A colony of farmers watch in great joy as a starcruiser lands before them.  You have opened The Man From P.I.G. by Harry Harrison, published in 1968.  On board are the galaxy-saving commandos who are going to protect them from the hideous ghosts that have been attacking them from the horrible haunted plateau.  Only when the hatch opens, it isn’t starship troopers that come marching out — instead the door opens and a thundering wave of pigs descend to save the planet.  This is the Porcine Interstellar Guard.

The Man From P.I.G. then is definitely an oddity, and is certainly an epic volume, but is it worth picking it up if you happen to see a copy?  Firstly, The Man From P.I.G. won’t take you or anyone else very long to read.  Generally with novellas, publishers either bite the bullet and print a small and for them costly book, or they publish a novella in a collection, or with short stories.

Here they’ve taken a slightly different tack, which is to make the book as large as they can using the following three devices — large, large print size — several two page spread illustrations — and blank pages, where they can be justified.  The result is a 120 page book that should in earnest be somewhere around the 60 page mark.

I wonder firstly what inspired Harry Harrison to write the story, and then what stopped him from writing more of it?  Then, given that it works, I wonder what stopped there being more in this series.  After all, these pigs could go on saving the universe, even though this adventure seems a little curtailed — as well of course as being curl-tailed.

If you’re a serious SF reader, you’ll spot the spoof elements here straight away.  Everything is about efficiency and expectation, and although we’re used to armies and lasers, presenting the habitual space corps of traditional science fiction as a marauding herd of pigs is quite interesting, possibly even funny.  The normal problem with such jokes is that when they wear off, something else is required, which is probably why this book is so short.  This is possibly a lack of nerve or willing, because once the pig characters are ste up they are strong enough to carry a full novel, or even a series of novels — but here, in this instance, once the point is made, it’s time for Harry Harrison to check out.

People call pigs dirty, but that’s only because they have been made to live in filth.  They’re naturally quite clean  and fastidious animals.  They can be fat.  They have a tendency to be sedentary and obese—just like people—so they can put on weight if they have the diet for it.  In fact, they are more like humans than any animal.  They get ulcers like us and heart trouble the same way we do.  Like man, they have hardly any hair on their bodies and even their teeth are similar to ours.

Their temperaments, too.  Centuries ago, an early physiologist by the name of Pavlov, who sued to do scientific experiments with dogs, tried to do the same thing with pigs.  But as soon as he placed them on the operating table, they would squeal at the top of their lungs and thrash about.  He said that they were ‘ inherently hysterical’ and went back to working with dogs.  Which shows you, even the best men have a blind spot.  The pigs weren’t hysterical—they were plain sensible; it was the dogs who were being dim.  The pigs reacted just the way a man might if they tried to tie him down for some quick vivisection….

The point that Harry Harrison makes is funny and could have been made in any genre, when you come to think of it.  Again it’s a question of expectation, the bucking of which can generally be quite funny.  So space opera is reduced to spoofery, as is the dignity of military operations, and human endeavours in general.
It is also hard to say what addition the illustrations make.  The illustrations in The Man From P.I.G. are by John Schoenherr, whose works are so evocative and stunning that they bring gravitas and an extra layer of imagination to any book they grace.  The effect here is pretty odd, and a strange kind of grandeur is brought to the very silly story, merely by the addition of these stately and sophisticated pictures.

Schoenherr (1935 – 2010 was best known for bringing Frank Herbert’s Dune to life, but he also did over 40 children’s books and did paintings for Nasa.  John Schoenherr’s illustrations for The Man From P.I.G. are typical of his black-and-white work using the scratchboard technique, and he was long known as the only commercial artist who specialised in it.  Schoenherr’s  paintings were often egg tempera, another unusual medium.

Look at John Schoenherr’s work and you won’t just see the Dune worm however.  There are so many that I like, with spacemen, beasts and other worlds in them — as well as many other pictures that are nature illustrations from our own dear planet.

Bron Wurber had a degree in animal husbandry, a doctorate in galactic politics, and a black belt in judo.  He said he was a pig farmer — but what pigs!  Queeny, eight hundred pounds of Poland China fury; her twin Moe, the mutant pig; Jasmine, brilliant though hysterical; and Maisie Mule-Foot, a good mother and a great fighter!  Somewhere in this strange universe there was a need for brutal porcine force, and Bron, THE MAN FROM P.I.G., had just the team for the job.