I’ve been meaning to post this for a while and the discussion of devolving Ringworld sequels, prequels and connected works sparked my memory.
I recently encountered what may be the single worst sequel novel I have ever forced myself to read to the end, though. The Return of the Stainless Steel Rat (2010) was written by Harrison and published by Tor, and even though both are uneven entities, this book is so bad I can’t imagine what either one was thinking. Fans of the SSR: Do not read this book. Trus me. Run. Hide. Forget you ever heard of it. It will actually eat away at your compleat fan status.
I can’t make up my mind whether it was never intended to be an SSR story and either Harrison or his editor pasted some names into it, or if HH was so far gone in the year before his death that he (1) could write something much, much worse than even his usual low standards and/or (2) didn’t really remember who these characters were.
Aside from the names of the four or five primary characters, not one acts or talks like their former selves, even in the rather weak last sequel or two. The writing is absolutely abysmal. The whole story hangs on a few very weak bits about a new (or at least never-before-described) space drive; it’s almost like a junior high version of an early Heinlein gadget story… or a George O. Smith one.
I know this is probably inciting fans to want to run out and see, but this is one of the cases where I have to implore you, for your own good: don’t. You will regret it.
So sad. I mean, SSR was never great literature, but this dreary little coda is… unworthy.
(PS - meant to note that it didn’t even have an original title. The first sequel was “The SSR Returns.”)
Hell yes! I enjoyed “Saves the World” for the time loop tale, but most of the others just get caught up in a “can I top this?” trap. Each one has more impossible things. The Morality Corps. “The Teeth!”
Though it was funny to see Leverage sort of borrow the plot of *TSSR For President * in “The San Lorenzo Job”.
nitpick - the first sequel was The SSR’s Revenge
I prefer the Deathworld stories. Same super hero action, one third less stupidity.
I’d agree that the sequels after *President *are weak, but *Born *and *Drafted *have their own charm, I think. *Blues *- boring. *Circus *- boring and weird. *Hell *- boring and confusing. I get the sense with the latter three that they were novel ideas HH couldn’t make work on their own, so he wrapped them around di Griz and mailed them off.
(The sequence in Saves the World where Inskipp starts shooting the ceiling is some of HH’s best comedy writing, though, IMVHO.)
PS, yes I adore the Deathworld trilogy. Probably HH’s finest long-form works.
OK, that explains my confusion. I started off thinking “Wait, I’m pretty sure I read that, and it wasn’t all that bad”. Then I saw 2010 and thought “Huh? I’d have sworn I read it before then, and it was a used copy, so it’d have been even older”. I hadn’t realized that he was just (almost) re-using titles.
Agreement with silenus. The first book was fun, but they just got weaker and weaker.
I disliked the way Harrison came to lie to the reader. Paraphrasing, “They took everything from me. They took away every single lockpick, hidden probe, and all.” Then, a little later, “Using a lockpick that they had overlooked…”
That’s horse-shit writing, Lazy and dishonest. Ptui.
I hated that the character, who complained about our “overly-complex”* 20th century cars (“you could fly a spaceship with all the controls here”) doesn’t bat an eye at a coal-fired (!) robot.
*If you truly have a spaceship that can be controlled for faster than light travel and navigation with the equivalent of a speedo, gas gage, two idiot lights, steering wheel, blinker lever and shifter, then I guess you DO have the right to look down on us!
I think it’s (sadly) an age thing. He’s has his moments up till King and Emperor (1997). After that it’s a steadily accelerating downhill progression. Stars and Stripes ('98) was the first book of his I read that i finished and said to myself that was pretty bad and the sequels are worse.
He had a pretty good run but he’s not the first author whose books fall of a cliff as he ages, Oh hi Heinlein & The Number of the Beast, what are you doing in this thread? He had a pretty good run, let’s remember the good days.
I’ve read the first 3 or 4. Maybe 5. Can’t remember. They all blur together in a series of improbabilities and Deus Ex Machina. It’s a fun and interesting universe, but the Rat is always pulling amazing gadgets and weapons out of his ass, or off his fingernail, or his pockets, etc, even after he’s been searched. He can make pocketfuls of advanced micro-bombs and micro-gadgets with stone knives and bearskins in just a day, even when stranded in backwater towns or in the wilderness.
The pacing appears to be nothing but action scenes linked together by as little plotting and dialogue as possible. On the other hand, the internal monologue of the Rat is endless. I suffered from action fatigue, and halfway through every book I was aching for a conversation!
I will admit that I’m no student of sci-fi lit history, but I thought writing of this quality would be more 1940’s-vintage, instead of it’s actual post-1960 age.
The odd thing about Harrison is that he was capable of very good, almost lyrical writing - I put a few of his short stories in the short list of those I think are classics - and even the parallel work of the Deathworld trilogy is very competently written.
The strange, semiliterate, run-on style of the SSR books, beginning with the very first page of the original, is either contrived or drunk-typing done late at night.
That said, there are maybe a half dozen sequences, paragraphs or phrases that have really stuck with me - gems of writing and thought stuck in the mud of the juvie-pulpish writing. One is the hilarious sequence from Wants You! referenced above - cinematic in its pacing and punch lines. At the opposite end is a chilling little exchange from, I think, *Revenge *- his native guide and co-conspirator has been captured by the bad guys and brought to him for identification. He lies and says he’s never seen the guy before - “I didn’t hesitate. This was war and men die for a lot of reasons.”(Of course, he later rescues him.)
I have trouble reconciling the thoughtful, careful, insightful HH with the one who could apparently churn out half-literate pulp on alternate days.
TTM has elements of the sloppy writing from SSR, but mostly it falls into a category of subgenre that makes my teeth hurt - the “world-changing invention used to save the inventor’s cat” category. I suppose there’s humor value, and some of the interaction with the Vikings is pretty damned funny - especially the “Gundar finds Helsa in his bed” sequence (can’t remember the real names), but on the whole, books about the invention of time travel or interstellar flight or antigravity which is then used to fix some trivial problem in the inventor’s life just drive me crazy.
HH turned out a string of sort of half-written novels later - they were released in an odd format, high quality white paper and illustrations in mass paperback form. Very uneven. The one about the ocean liner was a competent take at a thriller but nothing to re-read. (The comments about Australian cuisine - “pink plonk and tough steaks” - is about all I remember). The one about the black Army officer sent back in time to the Civil War was better than most.
As I said, a maddeningly uneven writer. His best was very good. His worst should have been rejected from the slush pile.