Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison

It’s fatal for someone to tell you that if you don’t find a particular thing funny then you don’t have a sense of humour. You’re undoubtedly not going to find that thing as funny as they feel you should.

With that in mind …

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This was recommended to me by an older customer who was reading all the big names in scifi when they were first published back in the 60s and 70s – Asimov, Clarke, Delaney, Aldiss, Heinlein. He’s a great guy and I love talking to him about books. Recently, I expressed an interest in what he would list as his all-time favourite scifi books, and Bill the Galactic Hero was mentioned. Then, unfortunately, those fatal words were uttered: ‘If you don’t find Bill funny then there’s something wrong with you …’. I went ahead and bought it anyway, and … well … it turns out there is something wrong with me because I didn’t laugh.

I got annoyed. I got bored. I rolled my eyes a few times. But no laughing.

So, this will be short.

Things not to like:

  1. Bill is a bit dim and not really very interesting. And as the book goes on he is changed by his military service into a less nice and even less interesting person. He barely has any depth and no one in this book has any dimension at all.
  2. There is no hope, no saving grace, no glimmer of humanity. This is a book all about the senselessness, inevitability and stupidity of war. About the ridiculous time-wasting, the indoctrination, the nit-picking and the soul-breaking. About how military service reduces a person into a tool. While I agree with the sentiment, I am already melancholic by nature, and I don’t need to read this type of thing to be reminded that humanity behaves stupidly oftentimes.

Things to like:

  1. It’s only 160 pages long.

 

For a much more balanced and insightful take on Bill the Galactic Hero please see this Tor.com article by Alan Brown. (I read it before writing the above in the hope that I could be persuaded into a more even-handed opinion, but turns out, I just can’t).

14 thoughts on “Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison

  1. I knew it was going to be biting satire when I went into it but that was about the only reason I didn’t hate it. I certainly didn’t find very funny.

    At least you made it through it, right?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yep, after Bill and Catch-22, I realized it wasn’t my thing either and I now try to avoid it like the plague.

        I hereby bequeath upon you, the Medal of the Book Survivor. Wear it well, wear it proudly and make sure to let as many people as possible know you’re wearing it!
        😉

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I am honoured to accept this Medal of the Book Survivor. Thank you.
        It’ll be the way I introduce myself from now on: “Hi, I’m Book Forager, wearer of the Book Survivor Medal … and you are?” 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm, this sounds rather nihilistic, almost too much so? And that mentality of “there’s something wrong with you if you don’t like this”…*rolls eyes* Wrong attitude on the part of that customer. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I used to really beat myself up if I didn’t like something that had been specially recommended to me (people pleaser!). But as you say, it’s the wrong attitude to almost command someone to like something because you do. (Thank you for saying it though – you’ve still made me feel better!) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re absolutely right – we can’t appreciate them all. The world is chock full of variety though, and there’s always someone out there who’ll love a thing – which is comforting. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You’re right, mood is a big part of whether you enjoy something or not. I could read this again in a few years time and love it (I doubt it, but it could happen). 🙂

      Like

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