REVIEW: Janissaries by Chris Kennedy

Thursday , 25, September 2014 3 Comments

coverIt’s 2018 and the United States has just won a war against China. Lieutenant Shawn ‘Calvin’ Hobbs, a hero of that war, hasn’t even completed all his postwar administrative work when he finds himself thrown into his next adventure. Only that this time the enemy, the battlefield, and the weapons will be very different.

The Drakuls look like giant carnivorous frogs that are almost ten feet tall. They are the closest thing to vampires that the universe has ever seen. They like their meat raw when they eat it, still alive if possible, and find it the greatest delicacy of all to drink the blood of their prey prior to consuming it.

Three extraterrestrials visit Calvin to tell him of these evil creatures and the very possibility that Earth could be their next target in the very near future. Obviously, this would mean bye-bye humans unless drastic measures are taken.

Chris Kennedy’s two previous books (Red Tide and Occupied Seattle) cover that Sino-American War. I have not read them yet but that was not a problem, as Kennedy explains in Janissaries the implications of the conflict while hinting at – but not revealing too much of – the fun.

A major difference, apparently, is that while the Chinese caught the Americans by surprise with their invasion of Seattle and other parts of the Northwest, this time there is some warning. However, this warning is also troubling for what it suggests and for what it does not reveal.

The three aliens introduce themselves as Arges, Brontes, and Steropes, claiming to be the same beings that Hesiod mentioned in the Theogony around the year 700 BC. In the Greek poem the three Cyclopes gave Zeus some supernatural weapons to defeat the Titans. And now they want to help all mankind defeat the Drakuls, which they claim are the Titans of Greek mythology. This time the weapons include a spaceship.

These aliens have some moral code that forbids them to engage in combat but allows them to delegate the fighting. In a conversation that I found quite odd the aliens compare this to the Janissaries:

Are you familiar with the term ‘Janissaries?’”

“I think so,” answered Ryan. “Aren’t those the Christian kids that the Persians took and raised as a group to fight for the Persian Empire?”

“Many times we have used Janissary-like races to fight our battles. Although we will not take a life, there are many like you who will.

Wait. As far as I know, the Janissaries were an Ottoman thing, and accordingly it is a Turkish word originally. It was an Ottoman Sultan who created them and another Ottoman Sultan abolished them. And they fought for the Ottoman Empire. In the Abbasid Caliphate they had a similar system of slave-warriors that predated the Ottoman Janissaries, but the word for it was ghulman/ghilman. The Abbasid Caliphate included Persia but it was not the Persian Empire. So why the Persian reference rather than an Ottoman reference?

Second, and far more important. Janissaries were Christian kids kidnapped by a Muslim enemy who brainwashed them into elite warriors, often to turn them against Christians. But what the ‘Psyclopes’ propose to the humans is not that. The technologically advanced aliens provide resources for the humans to fight for them. And the humans only end up fighting a real enemy that they would have fought anyway. Humans are not kidnapped, are not enslaved, are not brainwashed, and are not employed against humans. These are not minor differences. So, of all the words in human history, “Janissaries” does not seem optimal to describe the deal. The Foreign Legion, for instance, is closer to the aliens’ proposal. Or, perhaps, the little men from space are laughing at their faces and they don’t get it… yet. After all, this is only the first book of Kennedy’s Theogony.

Clearly, the aliens are keeping some secrets. I know it. They know it. The main characters know it. Even Kennedy knows it—humor…

I’ve had it with you not telling us everything. If you’re not going to be open with us, I’m leaving. Right. NOW!” Calvin started toward the door.

“Oh, save the drama,” said Steropes. “You’re no more going to walk away from flying space fighters than I am going to kiss a Drakul.” He looked at Arges, who nodded. “We will tell you everything.”

I like this.

Kennedy is a former aviator with over 3,000 hours flying attack and reconnaissance aircraft for the United States Navy, including many missions supporting U.S. Special Forces. Think Tom Clancy in space, subtract excessive technobabble, and add a generous Heinleinian sense of adventure without overdoing the juvenile.


RATING: 8/10

  • Amadan says:

    Darn, I thought this was going to be an old-school review of the Jerry Pournelle novel.

    I like the concept, but those writing samples are not promising.

  • SH says:

    The Janissaries were as likely to see action against Shia Persians or Sunni Arabs. Just like Rome’s Praetorians, they ended up getting a bit full of themselves too. When they thought they had been on campaign too long, their pay was late, or they just didn’t like what was happening, they would ritualistically dump their giant cauldrons of hot chow onto the field outside camp. Times have changed. I tried that once with an MRE and it had no effect on anyone in my chain of command.

  • Quetzol-43 says:

    “and the United States has just won a war against China.”

    Hahahahah, wishfull thinking!

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