Bill, the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This Starship Troopers/Catch-22 anti-military, anti-war satire is one of the most depressing, bleakest books I have ever read in my life. When I started reading it, I thought, how amusing. How over the top. How funny. Poor Bill. Poor hick. Drugged and forced to enlist as an imperial trooper. Forced to fight in a stupid war he knows nothing about, doing nothing, eating crap, doing useless crap, training for nothing, when in action accidentally saving his ship from obliteration, becoming a hero, getting a hollow medal, getting robbed, going AWOL accidentally, on the run, finding help, becoming an informer, everyone is, how fun, off to prison, on trial to be shot to death, off to prison camp, is there any point, is there any future, is there any hope, oh holy shit, there’s not, holy fucking shit, he’s a fucking monster, damn!!!
I know this book was published in 1965 when the Vietnam “conflict” was becoming an actual war, following on the heels of the failed Korean War and when men were being drafted, perhaps not too unlike in this book, as Harrison sees it. And perhaps it’s all too similar, per Harrison’s viewpoint. I won’t dispute that. And as Eager Beager, the Chigger spy says, we can’t be civilized if all we like to do is fight wars. True dat. But crap, to have Bill end up like he does is fucking cruel to him and the reader. It’s brutal. I guess that’s carrying things through to the logical viciously satirical conclusion though. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. At some point in the book, I found I enjoyed the humor a great deal less than I once did and therefore enjoyed the book a great deal less than I once did. It became more of an effort to read. It became a chore I had to get through. It became a tasteless task and I didn’t like that. Some people rave about this book. I guess I can see why some people might. These are the same people who like Catch-22, etc. I won’t deny the genius of Catch-22, but I can’t put this on the same level as that book for some reason. I just don’t think it matches up, but then it’s been so long since I’ve read that book, I really can’t remember. Perhaps I now have to reread it.
This book isn’t bad, per se. It’s certainly unique. There are funny moments, especially early on, like when all of the recruits have to stand and wait hours in the ship’s fuse room, ready to lift and replace 90 pound fuses in case of action, only to feel virtually nothing before being informed they’ve been in action and have destroyed the enemy with atomic torpedoes and they’re getting medals. They get medals for everything. It’s sad that Bill ultimately realizes that suicide is really the only way out. Sad because it seems to be the solution realized by so many of our current military servicemen and women, as well as our vets. It’s truly tragic. I wonder how much foresight Harrison truly had. He’s so over the top in skewering the military and makes the leaders out to be such blithering idiots, but how far from the truth is he? And the grunts just follow the orders upon pain of death. Yeah, it’s funny, but like I said, at some point, the humor wears thin and then it just becomes painful. During Bill’s trial, when the court just wants him shot regardless of evidence. When he’s sent to the prison camp, the second one, where no one escapes and everyone dies. And he does what he has to do. It’s fucking gruesome and damned depressing. I’m sorry, but that’s not funny. So, as much as I’ve enjoyed some of Harrison’s books and as interesting and unique and at times, funny, as I think this book is, I don’t think I can’t recommend it. Sorry to all the fans out there. Not recommended.