A short book report I wrote for an english course. NYH and all that.

Harry Harrison:

Bill, The Galactic Hero On The Planet Of Robot Slaves

Harry Harrison's "Bill, The Galactic Hero" -series could be described as extreme black comedy. It's set in the future, where a peaceful race known as the Chingers are forced to fight for survival with a warlike race known as humans in a nightmarish and seemingly neverending war. The purpose of this war? To keep the economic and industrial system of humans running. Oh, and the Chingers might just attack some day so a pre-emptive strike is needed, as the official reason states.

The hero of this series, Bill (or Bil, since two L's is only for officers) is a reluctant one. Which makes very little difference since the armed forces don't give him much choice. His relatively simple life as a farm boy ended when he was recruited to the Space Troopers - or not so much recruited as drugged and forced. Then basically his spirit is crushed and any apparent traces of intelligence destroyed.

In this, the second part of the series, a robotic dragon attacks the camp where Bill is serving as a drill instructor. The dragon is shot down and inspection reveals the words MADE IN USA written on it. A group of volunteers must then go and find out where this planet Usa is and inspect it. Bill is one of these volunteers. Note that here the word volunteer has a much more efficient meaning than the one we know, and the unwritten rule states that if anyone actually voluntarily becomes a volunteer, it's dealt with by a swift punishment.

Apart from Bill, this motley group also consists of a captain who is rarely seen not under the influence of every drug imaginable, a medical doctor and honorary admiral who chooses not to let such nuisances as ethics get in way of his research, a female trooper who shows quite an interest in the opposite sex, a technician with a hidden, cyberpunk-esque past and an unlucky fresh recruit who happens to break the unwritten rule on volunteering.

Harry Harrison was born March 12, 1925. Given the picture of the military portrayed in the Bill, The Galactic Hero series it comes as no surprise that he is a pacifist and loathes every aspect of the military. This loathing comes from his own experiences during wartime – he was drafted in 1943 at the age of 18 just after graduating high school. He ended up in the Air Corps since, according to his own words, he didn’t want to drown or get shot so he kept out of the navy and the infantry.

The Bill series would be his way of publishing his thoughts and feelings on the military and attacking the pro-war attitudes present in the US through dark satire inspired by Joseph Heller and Voltaire and parodying such sci-fi authors as Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, the latter of whom was quite openly attacked along with his controversial novel, Starship Troopers. The first part of the series, called “Bill, The Galactic Hero” first appeared as a shorter version called “Starsloggers” in December 1964. Its first appearance as a full book was in October 1965.

Other remarkable works by Harrison include The Stainless Steel Rat series and Make Room! Make Room!, the novel on which the movie “Soylent Green” was based.

“Bill, The Galactic Hero On The Planet Of Robot Slaves” was released in July 1989, roughly 25 years after its predecessor, and it would appear that some of the original bitter satire was lost during these 25 years. While this novel still does convey some of Harrison’s views in a manner I wouldn’t describe as subtle, I found the first novel so much more bleakly and bitterly funny.

Nevertheless, I found this novel well worth reading. Harrison is not afraid to combine both intelligent and witty humour and jokes such as naming a race of people who inhabit the planet “the Wankkers”. I would recommend reading “Bill, The Galactic Hero” first though.

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