“All of the characters in this book are fictitious,” the legalese in the front of Bill reads, “and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and, besides, they aren’t even born yet.”
So begins Harry Harrison’s often absurdist and sometimes bludgeoning satire of war, bureaucracy, and humanity in general. Titular Bill is a Forrest Gump-like character in the beginning of the story; he is a gentle bumpkin content to live a quiet life in a rural part of his planet. However, circumstances drag him into military service on behalf of The Emperor, whoever that is.
Bill stumbles his way through boot camp, makes a few weary friends along the way, and somehow finds himself at the center of a couple of major events that earn him the medal you see on the book cover. However, Bill is not a Steve Rogers/Captain America type – he is an everyman just trying to keep his head down and survive. Harrison isn’t writing a book about heroes. Instead he’s writing about normal people tangled up in circumstances beyond their control.
The book sends up the military, nationalism and bureaucracy in silly and mostly funny ways, although sometimes he cuts close enough to the bone that it’s not fun, anymore. That’s satire’s aim, perhaps.
If you enjoy sci-fi and silly satire, you will probably enjoy this book. If you are looking for a more straightforward sci-fi book from Harrison, look at Deathworld, which I reviewed last year. If you enjoy military sci-fi, consider On Basilisk Station or Knox’s Irregulars, both of which I previously reviewed on this site.
P.S. There is a throwaway sentence in the book about a hit song called “Love in Orbit, Boing! Boing!”. I wish I could hear that song.