The Short-Timers by Gustav Hasford

The Short-Timers is the novel that was the basis for Stanley Kubrick’s great Vietnam war movie, Full-Metal Jacket. I always assumed it wasn’t much of a novel, never having heard any praise for it and assuming that, as people often say, good movies are usually based on bad novels. But this isn’t a bad novel. It’s a great novel.

The book tells the story of Private Joker, a U.S. Marine combat correspondent. He trains at Parris Island and then travels to Vietnam, where he’s involved in the battle for Hue and the fighting at Khe Sanh. The major difference between the book and the movie is that what happens at Khe Sanh in the book happens in Hue in the movie. And there are scenes involving Vietnamese prostitutes in the movie that don’t appear in the book.

The author, Gustav Hasford, was himself a Marine correspondent in Vietnam. That’s probably why the book, especially the dialog, feels so realistic. It’s a very ugly story but worth reading if you’re at all interested in what it was like to be a Marine in Vietnam.