Harry Harrison's 1980s game book is a bit of a riot

In the house where I grew up, I shared a room with two older brothers. I was a nosy kid, and I have a lot of happy memories of looking through my brothers’ books and whatnot while they weren’t around. One day – this is decades back; I can at least remember that it was sunny – I found a paperback that my brother Paul had picked up somewhere. Paul liked science-fiction This was sci-fi. It was by Harry Harrison, and it was one of his Stainless Steel Rat novels.

Actually, it was a very special one, an odd one. But we’ll get to that in a second. Harry Harrison was a big deal in 20th century sci-fi, a writer who moved from illustrating comics to turning out novels that existed in the raggedy edge-lands between parodying space operas and reveling in their excesses. However he handled things, he always brought an anti-war message that was sometimes hidden, given the rather conservative genre he worked within. Outside of the Stainless Steel Rat books – the Rat is a charming con-man and occasional hero – he’s probably best known for writing the novel that Soylent Green was loosely based upon.

So yes, the book of Paul’s I’d found was a bit of an oddity amongst Harrison’s output. It was a game book. You Can Be The Stainless Steel Rat was published in 1985, according to my lovely eBay copy, battered but still with a bit of gloss on the cover. 1985! This means it hit right in the middle of the Choose Your Own Adventure craze, and it cleaves tight to many of the genre’s standards, like numbered sections that come with choices at the end. As a reader, you ping back and forth through the book following your instincts, and probably keeping a finger or two marking previous choices for the moments in which your instincts fail.

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