When we first meet Biill, the Galactic Hero, he is a farmhand on a minor planet. He has no great ambition and is quietly content. But then the military recruiters show up near his village and put on a show. Since almost nothing interesting happens in his life, he attends and is essentially shanghaied into signing up.
Humanity is at war with 7 foot tall lizard like creatures known as Chingers, and humanity needs all the help it can get. But Harrison is spoofing things here, Bill the Galactic Hero is satire. So, the drill sergeant is named Deathwish Drang. The military is deliberately and monstrously hard in ways that are ridiculous and funny.
Bill, of course, does become a galactic hero. But where most novels would end there (e.g. with the hero saving the human race), Bill the Galactic Hero continues and tracks Bill’s decline. And where, in most novels, the hero is such because of his or her will and effort, in Bill the Galactic Hero Bill becomes a hero by accident.
Harry Harrison uses all sorts of things as bases for puns and satire: There are ridiculous names such as Schmutzig von Dreck, horrible rations (at one point, all meals are liquid), nonsensical warfare (it’s made clear that the war against the Chingers is unnecessary) and so on. It’s good fun.
Harrison’s style is straightforward. He is no master literary stylist but he knows how to put sentences and paragraphs together and the plot rolls right along. Bill the Galactic Hero is a quick fun read.
Harry Harrison was born in 1925 in Stamford, Connecticut but grew up in New York City. He served in WW II. Bill the Galactic Hero was written in 1965. He is best known for three series: The Stainless Steel Rat, Deathworld and West of Eden. He has also written comic books and screenplays and his work has been adapted for movies, television and radio. Overall, Harrison has written more than 60 novels and over 100 short stories. In 2009 he was awarded the Grandmaster of Science Fiction award.