Book Review: Legion of the Damned

Legion of the Damned by William C. Dietz, Legion #1

Far in the future, condemned criminals and the fatally ill have two choices: to die, or to join the Legion of the Damned, an elite fighting force made up of human legionnaires and cyborg soldiers. If they enlist, their bodies will be destroyed and their minds implanted in gigantic armored killing machines, programmed to fight for the Human Empire.

As trouble brews among the Confederacy of Sentient Beings, the aggressive Hudathan aliens are turning their attentions towards Earth. Ruled by an insane emperor and a corrupt government, it’s up to the Legion to save the planet and the Empire from total destruction.

Earlier this year I started reading the Prequel Legion series of William C. Dietz, two of the three books, Andromeda's Fall and Andromeda's Choice have been published so far with Andromeda's War to follow soon. I am a big fan of military SF, who doesn't like modified soldiers with heavy guns battling it out against hordes of aliens? When I read Andromeda's Fall William C. Dietz story inspired this to the fullest but also gave a lot more in terms of character development etc. Titan books was not only bringing the prequel series to the UK but also the original Legion series, and luckily I recently received a review copy, which allowed me to finally dig into the series of which I heard a lot of positive news! 

The first thing that falls to note in Legion of the Damned is that the characters to which you are introduced to are different than the prequel series. In Andromeda's Fall you are introduced to Catherine Carletto, who doesn't make an appearance, yet, in this book. Legion of the Damned has a completely new character cast and takes place after the events of Andromeda's story line. Besides this the whole military setting is the same but William C. Dietz introduces everything in a much darker and grittier surrounding than the Andromeda books, yes those weren't all sunshine and rainbows but there is a slight change in the tone of the book. This, for me, also indirectly gave a better sense and grips on the whole military aspect of the book, at least, more visual. 

The idea of the story of the Legion series and which is being nicely explained in Legion of the Damned is based on the French Foreign Legion, everyone is able to join up in the ranks of the Legion, whether you just want to run away from your past or that you sort of seek asylum no problem. You will be able to pick a new name and you are off to a whole new start. But not only if you are alive you can join up. Even the ones on death row or the terminally ill are able to join the Legion, their brains get uploaded in special boxes which in turn can be implanted into robots, thereby creating cyborgs. How cool is that? This Legion is  the last defense of humankind against alien invasions. Within the Legion there are several different fighting units. From the towering Quads, which are big four-legged tanks equipped with heavy, heavy hitting artillery, you don't want to be facing them off with just your combat knife.. next you have the Trooper II's these support the quads and are much bigger than humans, they are the cyborgs of the Legion, basically mech warrior with only a human brain. And last but not least you have the bio-bods these are human size and still considered to be the most normal to humans. All throughout the story you have each of these three pop out and the best is that William C. Dietz highlights them and shows them, when the action takes place, in the best possible way. What I also liked a lot was that these aren't just machines, the Quads and the Trooper II's might have full metal frames, they still have a human mind and this can be either be an advantage or disadvantage because with being human do come some other things as well. like emotions. All in all very well throughout and a very cool idea. 

The story is basically human vs. aliens, in this particular case the xenos Hudathans. Now this perhaps doesn't strike you as that original a story, human kind on the brink of being wiped out by aliens and only one forces standing in between them. Then consider this, Legion of the Damned is military space opera, plus this book was originally published back in 1993 so it was one of the first leads when this genre was first explored (or at least I think it is). Anyway back to the story. The Hudathans want to be the only sentient species in the entire galaxy and have therefore decided to get rid of every other living and breathing form of live. And trust me they aren't doing this by just asking you kindly to leave, no they use brute force to achieve their goals, hence the humans have called upon the Legion for their last defense. The human side of it is ruled by a kind of an eccentric Emperor, he really is a special case... Back where he lives, he isn't only facing a threat from the Hudathans but also from within his own ranks. There are plans to overthrow the Emperor. But this again isn't all of it, there is also a strong division amongst the different arms of the military and the Legion is frowned upon by for example the Navy arm who would rather see the Legion be disbanded than used as a fighting force. In this first introduction to the universe of the Legion series, William C. Dietz already introduces so many troubles and sets to depart a lot of different plot lines. Some of this plot lines are big and bold ideas, but they readily offer ground for further exploration! This is an exciting start to a Military Space Opera series.   

There are qutie a few perspectives that you follow along Legion of the Damned but I do have to be honest and say that I was expecting to see more character focus, especially since I read the prequel series which gave a very strong focus on Andromeda and really makes her shine. In Legion of the Damned it became clear to me that the emphasis was more on the action and military aspects. But despite this William C. Dietz still introduces some interesting perspective mainly those of several of the different classes of the Legion like Bio-bods, Trooper II and Quads great to see them interact with the world. Added  to this you have the  on the Emperor gave some nice insights in the political aspects but was sometimes over shadowed by some other influences I will get to that in a bit. Also you had the persepctive of the bad guys the alien Hudathans which for me is always a plus and did add a great dynamic to the overall story to see the humans and Hudathans interact back and forth. 

Now one thing that I am not that fond off in books and especially in science fiction are very explicit sex scenes, yes this is still adult science fiction and a bit is ok but what happens in Legion of the Damned is just plain weird and for me didn't work at all with the story. I would much rather have seen it skipped in total. I do hope that in the follow up books in the series, there will be less focus on it and more focus on the action bits, because that is just superb stuff and comes to show that William C. Dietz knows a lot on that field. 

Legion of the Damnedhas some very cool idea's working in it's favor and William C. Dietz knows how to bring alive some very action packed scenes. These are described in just the way I like to read military science fiction, down right hard and gritty, it gets intense trust me. In this first installement you already learn so much a bout the world and many different plots and subplot lines are being started up that give a nice introduction for the books to follow. My only nag is the explicit sex scenes that didn't work for me. But putting that on the side, Legion of the Damned is a cool space adventure that many science fiction fans will like.


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