Friday, May 11, 2018

Book Review: Galaxy's Edge - Legionnaire

I know it's been a while since I've done a book review, but you guys had to know that wouldn't last forever. Regardless of how slow I read, I do read, and lately I've been getting caught up on the book with the best tagline in history alongside being the best damn Star Wars replacement I've encountered. You guys already know how I do things, but if you don't I'll give you a quick rundown for old time's sake as well as the new people who might've showed up.

Usually my reviews are pretty glowing, and this'll be no exception. It can't be helped. Not only am I fairly easy to please, I'm also acutely aware that I have a limited amount of lifetime and don't want to spend it reading and watching things that I'm pretty sure I won't enjoy. There's a reason I talked a lot of shit on Twitter about Fight Club (the book) and never formally reviewed it. Anyway, the way this usually goes is I give a spoiler free breakdown of my verdict and why I liked it, then I get into plot synopses while leaving out as much as possible because I don't want people to think they can get the full story from my cliff notes book report. So now that you know what's coming, here's my verdict:

Go buy this book and read it. If you like military science fiction that even delves into the realms of fantasy, much like a certain other space opera series I've already named here, then you're going to love this. It's tightly written, tightly focused, has great characters, and a lot of emotional impact with highs, lows, and moments of supreme wonder that will leave you absolutely rabid for more. I've got the rest of the books in the series thanks to my brother having turned into an absolute lunatic for this series, and with good reason, so I'm gonna be devouring the absolute hell out of the rest of them and will report back when I'm done.

Here's an affiliate link to where you can buy the kindle version. If you're not familiar, don't worry. Affiliate links don't affect Nick or Jason's profits from the book sales. Amazon just gives me a kickback for sending people over there to buy it from their side of the profits. As of the time of this writing, it's $3.50 or so, and for the amount of action packed into this book (along with everything else), you can't beat that with a stick. This link will also appear at the bottom of the post so you guys don't have to scroll all the way back up here.

So with that said, turn back if you don't want spoilers, because they're a-coming. You've got the link, go buy the thing and give it a read if you don't want to know a surface level understanding of what goes on in it.

All right then.

I am not in any way fucking around when I say that Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire is some of the best military science fiction I've read since Starship Troopers. Admittedly, this isn't a genre I spend too much time in. I've read the aforementioned Heinlein, The Catherine Kimbridge Chronicles, and a few other books here and there. I find the genre greatly entertaining, but I'm not a soldier and I've never served in the military, so I don't have much frame of reference to know how accurate they're getting to what being in the real military is like.

Given that, I'm not touching that one with a ten foot pole. I can only say that given what I've heard of the military from people who've served in it over the course of my life, this book seems to capture the experience fairly accurately. But again, I don't know, so I'll leave that to the people who do know. 

But my lack of military expertise aside, it'd probably be useful to get into a brief plot synopsis. Legionnaire follows Victory Company, a bunch of what seem like Marines if I were to equivocate to current American armed forces, as they are moving towards Moona Village on the planet Kublar in Galaxy's Edge. Turns out that's more than just a cool name for the series, it's an actual place, and it's about what you'd expect if you've watched shows like Firefly or Babylon 5. 

The purpose of Victory Company's visit is to facilitate the integration of Kublar into the Republic, as they've been supposedly newly conquered and now have their own senator. But all is not roses and unicorn farts on the planet of the frog-men. As they're approaching the village, their caravan gets run up on by insurgent forces and blown to absolute shit, and as the attack happens one soldier, Chhun by name, looks into the sky and sees the Capital ship they arrived on, The Chiasm (uber cool name, btw), explode.

This isn't a heavy spoiler, this is like the ending of chapter one, here. Don't worry, I'm just whetting your whistle. Much like they do in this book. Like I said, this thing is masterfully put together. 

So from that point on Victory Company is basically fucked. Completely and utterly. They have no backup, a lot of them are dead, there's no hope of rescue, and their one real base has been destroyed by the insurgents. Oh, and they're being dogged by a combined force of native Kublarans and an army of the Mid-Core Rebellion, the insurgents trying to topple the Republic. The book follows these brave soldiers as they attempt to get off this hellspawned rock, and let me tell you it's one page-turning, rip-roaring motherfucker of a yarn from start to finish.

The characters are exactly who you'd expect to be in a situation like this. There's Chhun and Wraith, the two who are in command through most of the book, although not by choice as the chain of command had more than a few links broken thanks to the attacks. Wraith appears calm and collected most of the time, and Chhun defers to him more often than not. Chhun is our main character, and we see this story through his eyes, but more on this later.

The cast is filled out by various grunts including Rook, Twenties, Exo, Maldorn, Devers, Doc Quigs, and Pappy, and I just gotta say these names are bad ass. I love everything about this book, and these two knocked it out of the park. I wish I could come up with names this badass in my own work. But these guys have various levels of involvement with the story, and the relationships between the various characters are played straight and to the hilt. Especially the relationship between most everybody else, but Exo in particular, and Devers, the "point". 

Pretty much everybody in this story but Devers is an actual soldier, while Devers is a "point" who's in command not because of prowess or valor in battle but because he's graduated from an officer's academy. Now, just saying, I already love this trope. The cocksure douche-canoe who just can't help being an arrogant piece of shit to everyone around him because he graduated from Buttfuck Academy with honors and they're just regular soldiers who then gets his ass completely handed to him one way or another and realizes he needs to let the guys with experience handle the situation. I love it, and this story delivers on this trope in spades. It's very satisfyingly played, and makes the ending all the more poignant, because [SPOILERS REDACTED].

But all of the characters are lovingly handled and presented, which makes the deaths of several of them hit you that much harder. They feel like real people, which is how characters in a novel should be presented. Especially given that the story is told through the eyes of Sergeant/Lieutenant Chhun, and these men are his friends and battle brothers. And I said I had more on that, so here it is.

The way this book is written is very interesting, because it's almost all told in first person present-tense. This is a very rare feat, and Cole and Anspach accomplish it very well. I was actually left a bit gobsmacked as I first got into the book, because I'm not used to anybody writing in first person present tense, but after a while you settle down and get into the groove of the story. They don't mess this up once, so far as I was able to catch, and it was able to draw me in so thoroughly that when I got to the epilogue (which is told in the traditional style) I had to shake my head and adjust because it was so different from the style of the rest of the book. This is the kind of undertaking that makes tons of writers shit their pants at the mere thought, and here these guys are out doing it and making it look easy.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of that skill. 

The action in this book is as lovingly detailed as the characters, and when Twenties puts a sniper round through a Koob you can hear the crack of the rifle and see the gore spatter across the desert topsoil. It gets hot and heavy, and a lot of this book is taken up by conflagrations and firefights. And they never get old, not even to the last stand at the end, which feels like something right out of a classic war movie. 

The politics in this book are also very well worked out, and right from the jump you get the net that things are not well in the Republic. The tagline, "The galaxy is a dumpster fire," is also the opening line of the book, with Chhun regaling us with precisely how fucked up a universe this is, and how little there is that can be done about it. This isn't the focus of this book, being a military sf novel concentrated on the plight of Victory Company, but I feel its necessary to bring it up because of what it does.

As I said, this book is tightly focused. We don't leave Kublar until the very end, and even that's just for the epilogue. However the discussions between the characters and little hints that drop in Chhun's internal monologue which forms the prose of the novel inform the reader of a much, much larger universe that you just want to go out and explore. There are a few other franchises that do this, such as Star Wars and Mass Effect (the first one, at least), but none of them in such a fashion as this.

In those other franchises, you actually do get to go out and explore, so it scratches that itch fairly readily. Star Wars in particular has been around long enough that if you want to go tripping around the galaxy there are more than enough avenues for you to readily accomplish that goal. From the expanded universe novels and short story anthologies, to the other movies in the series, to the video games like Knights of the Old Republic, it's really easy to just pick a point and jump into the Star Wars Universe and just see what's going on elsewhere.

In Mass Effect your primary goal is to run around and get people on your side to help fight the Reapers, and find out what their goals are. You go to several planets, and there's a ton of lore in readables and the internal encyclopedia of the game. So if you've got a question about Mass Effect, there's probably somewhere in the game itself that it's been answered.

In Legionnaire, however, all you get are little hints. Names dropped here and there. A few historical touchstones like The Savage Wars that get talked about in the vaguest terms. All this comes together to leave the reader ravenous for more information about this place they find themselves in, and the authors handled this slow drip of information expertly.

When these guys said they were making a Star Wars replacement, I cannot put into words how little they were fucking around.

In the final analysis, this book is amazing. It's also fairly short, which I find to be a point in its favor. Depending on how much time you've got on your hands you can read it in a day or two. It's a gripping military adventure on par with Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan, Starship Troopers (the book), and pretty much any other great military story you'd care to name. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up.

Particularly if you've been left cold and dissatisfied with the recent offerings in the Star Wars canon since Disney picked it up. I'm one of those people, to the point of having written off Star Wars near-entirely barring the original three films and the Expanded Universe material. I'm upset about what's happened to one of my favorite stories in the hands of people who do not care about it or the fans and customers who keep it afloat, and I've been in the market for a new space opera I can actually get excited about in the wake of the devastation of Star Wars.

I can promise you that Galaxy's Edge absolutely delivers, at least in the first novel. I'll let you know about the rest when I read them, but my brother's gone through the rest of the books and he assures me that it's like the old Star Wars never left. Full of mystery, spiritualism, space wizards, space magic, and awesome military combat. Now I can't say for sure because I'm not there yet, but his tastes and mine in this area align very closely, so I'm inclined to believe him.

In any event, I can't recommend Legionnaire strongly enough. It's one of the best recently released sci-fi books I've read, and it had me straight glued to my kindle whenever I had a spare moment to read. I even dropped the other five or so books I'm currently reading to finish it. It's that good.

So as I said, do yourselves a favor and pick this one up. It's absolutely worth your time, and comes in kindle, paperback, and audio, available on Amazon Dot Com. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel, and I'll report back as soon as I tear through that one and let you guys know how the story goes.

Here's that link again in case I've convinced any of you to do what you should be doing and go buy this book.

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