Legion of the Damned by William C. Dietz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Legion of the Damned is military sci fi at possibly its best…. It’s not a perfect book, by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a page turner for me and one I wanted to finish because it kept my interest. The writing was crisp, the characters were largely interesting, the plot was somewhat decent (with one major exception), and I really enjoyed this book.
At some point in the future, humanity has spread out among the stars to form an empire which is threatened by the xenophobic Hudathans, who appear on the scene and start demolishing everything in their way. I particularly liked the descriptions of the Hudathans. I thought showing us believable aliens was handled well. There’s another alien presence too — the Naa, many of whom are at war with the empire’s Imperial Legion on the planet Algeron. The Legion is descended from the French Foreign Legion and is made up of volunteers and conscripts who have died, usually by execution — it’s an eye for an eye type of empire — and whose consciousness is somehow downloaded into a lean, mean fighting machine, a cyborg, big and capable of much damage. There’s an even bigger type of cyborg called a quad, which is like a tank. Conscripts are obtained the same way. Unfortunately, like semi-real life, there’s competition between the navy, the Marines, and the Legion. The naval commander wants the Legion gone and will go to any length to see this happen. Why? It’s never satisfactorily explained, and I found that annoying.
Anyway, a female human colonel is captured by the Hudathans on the first world they attack and she is forced to advise them on what she thinks the humans will do in reaction to the attacks. Meanwhile, the naval commander wants to withdraw all forces to an inner defensive circle, thus abandoning the outer worlds and the millions on them to the Hudathans. The Legion wants none of that, wants to fight immediately to save humanity. Scolari, the naval commander and overall military leader, convinces the emperor, who’s a crazy idiot, that the Legion is treasonous and — this is the big plot failure, for me — with the threat of the Hudathans bearing down on humanity, she gets the emperor’s permission to imprison all Legionnaires on earth and go attack the Legion on Algeron to put down their “uprising.” Now, if you’re in a war for your very existence, why would you attack your own? You need to overlook military competitions and work together to overcome the invaders. Doesn’t that make sense? It does to me. But the navy and Marines choose to attack the Legion, which has shipped most of their force to the outer worlds to defend against the Hudathans. The defense of Algeron is pretty cool though, I’ve got to say. Good reading.
There’s a Legion sub-plot or two. One involving Booly, a Legionnaire who falls in love with a female Naa after he’s been captured in a fight. Another involving a Cyborg called Villain, who is on the lookout for the asshole who killed her — he’s now a cyborg too, having gotten the death penalty.
Some of the plots and sub-plots are somewhat unbelievable though. For instance, people just fall in love at the drop of a hat, Booly with the female Naa, a Legionnaire general with a new widow, who falls in love with him back. Etc. Also the sex scenes are fairly gratuitous and poorly written. Too many too, and I never thought I’d say that. Additionally, the Cabal that arises to oppose the emperor seems pretty idealistic in its presentation. And on and on. Like I said, the book’s not perfect.
However, the fighting scenes are rather good and compelling, and the interaction between human and alien is also well told. I felt like some of these characters were definitely three dimensional, while unfortunately, some were not. Still, this is the first book in a nine book series and I liked it enough to want to read more, so I bought four more books in the series at a used bookstore and now I’m stocked up with Dietz novels, so I feel good. I have to say, I’m picky about my sci fi. I don’t like many of the “masters,” such as Anderson and Niven. I love Philip K. Dick and Frederik Pohl, but have a hard time finding other sci fi writers I enjoy. This was the second Dietz novel I’ve read recently, and I’ve enjoyed both, so I feel like I’ve lucked onto something here. And by the way, this book isn’t only for military sci fi fans. I think anyone might like it. Certainly recommended.