Here is a book that is seldom read these days. Bill the Galactic Hero, by Harry Harrison. It’s a satyrical look at the military, couched in a zany futuristic world where mankind is pitted against a race of small alien lizards called, the Chingers.
It’s an important novel because it represents a particular sub-genre of science fiction. Namely, the military SF comedy. There are many military SF novels about, but ones that attempt humor are rare. And if it’s not fair to say rare, then I’d venture to say it’s rare to see one done well.
So what about Bill the Galactic Hero, and what makes it so special? It’s one of the early novels of its class, and well constructed with good pacing and fun dialog. More importantly, it takes a very satirical gibe at the industrial military complex, which — many would agree — is probably its most endearing quality.
The issue I have with it — and probably the point where there is some disagreement — is about how funny it is. I myself never laughed out loud while reading it. However, the situations that the protagonist (Bill) finds himself in are so bizarre, one can only smile. Even if you don’t laugh, one is compelled to read on.
To be fair, this book was published in 1965, and is based on Harrison’s experience in the military during WWII. Much of its humor now falls upon ignorant ears. Mine especially. However, with ample use of Wiki to research what the book is making fun of, it is possible to extract greater meaning.
Sadly, there are few books like this that have been published. Why, might you ask? I have no good explanation other than to say it’s damn hard. But one thing is clear. Harrison distinguished himself above the rest for his attempt.
He truly was a great writer.