A polymath rambling about virtually anything

Posts Tagged ‘satire’

A Review of Bill, The Galactic Hero

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 28, 2016

Bill, the Galactic Hero (Bill, #1)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.

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A Review of Hogfather

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 11, 2014

Hogfather (Discworld, #20)Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Call me stupid, but this was one of the more confusing books I’ve ever read — and I really like Pratchett. His humor is definitely on show in this book, which is good, but I never got what was happening in the book’s plot.

It goes like this: ethereal beings called the Auditors want to do away with the Hogfather, Discworld’s version of Santa Claus. Apparently they hate life and hate humans and they think this will do something to humanity. So they hire Assassins to take him out. But that doesn’t really happen. He disappears from the scene, so apparently he’s been kidnapped somehow, but by whom, we’re never told. Meanwhile, Teatime, the Assassin, hires a bunch of thugs and a student wizard to help him out. They find themselves in a castle (?) tower (?) trying to unlock numerous locks on a door. To get at what, I never found out. Meanwhile, they’ve taken over the Tooth Fairy’s collection of teeth because that somehow means something to the plot, but what that is I never found out.

So the Hogfather has disappeared. Well, Death steps in to act on his behalf on their version of Christmas eve and he dresses up in a red suit and fake beard and takes a sleigh driven by four hogs around to all the houses, delivering presents to good children. He even takes time out to stop in a department store and act as the Hogfather there for children who get up on his lap and ask for things. It’s actually a pretty humorous scene.

Additionally, the Death of the Rats and a raven play a role in this novel, mostly as intermediaries between Death and his granddaughter Susan, who’s a governess now and is trying to forget about her heritage. Yet she’s the one who saves the day. She dispatches monsters for the children she serves and ends up going with the rat and raven to Death’s place, for what, I’m not sure. But she locates the Tooth Fairy (What does the Tooth Fairy have to do with the Hogfather???) and engages in a climactic scene with the Assassin and his henchmen, dispatching them with ease.

Now, you can’t have a Discworld novel without funny wizards mucking things up and this is no different. And as they gather for a holiday feast, Teatime comes flying down from above and they think he’s a corpse, but he regains consciousness and leaves. It’s really weird. Where did he come from?

Susan ultimately saves the Hogfather from a pack of dogs, which are really the Auditors, who are chasing him while he’s in hog form. After she saves him, with Death’s help, he reverts to his usual form and goes off on his sleigh and everything is once again right with the world. OK then.

Death was my favorite character in the novel. I first encountered him in Reaper Man and I’ve loved him ever since. He so tries to understand humans and his insights are hilarious. However, Death wasn’t enough to save this book for me. I have no idea what happened in the book or how it happened and that frustrated the hell out of me. I’d normally recommend Terry Pratchett to anyone, but not this novel, not today.

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