Archive for July, 2009

Harry Harrison Podcast (Part 1 – Sex in SF)

30 July, 2009

As an experiment, I’m going to post some audio files – these are from a recording of an interview I conducted with Harry Harrison ‘on stage’ at Octocon in 2001. I’ve split the interview into a number of sections, ranging in length from 5 to 15 minutes or so: I split the file wherever there was a natural subject change.

The convention panel was originally titled ‘Harry Harrison at 50′ and was intended to be a celebration of the fact that Harry had been a professional SF writer for 50 years at that point.

As this was a live recording, the sound quality isn’t brilliant, but it is – I hope – audible.

If you have any difficulty accessing it or hearing it, let me know. The file is approx. 4.5Mb.

Thanks to Harry for allowing this recording to be posted to the blog.

After a brief intro from me, this first part goes straight into a discussion of Sex in Science Fiction, which Harry had written about in the book Great Balls of Fire.

01 – Intro & Sex in SF

Stainless Steel Art (33)

16 July, 2009

Martin Stockdale e-mailed me a cover which I haven’t posted before – from the Berkley edition of the Adventures of the Stainless Steel Rat published in August 1978. This book contained the first three Rat novels (that’s the first three in chronological order by publication)…

Martin’s copy of the book is well-read, as you can see from the scan – exactly what a HH book should be, of course… :)

I don’t have a record of the cover artist for this image – if you know who the artist is, please leave a comment.

Art: ?

Art: ?

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns – Chapter 3

15 July, 2009

ReturnSSR-Logo2

Chapter Three

Lighter in bank balance and heavier in heart, I led the way to the gantry elevator and thence into the welcoming airlock of the Rose of Rifuti.  My Angelina smiled, then laughed aloud when she heard the distant squeals and grunts of a porcuswine herd.  My bucolic youth down on the farm flashed before my eye—with concomitant black depression.  I had fled the agrarian cesspit of Bit ‘O Heaven for a successful—and happy—life of crime.  Now I felt myself retrogressing through time, returning to a life-choking farming fate that I thought I had left far behind me.  I went down the entrance corridor, staggering under a dark cloud of gloom.

I was jarred back to the present by sudden loud squealing that assaulted my ears—accompanied by shouts of pain and picturesque cursing.  More crashing and the sound of mighty hoofbeats sounded down the corridor.  Then, squealing and grunting, a porcuswine thundered around a bend in the corridor and galloped towards us.

Angelina, no coward, gave a little shriek at the sight.  Who could blame her?

One tonne of outraged boar rushed directly at us.  Sharp tushes sprayed saliva, tiny red eyes glared.

Sudden death was but meters away. 

Salvation rose reluctantly from the dark depths of my memory and I heard my voice, calm and relaxed, gently beguiling in a swinish way.

“Sooo-eee…sooo-eee….here swine, swine swine!”

With skidding hooves a tonne of outraged pork skidded to a halt before me.  Sinister red eyes rolled up to look at me; the razor teeth chomped and drooled.  I reached out, gently lifting the creature’s meter-long quills with my left hand, reached under with my right and scratched vigorously behind the beast’s ears.

It shivered with pleasure and burbled happily.

Angelina clapped her hands with joy.

“My hero!”

“A humble childhood skill that proved most useful,”  I said, scratching away to the accompaniment of blissful swinish grunting.

Crisis averted I became aware of  a tumult of shouting—plus some screaming—that grew louder.  Then two of the crewmen came into view, running towards us carrying a stretcher with a recumbent figure.  Close behind them a galloping  crowd of angry farmers, waving pitchforks and clubs—very much like the last scene in a vampire film.  Leading them, his face red with rage, was the normally placid Elmo.

“And iffen he comes on this deck again he won’t leave it alive!”

The subject of his wrath appeared to be Captain Rifuti himself.  He moaned theatrically as he was carried past, clutching with his good hand to his obviously broken arm.

“We caught him sneaking into the sty deck!”  Elmo stopped and smiled down at the happy boar, then got in a quick quill-scratch of his own.  “Gnasher here knocked the Cap’n over.  Was going to eat him if we hadn’t got there in time.  Swineknapping, that’s what it was—he was after one of our porcuswinelets!   And we know WHY!”  Even Angelina joined in with the horrified gasps.

“You mean he…wanted to…?”

“That’s right, Miz Angelina.”   He nodded grimly and everyone gasped again.  Except me;  it was a little too hypocritical since I did enjoy my breakfast bacon now and then.

Angelina’s horror turned quickly to cold anger.  Unhappily aimed at me since I was the nearest target.

“Well former farmer DiGriz—what you mean to do about this?”  Her tone of voice lowered the air temperature by ten degrees.  I groped for an answer.

“Well—first I’ll turn this fine tonne of porcuswine over to his owners.  And then I’ll take care of  the rapacious Rifuti.”

“And what will that cataclysmic action  be?”

I looked around, then whispered  “I’ll tell you in private since there are other ladies present.”  Desperately buying some time—since my mind was emphatically empty of any inspiration.   “Stay with Elmo and I’ll find you later.  I don’t want you to see what happens next for I am mighty in my wrath!”

I shouted the last, turned and stamped down the corridor after the miscreant. 

But what could I possibly do?  Rifuti had paid quite a price already for his attempt to supplement the ship’s undoubtedly rotten rations.  Plus—I had a lot more important things to think  about besides his failed swineknapping.  This little contretemps had already cost me a small fortune with no end in sight.

I was on the bridge deck now with most official name plates on the doors in some ancient language—from the captain’s home world presumably.  UFFICIALE, CAPITANO, COMUNICAZIONE and OBITORIO.

I didn’t want to see the capitano just yet, but the entrance next to his held more promise—since it sounded very much like the Esperanto komunikoj.  I knocked and opened the door.

Lights flickered on a U-shaped control board, a speaker crackled with static.

“We’re closed,” the man at the control console said, not glancing up from the 3D comic he was reading; a tiny scream rose from its pages.  “Open at fifteen-hundred.”

“I want to send a warpdrive  interstellargram—and pay cash.”

The scream was cut off in mid-gurgle as he slammed the magazine shut and spun about in his chair.

“We’re open.  What you got?”

The lure of lucre, the call of cash—it never failed.  I had been mulling my problem over and the answer seemed obvious.  Money means banks and banks means bankers.  And my son James was now a most successful banker.  I scratched out a brief cry for help.

I soon had my answer and sent a return communication answering his relevant questions.  The operator’s eyes glowed warmly as the cash-on-the line pile of credits grew.

“Will the captain see any of this?” I asked.

“You just out of the funny farm?” he sneered.  Hard to do when you are biting down on a silver credit: it joined the others in the desk drawer.

My wallet contained just dust when the last communication from James arrived.

BE THERE SOONEST WITH SINGH.

I was broke so would have to wait until soonest to see who or what this was.

“Come back any time!” the operator chuckled.  My snarl and the slamming door his only answer.  I was now in the right mood to see the captain.  I threw open the door of his cabin and was instantly cheered.

He was screaming and writhing on the top of a hard desk while green-clad demons held onto his limbs and tortured him.  I did not interrupt.  Particularly when I saw  that they were medics who were setting his broken bones.  Reducing his fracture—a most painful procedure.

Once the cast was in place the needles came out and I interrupted.

“Pain killers, yes—but I want him conscious to answer a few questions.”

“Why?” the doctor asked, his occupation now revealed by the stethoscope around his neck.

“Because I must ask him and find out some most important facts.”

As I spoke I groped through all my pockets until, fortuitously I found a single, coin, dredged it out and passed it over.

“A hundred credits donation for the charity of your choice for your assistance in this important matter.”

“Thank you.  For the Children’s Aid Society.  Plus I didn’t really appreciate some of the curses he laid on us.  A pain killer and a stimulant.” 

Needles flashed.  Then they bundled up their equipment and were gone.  The red-eyed Rifuti turned his wrath on me but I got in a snarled pre-emptive strike before he could speak.

“You’re in big trouble, Rifuti.  The police are on the way to charge you with attempted swinicide, assault and battery, kidnapping, grievous bodily harm and barratry.” He gurgled incoherently, but I drove on mercilessly. 

“But you are lucky that I am here to save you.  I will have the police drop the charges.  I will pay all the debts of your passengers, both two and four legged.  I while pay all port charges accrued here.  And—wait for it!—I will pay a fair price to buy this decrepit excuse for a spaceship.”

He gurgled again and his eyeballs bulged at this last and I nodded and smiled benignly.

“Because if you don’t agree you will be dead within twenty-four hours.”  I husked this in a venom-dripping voice.

His face turned dark with anger and he opened his mouth to speak.  Then bulged his eyes even bulgier and gasped.

Because a scalpel had appeared in my hand—liberated from the doctor’s bag—and was rock-steady just millimeters before his eyes.  With a quick flip it neatly punctured the tip of his prominent nose and was still again—with a glistening drop of blood on its tip.

“Say yes…” I whispered.

I stayed silent, cold, counting upon his undoubtedly dicey history to put the frighteners  on him.

“Yes…” he whispered back.

The scalpel vanished and I stepped back.  “I’ll be back to you with my offer.  Of course if you talk to anyone about this you won’t live until morning.”

I exited.  I didn’t know if my threat would work or not.  If he did complain to the authorities I would see to it that he was sneered at— and a lot of official charges  would be dropped on him. At the very least my nebulous threats could only help the financial negotiations to come.  I returned happily to face my dear wife.  As I strolled I was already embroidering and improving on the story of my success.

I tracked Angelina down to the messhall where she was having a bucolic tea with the lady farmers from Bit ‘O Heaven.  The men had been dismissed as redundant and sent back to work.  Angelina smiled when I gave her a thumbs up sign and a big nod.  She bit daintily into a wurflecake and slipped a bit to Pinky who—just as daintily—snuffled it down.

“Ladies—”  I called out, “If I might have your attention.  The forces of evil laid low, the captain—very painfully—bandaged and repaired.  And made to see the light.”

“And which light would that be?’ Angelina asked.

I smiled and bowed to my attentive female audience.

“All debts will be paid.  These kind people, and their porcine charges, will find a new home on a sunlit paradise planet.  The good guys win!”

I pumped my fist over my head in a victory salute in answer to their joyous cries of happiness.  Angelina started to speak but I beat her to it.

“Not only that but our good son James is on his way here at this very moment—to handle the finances and mechanics of the agreement!”

“Jim—you don’t mean it?”

“I do my love—I most certainly do!”

She leaned over and gave me a most  inspiring buss on my cheek, radiant with joy, while the audience applauded.   But, happily,  she did not lean so far over that she could see that the fingers of both my hands were crossed behind my back.

Oh let it happen, oh powers that rule the odds of  seeing that white lies come true.

Oh please let it happen—or Slippery Jim diGriz is really in the deep, deep cagle. 

Angelina’s brow furrowed with thought.  With good reasons—my pep talk had more holes in it than a truo cheese.  I chuckled and turned away, speaking over my shoulder.

“Sorry—no time for tea.  James asked me to do an inventory of the ship for him.  I’ll be back soonest.”

If I had a conscience I would be staggering under the weight of all my white lies.  But I had happily laid that burden down when I opted for a life of crime.

But I did want to see what shape the ship was in.  I started my survey on the bridge deck and worked my way down to the engine room.   With each noisome compartment entered, each scuffed door opened, my depression grew.  Firstly—no one seemed to be on duty.  None of the stations were manned; lights were turned low or burnt out.  Filth everywhere.  The Rose of Rifuti was a spacegoing slum.  It was only when I reached the dorm deck that I found any trace of the crew.  I pushed open the door labeled TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT  and fought my way in against a miasma of old food, stale sweat and dope fumes.  I kicked my through the discarded trays and crushed drink containers,  to reach the bunk where a scruffy man lay smoking a green joint and listening to a scratchy recording of some coal-mining and steel-mill music.  I knocked the music player to the deck and crushed it under my boot heel.  The unshaven music lover looked up and snarled an oath.

“Ekmortu stultulo!”

Drop dead stupid!  My temper, by this time was only held in place by a slender thread—cracked.  In an instant I dragged him from the bunk by the collar of his soiled jumpsuit, shook him teeth-rattlingly, cursed a mighty oath and—if this wasn’t enough—the scalpel, appeared—large before his popping eyes.

“Take a breath and you’re a dead man,”  I growled with the voice of doom.

Only when his face began to grow blue with incipient cyanosis did I hurl him, gasping for breath, back onto his bunk.

I glared around at the terrified  men who lolled on the other sordid bunks.

“Now hear this!  I have just bought this ruin of a spaceship and am the new owner.  You will obey my orders or—”  My wrist twitched and the scalpel sped the length of the room and thudded into a distant pillow—a scant millimeter from the shocked face of  a crewman.

I spun on my heel, dropped into a karate killing position and glared at the now terrorized crewmen.  “Anyone disagree with that…?”

Of course none of them did.  Nostrils flaring I turned slowly, facing them down one by one.  Stalked the length of the bunkroom and retrieved my scalpel.

“My name is James diGriz.  You may call me master—LET’S HEAR IT!”

“Yes…master…” the ragged response came.

“Good.  I will now inspect the rest of the ship and will return in precisely one hour.  By that time you will have cleared up this swinesty, washed and shaved, be prepared to be loyal crewmen—or die…”

The last words were spoken so coldly that they breathed a mutual moan and swayed like trees in the wind.  On this high note I exited and continued my depressing inspection of the specious spacer.

The engine room was last and the unoiled door hinges squealed like all the others.  The shouted voice rattled off my eardrums.

“You are a mechanical moron!  Don’t you know which end of a screwdriver goes into the slot of a screw?  Come closer and I will demonstrate on your…”

There was a pained shriek and a crewman fled by me, followed by a veritable hail of screwdrivers.  His pained moans died away down the corridor; I nodded approval; at least someone was working on this garbage scow.

He was gray-haired and as solidly built as one of his engines, bent over the guts of one of them, probing in the recesses behind an open panel.  As I approached I heard him mutter imprecations.

And I understood them!  A language I had learned painfully on a very painful planet.  Cliaand.

“Well done, oh mighty engineer, very well done!”  I said in the same tongue.  He straightened, spun about, jaw-dropping.

“You are speaking Cliaand…” he said.

“I’m glad you noticed.”

Then his eyes widened and he pointed a greasy finger at me.

“And I know you—you were the pilot of my ship during the Final War.  In fact I   even remember your name—Lieutenant Vaska Hulja.”

“What a memory!  Whereas I have completely forgotten yours.”

“Stramm, Lieutenant Hulja.”

“Lieutenant Hulja is gone with the war!  My name is Jim.  It is a pleasure, good Stramm. I was indeed your pilot.  And, sadly, your saboteur.  Let me apologize at last for blowing up your fine engines.”

He waved away the words and smiled broadly.  “I should thank you, Jim.  Ended the war and got me out of the navy and back to work as a civilian.”  His smile turned swiftly to a depressed frown.  “Not your fault that I signed on to this bucket of rusty bolts.”

“Soon to change,” I said and shook his oily hand, then wiped my hand on the rag he passed over.  “You’ll never guess who the new owner is.”

“Make my day!  It isn’t…you…?” 

I lowered my head and nodded slowly.  He chortled with joy and we pumped a greasy handshake again.

“Can I ask you a few questions about this ship?”

His smile vanished and he growled deep in his throat.  “Ask—but you won’t like the answers.”

“I agree in advance.”

“The captain’s a crook and a smuggler.  The crew are alcoholic villains.  They were only hired because by interplanetary law a crew this size is required. They do nothing.  Their work is done by robotic controls which are slowly deteriorating.  I’m surprised we made planetfall at all.  I’ve already quit this job.  But I want to adjust the atomic generator before it goes into meltdown.  My engines are sound—but nothing else on the ship is.   All patched up and jury-rigged and decaying while you watch.  I’ve already quit and I have sabotaged the engines.  I’ll put them right—when I get my overdue salary.  Welcome, Jim, welcome to the Rose of Rifuti.”

I sighed a tremulous sigh.  “I had a feeling that’s what you would say, oh honest engineer Stramm.  At least things can’t get worse.”

Even as I spoke these words aloud my mother’s oft-repeated dictum whispered in my ear.

Bite your tongue.

Firmly superstitious, she believed you were tempting fate to say this. Ha-ha—so much for superstition…

There was a crash as the door burst open and Elmo staggered in, red-faced and clutching his chest.

“Jim…” he gasped.  “Come quick!  The worst has happened!”

He drew in a tortured breath and spoke in a doom-laden voice.

“They are here now—hundreds maybe!”  Shouted aloud dark  with despair. 

“Men with guns!  They want to kill all the porcuswine!!”

(c) Harry Harrison, 2009 

To be continued… You can find out what happens to Slippery Jim and his ship-load of porcuswine in The Stainless Steel Rat Returns! published by Tor in Summer 2010.

SSR-Logo-2009

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns – Chapter 2

14 July, 2009

Chapter Two         

 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.”

I shuddered.

“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 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 earquills.  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 chauffer 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 chauffer had obviously not looked too closely at Elmo.  “And welcome as well to their pet dog…errr..cat…pszip..”  It’s 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 chainlink 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 enquiries 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 hurried 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 though it, hauled 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 ahead see 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.

As he came towards me I saw the wrinkled uniform, battered cap and even more battered, unshaven face.  I turned away from the sergeant and looked coldly at the approaching figure .  This repellant creature had to be Captain Rifuti.

“I want to talk to you!” he shouted.

“Shut up,” I suggested.  “I’m the only chance you have of getting out of this mess.  I talk and you answer?  Understand?”  My patience was wearing thin.

His face was twisted and dark with anger.  He took a deep breath and, before he could say anything, I made a preemptive strike.

“Sergeant – this officer appears to have violated quarantine procedures.  He is commander of an unsafe ship, has kidnapped his passengers, as well as committing a number of other crimes.  Can you put him behind bars – at once?”

“Good as done.”  He reached out then stopped; no moron the sergeant and he quickly twigged as to what was going on, then added in a growling voice,  “Unless he shuts his cakehole and follows your instructions.”  For punctuation he grabbed the protesting captain and gave him a quick shake that rattled the teeth in his head.

Crooked he certainly was – but stupid he was not.  His face darkened and I thought he was going to burst a blood vessel.  “What you want?”  he asked, albeit with great reluctance.

“Slightly better. You have told your passengers that they have additional fees to pay.  You will produce records justifying these payments.  Only then will I pay these and the spaceport charges that you have incurred.  After that we will discuss what is going to be your next port of call, to which you will transport your passengers and their cargo…”  This last was a feeble attempt to get rid of my friends and neighbors – not to mention their porcine companions.

“No way!  I gotta contract that says I bring ‘em here and here they stay!”

“We’ll see what the quarantine authorities have to say about that.” Grasping for straws, aren’t you Jim?

Some time later – and a good deal lighter in the bank account – I sat in the Base Commander’s office sipping at a very fair domestic brandy that he had been kind enough to open for us.  And the Mayor’s first assistant who had joined us.  They smiled – as well they might with all my money in their coffers – but they were firm.
 
Elmo’s pilgrims and their quilly creatures were not welcome on the holiday world of  Moolaplenty.  This was a vacation planet for tourists – as well as home for well-heeled residents like me.  And all the food was imported.  Not a single farm or tilled field sullied the well-manicured countryside.  Dreadfully sorry – but this policy was entrenched in their constitution, pinned down in the law books, inviolate and unchangeable. We are desolated, Sire Jim – but do have another bit of brandy the Base Commander smarmed.  With no reluctance whatsoever I accepted.  All I could see was gloom and unhappiness and a prevailing blackness in my future.   

Blackness – the color of porcuswine quills…

 

To be continued…

(c) Harry Harrison, 2009

Note: The Stainless Steel Rat Returns will be published by Tor in 2010

The Stainless Steel Rat Returns – Chapter 1

13 July, 2009

ReturnSSR-Logo

Chapter One

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. A 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 hard again.

Tinkle tinkle…

I punched an angry thumb at the button and the viewscreen came to life. A smiling, sundarkened 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 his 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 that I would never hear again…Trance-like I rose, stumbled to the front door, unlocked it…

“Why Little Jimmy – you shore growed…”

A siren-like 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’m, I’m Jimmy’s kin…”

“Indeed…” A single word, two syllables, yet spoken in a manner to strike terror into the heart’s 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 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 mucus 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.

To be continued…

(c) Harry Harrison, 2009

Note: The Stainless Steel Rat Returns will be published by Tor in 2010

Harry Harrison at Octocon 2009

11 July, 2009

octoconlogo
Harry will be a guest at the Irish national SF convention, Octocon, in October 2009. Further details of the convention can be found on the Octocon 2009 website.

Art: Michael Carroll

Also a guest at the convention is Michael Carroll, author of the Quantum Prophecy series, and my co-conspirator on the Official Harry Harrison website. The website will be 10 years old in October (we did the launch at Octocon in 1999), so hopefully we’ll be able to do something to celebrate that.

New RAT Book – Bad News and Good News!

10 July, 2009

News from Tor, the publisher of the US edition of The Stainless Steel Rat Returns!,  is that the book will be published in ‘early Summer 2010′ — which is ages away, I know…

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the publisher has agreed that we can publish the first three chapters of the book here on the blog – and you’ll only have to wait until the beginning of next week for that… :)

Stainless Steel Art (31)

9 July, 2009

Severn House is a UK publisher which specialises in hardback reprints which are (mainly) sold to public libraries. They did the first UK hardbacks of a number of HH novels, including the To The Stars trilogy and The Stainless Steel Rat which we’ve featured here previously.

Here is their cover for The Stainless Steel Rat’s Revenge from 1993.

Art: Martin Buchan

Art: Martin Buchan

Stainless Steel Art (32)

8 July, 2009

A couple more scans of paperback covers from my collection.

Artwork: Bruce Pennington

Artwork: Bruce Pennington

Bruce Pennington is a great artist – his book of paintings Ultraterraneum is full of fabulous and haunting images. He’s probably best known for his covers for Gene Wolfe novels such as Shadow of the Torturer and Frank Herbert’s Dune trilogy. He was also the (mystery) artist for my favourite Technicolor Time Machine cover, featured back in the early days of this blog. His cover for this Rat book is dramatic – it would make me pick up the book – but doesn’t really have much connection to the story as far as I can see.

Art: Peter Elson

Art: Peter Elson

This is another of the Sphere (UK) covers by the late, great Peter Elson. Have I mentioned before that I like his Rat covers? :)

Get Lost!

7 July, 2009
Artwork: Esposito

Artwork: Andru & Esposito

Some of the obscure Harry Harrison items are more obscure than others. Here’s one that came my from Denny Lien via Phil Stephensen-Payne. Thanks to both Denny and Phil for this information.

Get Lost! was a Mad magazine wannabe, created by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito, which lasted for three issues in 1954. Virtually all of the content of the three issues was written and drawn by the two artists, but Harry Harrison contributed one spoof text article — with illustrations by HH, I think — called ‘How to Make Your Own Comic Book.’ The one and a half page article was published under the pseudonym Robsjohn Gluck.

The three issues were republished in a single volume in 2007 by Hermes Press as Andru and Esposito’s Get Lost! It is listed by Amazon, and is certainly worth a look. As well as the HH piece there are spoofs of Flash Gordon and Robin Hood, and the usual Mad-style nonsense.

Harry Harrison was himself responsible for editing, and partially writing and drawing, another Mad rip-off called Nuts! which I haven’t seen.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 49 other followers

%d bloggers like this: