“The Galaxy is a Dumpster Fire. A hot, stinking, dumpster fire.
And most days I don’t know if the legionnaires are putting out the flames, or fanning them into an inferno”
The break out sci-fi hit of 2017 roars into action with those three instant-classic lines of description. Already up to six volumes, Galaxy’s Edge kicks off with an intimate look at the universe through the eyes of the men tasked with maintaining order in the chaotic wastes of a warlike planet far from the civilized planets of the Core. The Republic’s Legions represent the elite fighting forces, sent to the worst trouble spots as a show of force. When the warlike locals see a chance to rid themselves of the Republic’s enforcers and maybe use the Legion to settle a few local scores, the men of Victory Company find themselves struggling to survive, alone, vastly outnumbered, and with little hope of rescue.
It’s time for a more detailed look at Galaxy’s Edge, and in this mostly spoiler free review of the first book in the series, we will look at what makes the series so good, how Legionnaire differs from follow on books, and how it sets the stage for the action to follow.
Everyone who has read the Galaxy’s Edge series raves about it, but few people talk about just what it is that makes this series so good. The most common refrain is that it is Star Wars for people who like Star Wars. (As opposed to films like The Last Jedi, which is Star Wars for people who hate Star Wars.) The implication is that this series contains the sort of Space Opera that pits stalwart heroes – however reluctant – against overwhelming forces of unmitigated evil. Legionnaire doesn’t do that. At all.
This isn’t Buck Rogers – it’s Band of Brothers. The wahoo planet hopping adventures come later. Legionnaire eases the reader into the Galaxy’s Edge setting with one long fight scene set on one small planet. Tapping into modern disgust with the futile efforts at nation building in the Graveyard of Empires, the men of Victory Company feel like the sorts of guys you meet at your Ten Year High School Reunion you remember leaving small town America eager to do some good in the world and return jaded and haunted by their experiences as disposable pawns in meaningless games played by faceless men for whom words like honor and sacrifice are nothing more than levers with which to encourage naïve boys to fight and die for foolish dreams, empty platitudes, and industrial scale graft.
And that’s where Legionnaire elevates itself well above the standard sci-fi fare of today. Anspach and Cole have a knack for terse descriptions of characters that punch well above their word count. In six words, they turn throw-away characters into fully realized individuals with their own hopes, dreams, challenges, and vices. The fact that they paint even bit characters so vividly leads to a constant undercurrent of suspense as the reader can never rely on the plot or time investment to armor a character against an untimely end. On the flip side, they also have a knack for heel-face turns in the supporting cast that means the reader can never rely on a foil getting his just comeuppance. Just as often, the authors pull back from the brink of justice meted out and remind the reader that the man they have been conditioned to hate thanks to the point of view of one character, the reader can turn on a dime and root for that same awful character to make amends and redeem himself. Sometimes those troublesome characters even do so.
That investment in the characters plays a vital role in making the breakneck speed and near constant action of Legionnaire work. All of the running gunfights, the hopeless last stands, the miraculous escapes would carry the same dramatic weight if the reader didn’t have a reason to root for the men of Victory Company. The loss of so many good men for so few good reasons punches the reader in the gut, not the least of which because of how their sacrifice echoes that of men lost to similar conflicts in the world today. The two ingredients of likable characters and evocative action scenes make Legionnaire an example of the best that military science-fiction has to offer the reader. Those expecting Space Opera might be surprised by the gritty and personal feel of the Legionnaire, but they won’t be disappointed.
Besides, with five more books on the market already, there’s plenty of time for Space Opera in the next novel. Which leads to an interesting question: Can you skip this first in the series to get to “the good stuff”?
Maybe, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
The central conflict in Legionnaire pits the massively over-powered Republic Legion against an overwhelming numbers of lesser armed and lesser disciplined allied force that includes significant numbers of the Mid-Core Rebellion. The MCR, as it is known, is that rag-tag bunch of ‘freedom fighters’ led by men tired of the yoke of the Core world rulers and who fight to escape the rule of the Core so that they can have a free hand to rule over the Mid-Core Worlds. It quickly becomes obvious that their tactics aren’t much better than those of the politics-heavy Republic – they talk a good game, but don’t have a lot to show for it.
This leaves the men of Victory Company as the sole protagonists of the book, and much like Glen Cook’s classic Black Company, the reader finds himself rooting for cold-hearted men and cheering for their survival due more to the nature of seeing the situation through their eyes than any objective analysis of the situation. It helps that the reader rarely knows any more about the larger picture than the men of Victory Company. As the action unfolds, the reader can commiserate with the POV characters since neither knows enough of the whole picture to do anything more than hang on and hope to make it to the end in one piece.
It also sets the stage for the Space Opera presented in Galactic Outlaws, the second book in the series. Set a few years after the events of Legionnaire, the main characters are once again a few stray souls caught in the seething maelstrom of events of galactic import. Legionnaire helps establish that the new (and a few old) characters in Galactic Outlaws are trapped between the Scylla of the Republic and the Charybdis of the Rebellion. Readers who start with Book Two will eventually come to grips with this important factor, but with all of the complexities thrown at the reader so fast in Galactic Outlaws, having Legionnaire already spell out the nature of the galactic conflict (and explain a little bit about what motivates certain important characters) helps lessen the steepness of the learning curve.
For all of these reasons, the safe bet is to start with Book One, even if you aren’t a big fan of military science-fiction. If nothing else, take solace in the fact that it’s a quick read and currently the cheapest of the series. Like any good pusher, Anspach and Cole know how to give the customer a taste of the good stuff. Unlike most pushers, Anspach and Cole don
‘t front load the best product, because Galactic Outlaws adds dozens of new planets and factions to the universe and presents a much more complex tale featuring multiple point of view characters working at…well.
That will have to wait for another column.
Post-script: Apparently there is a lot more to the Galaxy’s Edge than just the novels. The online home of the series, GalacticOutlaws.com offers Insider newsletter subscriptions, short stories, and even marketing tips explaining how they built the Galactic Outlaw empire. This review series will focus on the works themselves, and as each continues, the spoilers will continue to flow with more regularity. So if you don’t want to get left behind, jump on board and read along – you will probably notice a few things that I didn’t, and I welcome the education.