1989; 236 pages. Full Title : Bill the Galactic Hero, Volume 1, The Planet of the Robot Slaves. New Author? : No, but a new series. Genre : Science Fiction; Humor & Satire. Book #1 (or #2) in the 6-or-7 book “Bill the Galactic Hero” series. Overall Rating : 5½*/10.
Meet Corporal Bill. Aka, Drill Instructor Bill. Quite the unforgettable character, isn’t he?
Maybe it’s because he has two right arms. No, he doesn’t have three arms. But after his left arm was blown off in battle, the doctors sewed a carbonized black right arm back onto him in its place. Now he can shake hands with himself, which he finds to be lots of fun.
Or perhaps it’s his feet. His right foot is twice the size of his left one. It has a long toe sticking out the back of it, it's yellow in color, and tipped with an impressive, shining claw. A giant chicken’s foot, perhaps. Another replacement body part attached to Bill by the army surgical staff. They were short on human feet that day.
Actually, I think his most unforgettable quality is that tusk. Sticking out from among his teeth, it is the salient object that draws the eyes of everyone who looks at Bill. Courtesy once again of the military medical team, and frankly, a most pathetic sight. There’s only one thing to do about it.
Yep, save up enough money for a second tusk. Because while one tusk is a monstrosity, a pair of them on a Drill Instructor instills fear and dread into any raw recruit who has the misfortune to go through Boot Camp under him.
What’s To Like...
Oxymoronically, Bill the Galactic Hero 1 is actually the 1989 sequel to the original (and eponymous) Bill the Galactic Hero novel, written 24 years earlier by Harry Harrison. I suppose you could call it Book 2 in the series, but as can be seen on the cover, the author calls it Volume 1, so I’m sticking with his counting system. This one is a solo effort by Harrison; the rest of the books in the series are all co-authored, or more precisely, “share cropped” (see the Wiki article here). Based on that article, Harrison was none too pleased about that development.
The book is replete with wit and zaniness. It also features a recurring and more serious theme in Harry Harrison’s writings – the insanity of war. Bill is a lovable but dim-witted hero, somewhat of a contrast to the protagonist in another Harry Harrison series – The Stainless Steel Rat.
I liked the invention of the word “bowb”, a multipurpose euphemism for just about any cuss word in the English language, which is also applied to a familiar acronym to give us “SNABU”. Nevertheless, there is a fair amount of actual cussing as well, which made me wonder who the target audience was. There’s also a bunch of booze, drugs, and meds, mostly ingested by the good guys. I found it funny; other readers might disagree.
There are 16 pages of illustrations, smack dab in the middle of the book and smack dab in the middle of a chapter. Most of these were of the various robot beings we meet in the story, plus one of Princess Dejah Vue, a woman of pin-up sexiness. I suppose these were meant to be a perk, but frankly, I found them of limited interest.
There is a little bit of French inserted, and that’s always a plus for me. I also liked some of the scientific terms that the author sneaks in – including one I happen to work with - “Mercaptan”. Beyond the mechanical monstrosities, there are a fair amount of critters to fight with or against, including Wankers, Chingers, and flying metallic dragons. We only get to visit two planets – Grundgy and Usa. But we travel to all sorts of places on Usa.
There are 25 chapters – plus a prologue – covering the 236 pages of text. Bill The Galactic Hero Volume 1 is a standalone novel, and a fast and easy read. If you have a book report due tomorrow, and you haven't even started reading something yet, this is your salvation.
Kewlest New Word. . .
Shufty (n.) : a look, a peek. A Britishism.
Others : Satyrisais (n.); Zaftig (adj.);Cozened (v.); Autochthons (n., plural)
The war was on. Mankind was advancing to the stars. For out there among the stardust, suns and planets, comets and space crap, there existed a race of intelligent aliens. The Chingers. They were peaceful little green lizards with four arms, scales, a tail like most lizards. So of course they had to be destroyed. They might become a menace sometime, maybe. In any case – what is an army and a navy for if not to fight war? (pg. 2)
“I saw you land through my telescope – magic mirror, that is. You were brought in by flying dragon and, being Welsh, I greatly appreciated that. I said, King, I said, those are the toughies we need. Strangers, not afraid of the gods.” He stopped and looked at them piercingly. “You are not superstitious – are you?”
“I’m a Fundamentalist Zoroastrian,” Bill said humbly. (pg. 206)
Is this how life ends? Not with a bang but with a green Barthroomian massacre and barbecue.” (pg. 143)
Despite the humor and craziness, Bill the Galactic Hero 1 has some issues, the most serious of which is the complete lack of an overall plot. Bill and his makeshift squad gad around like a bunch of stooges, getting captured, hired, and threatened. But these scenes play out like just a bunch of comic sketches in a vaudeville show. They’re funny, but not cohesive. Indeed, late in the story we stumble onto a “King Arthur versus the Roman Legions” scenario, which made no sense whatsoever.
Not surprisingly, this makes for an extremely weak ending, with an annoying and awkward deus ex machina inserted as an excuse to close out the tale. It almost felt like Harry Harrison was tired of writing the book and said, “Hey, what’s the quickest way to finish this mess off?”
Finally, it should be noted that there are an unusually large number of typos in the book. I’ll forgive these things in self-published e-books, but it’s unacceptable for a published paperback. Avon Books needs to get better editors editors. Jeez, I thought I was reading something by Tor Books, who are infamous for their sloppy editing.
5½ Stars. Add 2 stars if you can be entertained by a storyline that’s long on chuckles and short on substance. This book’s for you. The next book in the series, Bill the Galactic Hero on the Planet of Bottled Brains, reposes on my TBR shelf. It is co-authored (“share cropped”?) by Robert Sheckley, a sci-fi writer I’ve been meaning to get acquainted with for quite some time now. I wonder if it will be a step up, or a step down, from this book.