison was not praising color here, just stating fact. This was the normal way people looked, unless they were from an isolated colony, but they would still be all the same color in the colony because of hundreds of years of interbreeding there. I guess the word skin color jus
I will make this short. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly that throws Harry Harrison under the racist bus with his review is mistaken and does himself and Publishers Weekly a dissrevice with his ignorant review. If he has any class he will retract it. This book is a great read and typical slippery Jim Degriz.
Always a pleasure spending time with Jim