Back in the 1980s I used to read the Stainless Steel Rat books. They’re good for teenagers, as they have a simplistic spirit of adventure, coupled with that most graceful of dramatic entities — the honest criminal. The Rat is just that, a thief (a hacker, really) with an aversion to killing. Like so many teenage boys, The Rat is also a genius living in a world of imbeciles. As far as I can see, Harry Harrison has therefore ticked every box when it comes to pleasing SF fans — and his books funny, adventurous and cross many technological and cultural milieus, from the primitive to the futuristic.

These adventures, billed as the first of The Rat’s great career are among his best. Harry Harrison starts every Stainless Steel Rat book in the midst of a heist, slap bang at the point of drama, and the books never relent on their fast pace, their humour and their attention to detail. The detail is particularly strong in A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, which goes into great depths concerning The Rat’s contraptions, plans and devices.

The Stainless Steel Rat (aka ‘Slippery Jim di Griz’) appears in 12 novels in all. In A Stainless Steel rat is born, the action takes place on Bit O'Heaven, the Stainless Steel Rat's home planet. It’s on this planet that The rat meets The Bishop, a criminal to whom he aspires. The Bishop is a lot less physical in his capers than Jim but like Jim carries out audacious robberies — in his case, 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.

We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment...

These lines are from the character known as The Bishop in "A Stainless Steel Rat Is Born". It’s The Bishop who lays out the Stainless Steel rat ethos, and it sticks.