A visit to the Harry Harrison website reveals further information about Harry’s progress thru the second world war, and the making of BILL. Harry ended his military service in Panama City, Florida, riding shotgun on a garbage truck. Literally riding shotgun: he was a military cop, guarding black prisoners while they collected the trash. According to the author, Harry and his prisoners got along well, and drank together in the black servicemen’s bar after work. So — was Harry his own model for the character of Deathwish Drang?
“Coming out of the army was a traumatic experience and years passed before I could understand why. It seems very obvious now… Though I loathed the army I was completely adjusted to it. I could not return to the only role I knew in civilian life, that of being a child.”
Harry called writing BILL a “shaking experience … I was doing less than half my normal wordage everyday and greatly enjoying myself – at the time. Laughter all day at the typewriter – how I do enjoy my own jokes – instant depression when I came down for dinner. Upon rereading, the stuff seemed awful. Or awfully way out; there had never been anything like it in SF before. Then back the next day for some more chuckling and suffering.”
Harry was encouraged by his wife, Joan, who was “reading the copy and laughing out loud and saying it was great and get on with it and stop muttering to yourself. I got on with it, finished it, had it typed and mailed it off to Damon.”
Damon Knight was Harry’s publisher, who had advanced him $750 and was expecting an ‘experimental’ science fiction novel. Knight rejected the manuscript, commenting, “Take the jokes out and it would be okay.” (He owed the author another $750 upon delivery, but one doubts that this was paid.) Fortunately, magazine serialization and publication followed, regardless.
Meanwhile, the Wikipedia entry for another book of Harry’s, THE TECHNICOLOR TIME MACHINE, reveals that he was apt to include hidden jokes in Danish in his texts: and that “Storhestelortby” – home of one of the Troopers in BILL, THE GALACTIC HERO – means “City of Big Horse Shit”.
And, though it has nothing to do with Harry or BILL, I would like to shout out the name of Ted Chiang, just because he’s such a great contemporary science fiction writer. The author of a dozen shortish works, Chiang shows tremendous breadth of interest and originality. His alien encounter stories are suitably enigmatic and depressing. And his short tale, HELL IS THE ABSENCE OF GOD takes as its premise the idea that angels are real, observable, and highly deadly physical phenomena: it’s one of the best pieces of SF I’ve ever read.