Movies I’d Like to See – The Sci-Fi Series

From James Bond to Game of Thrones, successful book series are huge sources of ideas for moviemakers. You get a reasonably guaranteed audience for several films. Done right, they can be cash cows for a studio.

There’s one series that I think could make for decent movies: Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” science fiction novels.

To set the background, it’s well enough into the future so the human race has moved out and settled the galaxy, but not so far that people aren’t people anymore. There aren’t any aliens, either. Things are pretty good; everyone’s basic needs are met. Health care is such that people only need to worry about catastrophic injuries. Even mental health care is such that people with potentially dangerous tendencies are spotted early, and are gently treated to remove such threats and continue on with their lives. Local police have very little to do, since all the motives for major crimes aren’t there. There is an interstellar navy, but they seem to be little more than a glorified Coast Guard, doing the few “search and rescue” missions whenever necessary.

In short, it’s pretty darned boring.

James di Griz is one of those who cannot abide the dullness of such a life. In his youth, he acquired a major rebellious streak, refusing to play along. He learned all the tricks of life on the street – pickpocketing, pilfering from vending machines and automated restaurants, etc. He slipped through all the cracks, becoming a chronic rapscallion. He developed (and still maintains) a strict code, with two hard and fast rules.

First, steal only from those who can afford it. Banks, corporations, the super-wealthy…. He justifies it by stating that they are the ones who can easily handle the loss, especially since they will have insurance against such losses. And if, as a consequence, the insurer is forced to raise their premiums for the average citizen by a few pennies, he rationalizes it by saying the public gets back the equivalent in entertainment when they hear about it on the news. And along the way, he gives the local police a chance to get some badly needed exercise.

Secondly, do not kill. Don’t even injure anyone if you can avoid it. Money and material goods can all be recovered. A person’s life is the one thing they can never get back once lost. So he conducts his exploits with various smoke grenades, flash bombs, and all manner of things that cause temporary incapacity but never real harm.

As it happens, he’s not the only such “problem” the interstellar community has to deal with. There’s a secret arm of the military known as the Special Corps whose mission is to bring those persons to justice. Di Griz found himself caught in one of their snares, and was given an offer: Spend the rest of your life in prison – one which you really won’t be able to break out of, because we designed it and run it (and we caught you, didn’t we) – or work for us.

Needless to say, “Slippery Jim” joined up. And when he’s not annoying the crap out of the Corps by continuing his bank robbing escapades, he takes on assignments on behalf of the Corps to stop criminals more dangerous than he is from carrying out their nefarious schemes. For example:

A con artist has set up a “religion” and is getting fabulously wealthy on “donations” to his “church”. Not that big a deal, fools and their money and all that – but there are hints the guy’s got some seriously advanced technology, and a number of church members seem to have disappeared….

One planet looks like it really is about to launch a war of conquest against its neighbors. This is really something the galaxy isn’t equipped to deal with. Can it be quietly stopped before it starts?

On a delayed honeymoon with his lovely wife Angelyne, Jim finds that the planet they’re relaxing on is run by a despot who is rigging elections to make himself a de facto President for Life. This naturally offends his sense of fairness. Can he unseat the wannabe dictator and establish a more decent leadership?

There are a total of twelve works in the series, of varying tone and quality. In general, they are filled with a genial humor (and some social satire underlying it all) and plenty of action. Some major studio has had to have gobbled up the rights already, right?

The biggest problem is that the stories are almost painfully dated. Written from the 1960s to the 80s, there’s nothing at all about any “Internet” or smart phones, and the economy is still primarily based on cash. There are also the usual criticisms about sexism. But it’s the character of “Slippery Jim”, the likeable rogue, that attracts the fans. Not the technical details of the stories. They’re all tongue-in-cheek, anyway.

One might argue that it’s just a knockoff “James Bond in Space”. Big. Deal. There were Bond imitators almost from the very beginning. With the right actor in the lead, who knows? You’ll need someone with a clear “presence” who can be tough and angry and can at least look like he can take punishment when the script calls for it, but can still be relaxed and easy-going, and be ready for a comic touch when required. Would Dwayne Johnson be interested? Or if he’s too busy / familiar, how about Dave (Drax, Guardians of the Galaxy) Bautista, John Cena or Seann William Scott (‘Father Joe’ Binghoffer, Welcome to Fletch)? How about Terry Crews?

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