Bill, the Galactic Hero
Reviewed date: 2018 Jan 27
If you can imagine Starship Troopers crossed with Catch-22 and dialed up to eleven, that's gives you an idea of what Bill, the Galactic Hero is about. I rarely enjoy funny science fiction, but I liked this one.
The story opens when Bill, a farmer from Phigerinadon II, is tricked into joining the Space Troopers "for the greater glory of the Emperor." In boot camp he learns to hate his drill instructor Petty Chief Officer Deathwish Drang. He's also taught to hate the enemy: seven-foot tall lizardoid creatures called Chingers, a name that sounds like it should be really, really offensive. Later it turns out the Chingers are only seven inches tall.
In battle Bill accidentally hits a button and destroys an enemy ship, so he becomes a Galactic Hero and gets to visit the capital planet Helior where the Emperor awards him a medal. Helior is a planet entirely covered in one giant city, which reminded me of Coruscant from the Star Wars books, but is actually inspired by Trantor from Asimov's Foundation series. Bill gets lost on Helior and ends up on the bottom level where he joins the City Department of Sanitation and works as a G-man (Garbage-man) thinking up ways to handle the massive amounts of trash that Helior produces.
There are more wacky hijinks, and Bill ends up joining a group of revolutionaries in order to spy on them, spends time in a military prison camp, then gets deployed to a remote outpost where he fights Chingers in a swamp. Finally Bill shoots himself in the foot to escape the front line. The book ends with Bill the recruiter back on Phigerinadon II where he signs his little brother Charlie up as a Space Trooper.
I think it's fair to say Harry Harrison had a low opinion of the military.
Harrison's opinion of the military as a whole is low, but his opinion of military leadership is even lower: in the Empire, the leadership is composed entirely of inbreds from the nobility. The captain of Bill's ship is a "ten-year-old moron wearing a bib and a captain's uniform."