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The few. The proud. The dead. The cyborg legionnaires.
on 24 March 2004
I'm quite pleased that I finally got around to sampling the wares of William C. Dietz, a writer with an impressive number of science fiction novels under his belt already. Legion of the Damned is a well-paced, absorbing novel of futuristic military science fiction based on a premise I find fascinating. A couple of centuries into the future, murderers and their ilk are still being executed, but they are given a second chance - of sorts - to evade the permanent clutches of the Grim Reaper. Those who choose the option of resuscitation are, if approved, reborn in the form of cyborgs - basically, these are gigantic robots of death consisting of a human head inside an artificial and quite deadly body. (For the record, other humans, such as the terminally ill, also have the chance to opt in to the cyborg program.) The cyborgs serve under the command of the Legionnaires, a military force founded on the twentieth-century French Foreign Legion. While they serve in the military of imperial Earth, the Legion is their country (just as their motto says). By the time of the events described herein, the Legion has finally been granted a home of their own, exercising a form of self-autonomy on Algeron, near the outer rim of the Empire's control. Of course, there are many human Legionnaires, but the cyborgs pack most of the punch. Training is so rigorous that many fall along the way, and some even hope for a second death in order to finally fall into oblivion.
There is great trouble in the Empire. The Hudathans, a militaristic alien race, have begun decimating imperial planets on the outer rim and are obviously working their way toward Earth itself. The Admiral of the Imperial Navy is an opportunistic and power-hungry individual who supports a retreat of the Imperial Navy, ostensibly to prepare an overwhelming attack against the Hudathans when they move farther into the empire's region of space; in actuality, her desires are fuelled largely by a determination to make a hero out of herself and to finally rob the Legion of its might and power. Many on the home world (especially those with an economic interest in the planets that stand to be abandoned) argue that Earth's forces should engage the enemy now, while they are still in the outer rim. To the misfortune of everyone concerned, the Emperor is basically insane - as mad as Nero and possibly even more decadent. At least Nero didn't have seven advisors hard-coded into this brain as a child and left to fight amongst themselves inside his mind.
Obviously, a major space battle between Earth's Imperial Navy and the Hudathan fleet is to be expected as this novel wends its way to a conclusion. However, a war between the Imperial Navy and the Legionnaires on Algeron, a localized imperial civil war, looms even closer on the horizon, for the Legion is quite unwilling to give up its home base and allow its forces to be dispersed. Basically, a lot of action is to be found in these pages, and Dietz excels at describing the militaristic aspects of his plot. There are a number of sub-stories incorporated into this fictional fabric involving the formation of a cabal to oppose the Emperor on Earth, an inter-species love story (that never completely clicks, in my opinion), legalistic power-plays among the alien Hudathans themselves in preparation for cosmic war, and a coming together of two cyborgs who "met" in a most unusual fashion in their prior human lives. The ultimate conclusion seems to come a little too quickly and easily, but all in all this is a thoroughly enjoyable novel that all fans of military science fiction should quite enjoy reading.