The Stainless Steel Rat is James Bolivar diGriz, who goes by many aliases, including "Slippery Jim" and "The Stainless Steel Rat". He is a futuristic con man, thief, and all-round rascal. He is charming and quick-witted. He is also a master of disguise and martial arts, an accomplished bank robber, a criminal mastermind, an expert on breaking and entering, and (perhaps most usefully) a skilled liar. Master of self-rationalization, the Rat frequently justifies his crimes by arguing that he is providing society with entertainment; and besides which, he only steals from institutions that have insurance coverage. He displays a strong sense of morality, albeit in a much more restricted sense than is traditional. For example, diGriz will steal without compunction, but deplores killing.
The character was introduced in Harrison's short story "The Stainless Steel Rat", first published in 1957 in Astounding magazine. The story introduces the Rat, who has just carried out a successful larceny operation, and subsequently details a complex bank robbery the Rat pulls off with ease; however, he is outfoxed by the mysterious "Special Corps" — a crime-fighting organisation staffed with former criminals — and recruited by them in order to fight crime. Harrison used the story, with minor modifications, as the introduction to the series' first full-length novel, also called The Stainless Steel Rat. Like other characters created by Harrison, the Rat is a speaker of Esperanto and advocates atheism.
There are 13 works in the Stainless Steel Rat series.The Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat
(1978) anthologized the first three books: ISBN 0-425-04378-9
The Stainless Steel Rat Omnibus
(2008) anthologized the first three books: ISBN 978-0-575-08171-0 (Gollancz)
Based on information in The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World it is possible to work out when the timeline is set: James is sent 32,598 years into the past to 1975, making events happen in and around 34,573 (in the 346th century) – although Professor Coypu also mentions that they are now using a different calendar to the Gregorian calendar. Specifics of the new calendar are never mentioned.
The Stainless Steel Rat, The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World and The Stainless Steel Rat for President were adapted into a comic strip form in early issues of 2000 AD, written by Kelvin Gosnell and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra. Ezquerra drew Jim with an appearance modelled on the actor James Coburn. They appeared in the following issues of 2000 AD:The Stainless Steel Rat, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 140–151 (Nov. 1979 to Feb. 1980).
The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 166–177 (June to Sep. 1980).
The Stainless Steel Rat for President, 12 episodes, 2000 AD progs 393–404 (Nov. 1984 to Feb. 1985).
The first appearance of The Stainless Steel Rat in prog 140 was supposed to be preceded with a brief panel of explanation of who Jim was. However, an editorial error meant that the panel actually appeared at the end of the first episode, not the beginning. This prompted a letter to be printed in prog 148 from Harry Harrison himself pointing out the error, for which he won £3.
These three stories were colorized and reprinted by Eagle Comics in 1985 and 1986 as a six-issue limited series.
They were also collected in a trade paperback in July 2010 (ISBN 1906735514).
Harrison also produced a book in the style of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, called You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat (ISBN 0-441-94978-9), the reader being told that their decisions would "determine whether he or she can find Prof. Geisteskrank on the planet Skraldespand and bring him back before he activates a lethal new weapon". The reader generally cannot fail in this mission, regardless of his or her choices, although it is possible to get caught in an inescapable loop at one point.
In the tribute anthology Foundation's Friends, Harrison wrote a story, The Fourth Law of Robotics, which featured the Stainless Steel Rat in the setting of Isaac Asimov's Robot series.
The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat, a board game inspired by the character, was published by SPI in their magazine Ares in the late 1970s. Designed by Greg Costikyan, the game involved the Rat infiltrating a space station under hostile control.
Angelina diGriz is a criminal mastermind much like the Rat, only less ethical and more willing to kill. As the Rat's first case for the Special Corps, he tracks Angelina down and ends up falling in love with her. After her capture, she undergoes psycho surgery (not to be mistaken for "psychic surgery") to lessen her homicidal tendencies and she also joins the Corps; during that time she begins a relationship with the Rat that ends with them marrying in the last trimester of her pregnancy. She later assists on many of the Rat's adventures, often providing advice and solutions that Jim himself is unable to see. While she is no longer a heartless killer, her suppressed homicidal tendencies occasionally come out, especially when she sees another woman in close proximity to her husband.
James and Bolivar diGriz are the twin sons of the Rat and Angelina. The Rat missed the first six years of their life because of his adventures in time, but they share their father's attitudes and many of his skills. They end up marrying the same woman, who falls in love with both of them and gets herself duplicated into two identical women sharing one mind.
Harold Peters Inskipp is the director of the Special Corps and one of the most powerful men in the Galaxy. He recruits the Rat, but is frequently infuriated by his insubordinate attitude and tendency to "go rogue" and commit independent crimes for sheer enjoyment. Ironically, the Special Corps is composed almost entirely of former criminals—Inskipp himself was a legendary fugitive known as "Inskipp the Uncatchable" before being recruited and eventually becoming the Corps' commander.
One of the few Special Corp members not taken from the criminal fraternity, Professor Coypu is a boffin who had developed a Time Helix device permitting time travel as well as a portal to alternate realities. He also has a great deal of general scientific knowledge, and sent a copy of his mind with the Rat on his excursion to the 20th century to enable Jim to build a time helix and return to his native time. Coypu is rarely described, apart from having prominent buck teeth - a trait he shares with his namesake, the Coypu, or "nutria".
The Bishop was a master criminal on Bit O'Heaven, the Stainless Steel Rat's home planet. He was a lot less physical in his capers than Jim but undertook robberies, always leaving as his calling card a picture of the bishop chess piece. He retired from robbery before Jim was born, focusing instead on computer crime, and Jim only learnt of his existence from a fellow prisoner while briefly in jail. Jim then contacted The Bishop by using his calling card in a robbery, however as a result The Bishop was forced out of retirement when he underestimated the Police's computer security systems after running a check on Jim himself. The Bishop eventually became Jim's mentor and taught him a great deal about their trade, as well as a code of ethics. Eventually Jim and The Bishop had to leave Bit O'Heaven and on their first off-planet adventure The Bishop was killed. As a parting gift he left Jim a note that he signed with his real name, although the name is not revealed to the reader.
The Kekkonshiki, also known as "The Gray Men", are a human culture who initially prefer domination to coexistence. Their expertise lies in using technology to manipulate sentient minds, and they have manipulated both humans and aliens on a grand scale. Jim has experienced one of their techniques (in which a gray man agent seemingly severs his hands with an axe; this was an illusion). Jim has knowingly opposed them on two separate occasions (The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge & The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You) however during conversation it is revealed by Kome that prior to The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You Jim has in fact thwarted their plans twice already, making this their third encounter. The text can also be read to say that the second time he thwarted their plans was with the alien invasion so the third encounter also happened during The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You when Jim invaded their home planet. They live on a harsh, icy world; this existence forced them to eliminate all emotion from their culture. This society is also completely patriarchal, with women being treated as nothing more than property. During Jim's interactions with Hanasu - a disgraced Kekkonshiki council leader - he persuades them to reinterpret their teachings, and they embark on a more peaceful co-existence with the rest of humanity. (Incidentally "Kekkonshiki" is the romanization of the Japanese word for "Marriage Ceremony" 結婚式.)
The MIT class ring, commonly referred to as "The Brass Rat", when cast in Celestrium (also known as jeweler's steel) is often referred to as "The Stainless Steel Rat" in reference to The Stainless Steel Rat series.
The Chinese activist Liu Di, writing under the screen name "Stainless Steel Rat" (不锈钢老鼠), became a high-profile symbol for democracy and free speech in China since her detention in November 2002. Her screen name is often translated as Stainless Steel Mouse.
In The Librarians episode "And the Happily Ever Afters", Noah Wyle as Flynn Carsen refers to John Kim as Ezekiel Jones, a thief, "master of technologies" as the "Stainless Steel Rat."
Galaxy reviewer Floyd C. Gale received the first novel favorably, saying "though pure entertainment, [it] underlines SF's role in providing speculative thought about potential problems."