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Arbie's Unoriginally Titled Book Blog

It's a blog! Mainly of book reviews.

Currently reading

Station Zero
Philip Reeve
Progress: 220/282 pages
The Books of Earthsea: The Complete Illustrated Edition
Ursula K. Le Guin, Charles Vess
Progress: 749/997 pages
The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry
Robert Chandler
The Uncertain Land and Other Poems
Patrick O'Brian
Progress: 8/160 pages
The Heptameron (Penguin Classics)
Marguerite de Navarre
Progress: 152/544 pages
The Poems and Plays of John Masefield
John Masefield
Progress: 78/534 pages
Poems Selected
Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes
Progress: 4/50 pages
Selected Poems
U A Fanthorpe
Progress: 18/160 pages
The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse
Mick Imlah, Robert Crawford
Hainish Novels & Stories, Vol. 2
Ursula K. Le Guin
Progress: 133/789 pages
The Stainless Steel Rat for President  - Harry Harrison My political awareness dawned slowly and I would guess that is the way it happens for most people. When the Falklands were invaded by Argentina I thought it was a territorial dispute. When I read The Prince and The Art of War (cartoon version) as an undergrad I could not believe how blatently obvious the contents of both were. Somewhere in between, however, my awareness took a huge lurch forward in the time it took to read the 185p of this book.

I thought the whole thing was hilarious: not merely the cartoon violence and silly ego-boosting wise-cracks of the narrator, the Rat himself,but the idea of rigged elections and the "good guys" rigging things in order to defeat the Dictator and how the rigging was done and the propagandising - everything. I had no clue about such things prior - suddenly I was awakened to a whole new world of lying, cheating and moral compromise. Bit of a shock at the time and seemingly totally over the top.

But of course, I see from re-reading, the politics is tame compared to the realities of pseudo-democratic despot nations, the techniques deployed standard and the only unrealistic aspect of the whole thing the tiny body count.

Which brings up the topic of the tone of the book: the Stainless Steel Rat books are comedies and cartoon violence features strongly, played for laughs - up to the point of maiming or death. Then it is very serious and the Rat neither condones nor commits murder and struggles even to kill in self-defense. When such things happen the tone becomes very serious indeed. There are deaths in this book and I would guess Harrison thought they were an essential ingedient of the book because back on Earth people die in droves fighting against the kind of self-serving dictator portrayed in this book. They should not be laughed at. Iwould like to compare and contrast this with other writers of cartoon violence, particularly Eoin Colfer in his Fowl biographer mode, Derek Landy (of Skullduggery fame) and China Mieville - specifically his Un Lun Dun. The lattermost of these writers fails miserably to keep proper control over tone, where-as the others know exactly when and where humour is appropriate and the contrasting seriousness is necessary. Harrison here, seems to be like these other writers in that the Rat books seem firmly aimed at kids, yet they seem not to have been overtly marketed towards them.

The readily recognised political situation removed to other worlds is a standard SF idea but other SF ideas are thin on the ground. What few technological gizmos are described in any detail struck me as completely preposterous, on the second reading - I don't remember that being my reaction first time round.

Not long after reading this the first time, I read Harrison's A Trans-atlantic Tunnel, Hurrah! then watched the whole Channel Tunnel financial fiasco unroll thinking through-out, "I read about this in a Harry Harrison book..." So Harrison seems to be an author best read whilst young for the huge educational benefits available "hidden" in his OTT SF stories...