I’m not a good listener. From an early age, I always knew best and I’d be quite stubborn about it. That’s not to say I was incapable of learning or of taking advice, just that I’d never take that advice at the time it was offered. It had to percolate in my mind until I’d weighed it up and fitted it into my world-view. Tied to this attitude is my general disposition as a contrarian. Whenever I see the herd moving in one direction, my instinct is to go the other. That’s why, for example, I stayed well clear of the Jordan Peterson faggot-band long before Vox Day exposed him as an evil globalist and cult leader. It’s not that I saw through Peterson before Vox – I didn’t – but rather that I saw the Peterson bandwagon pick up steam and that very fact disgusted me and encouraged me to keep my distance.
It’s a simple heuristic in life: If all the knackers and ‘tards are headed one way, you might want to head the other.
Recently I explored YouTube for what others are saying about the Sigma Male. I found considerably more videos than I’d expected (including a few quoting my own writings on sigma word-for-word, which was flattering). One of them was a listicle, something like Ten Ways To Know You’re A Sigma Male. The comments argued somewhat about whether a Sigma is born or made, and that got me thinking.
On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to stand aside from the herd, since I was little. That seems like an innate disposition of mine that trends sigma. On the other hand, I believe all sigmas have experienced a period of social exclusion that finally soured them on any desire to fit in with the herd. For me, it happened aged 12 when my best friend transferred to another school. So, nature or nurture, who knows?
I bring this up because Harry Harrison‘s The Stainless Steel Rat is a portrait of sigma in a 1961 science fiction novel. It was recommended by a blog reader and the premise intrigued me. In the future, the Federation (like Star Trek) has colonised much of the universe and imposed its own monolithic utopia. Every Federation planet  has its place in the grand scheme of things and a central organising authority carefully manages the technology, law and order. Obviously war is banned – it always is in these Utopian sci-fi novels.
Harrison throws a spanner in the works by making his protagonist an outsider, a compulsive criminal called James Bolivar diGriz. Chapter one opens with diGriz making a hasty escape from his warehouse, base of a black market business reselling food stolen from government stores. He high-tails it from the planet and sets up in a new place, thinking up a new scam. He’s an experienced hustler, living by a series of mottos:
It had been a good operation – and could have gone on for quite a while. I stifled the train of thought before it started. One lesson that has to be remembered in my line of business is that when an operation is over it is OVER! The temptation to stay just one more day or to cash just one more check can be almost overwhelming, ah how well I know. I also know that it is also the best way to get better acquainted with the police.
Chapter one shows diGriz is a criminal who takes real pride in his work. His scam was well thought out and he set up very carefully rehearsed exit protocols to ensure a clean getaway. There is now so little crime in the Federation that all the police have to do is chase down people like diGriz, a tiny minority compared to law-abiding citizens. The sheer uphill struggle of eking out a dishonest dollar forces him to be very careful in his risk-management.
So, why does he even bother? Harrison explains in chapter two:
At a certain stage the realisation strikes through that one must either live outside of society’s bonds or die of absolute boredom. There is no future or freedom in the circumscribed life and the only other life is complete rejection of the rules. There is no longer room for the solider of fortune or the gentleman adventurer who can live both within and outside of society. Today it is all or nothing. To save my own sanity I chose the nothing.
Harrison’s protagonist has turned to crime for philosophical reasons, as a rejection of the cloying uniformity of the Federation’s fake Utopia. He needs to screw with the system as much as he needs oxygen. For example, while still on the run, he does this:
When I paid the cab I short-changed the driver right under his nose, palming one of the credit notes in the act of handing it to him. He was blind as a riveted bulkhead, his gullibility had me humming with delight. The tip I gave him more than made up the loss since I only do this sort of petty business to break the monotony.
This exchange shows diGliz isn’t mean-spirited or avaricious. He’s criminal because of its spiritual rewards. Interestingly, diGliz figured this out all on his own. He’s soon arrested in an elaborate entrapment by The Special Corps, an elite group of expert detectives, because he can’t resist the urge to rob a bank on his new planet. While interviewed by the head of the Corps, it becomes clear than diGliz did not learn his trade through contact with other criminals – “You’ve never met another crook in your life and you know it!” says the Head, and diGliz doesn’t disagree.
Nature or nurture? How did this sigma male get made?
It turns out that The Special Corps is a unit composed mostly of former vagabonds like diGliz so it has a dual purpose of hunting down criminals and providing a safe avenue for them to harness their creative urges. diGliz takes the job and soon uncovers a plot of a fellow criminal to have a powerful battle-cruiser built and stolen so as to engage in space piracy. The boss sends him off on a mission to investigate and diGliz soon deserts the Corps (that’s the sigma unwillingness to be in a team) but continues the mission on his own steam (the sigma sense of moral purpose).
As diGliz investigates he becomes increasingly impressed with the unknown mastermind behind the plot and finally manages to run her to earth. It’s a hot bird, Angelina. She escapes and a cat-and-mouse game ensues. diGliz must manage conflicting urges, at times feeling a sense of kinship with a rare fellow vagabond, while also disgusted at her being an actual mass murdering psychopath (at this point, diGliz has never killed anyone). He also obviously wants to bang her.
I really enjoyed this book. It has the same methodical hero as the Matt Helm books and the same careful pre-planning and double/triple bluffing Helm always uses. It also has exceptionally lean and clear prose so the story doesn’t half rush forwards. After the relatively turgid prose of yesterday’s Crusader book, it was really notable how this one zips forwards like a scout-class ship hitting a warp gate . It does this without skimping on depth. Judged only on plot, it’s a pot-boiler with a few nice twists. Judged on character, there’s that interesting sigma deal going on. The Federation regimentation leads to passivity and mediocrity, which diGliz rebelled against instinctively.
If you like reading about an inter-stellar sigma rascal who feels compelled to step outside the herd and make mischief, you’ll probably enjoy my memoirs and my how-to daygame textbooks all explained here.
 I think Harrison calls it The League, but it’s The Federation.
 I can do sci-fi metaphors