2018/02/16

Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire Review

Galaxy's Edge: Legionnaire - Anspach & Cole

Sotmrtroopers in Afghanistan. #StarWarsNotStarWars. The guilty pleasure book you'd stay up reading if you didn't have plans on Saturday night. Galaxy's Edge co-authors Jason Anspach and Nick Cole have come up with a vivid litany of elevator pitches for the first book in their blockbuster sci-fi series. It's the kind of compelling ad copy I've come to savor from my fellow Dragon Award winner.

There's an old proverb in the ad game that good copy is like a bikini. It should tantalize without revealing everything. Having read Galaxy's Edge Book 1: Legionnaire, I can confidently report that Jason and Nick followed that advice to a T. There's more going on here than the book's taglines imply.

Take what's probably the novel's most accessible description: Stormtroopers in Afghanistan. For the first couple of pages, Legionnaire seems like it's going to be a case study in Exactly What it Says on the Tin. Lest you think that's a criticism, Nick himself has said that a major driving epiphany behind this series is the realization that "Cliche is cliche for a reason. Cliche works."

I'd be more charitable. What Anspach and Cole are dealing with here aren't strictly cliches, but tropes. And yes, tropes work. George Lucas understood that fact better than anyone in Hollywood, and he created the biggest franchise on earth.

That's not to say Nick and Jason did a copypasta on Star Wars, filed the serial numbers off, and called it a day. Pertaining to the example above, the image that Stormtroopers in Afghanistan calls to mind is a mob of bumbling white-armored clones getting mowed down by Kalashnikov and RPG fire in some arid mountain pass. But we quickly learn that leejes aren't Stormtroopers.

What Jason and Nick did was take the Stormtroopers' informed attribute of badassery: "An entire legion of my best troops..." and back it up with ample competence. Leejes aren't just troopers that can hit the broad side of a barn. They can hit the top of a humanoid's head poking up from behind a boulder three klicks away.

The "in Afghanistan" part is pretty much accurate, with the addition of some choice sciffy tropes. Victory Company is stuck on a hostile planet, not just a war-torn country, and the Afghans are aliens. We still get to see what's essentially a surplus Russian tank, though.

It's often said that the secret to making a top shelf parody is that the story still works if you take out the jokes. That's why Airplane! is still a classic while contemporary comedies vanish from the public consciousness as soon as they leave theaters. Watch the Zucker brothers' parody again, and pay close attention to the performances. Everybody's playing the goofball comedy straight, which lends the film extra weight.

Anspach and Cole apply the same trick to mil-SF. The battles, the characters, and the secondary world politics that shaft them are all played straight. I you went through and stripped out the speculative elements, Legionnaire would still work as a damn fine war story. The whole novel could easily be re-purposed as the tale of a Marine company in Kandahar Province.

Besides the explosive, visceral battles, the authors paid the most attention to the book's characters. The legionnaires of Victory Company aren't cookie cutter clones. They're relatable men with their own hopes, desires, quirks, and rivalries. Jason and Nick paint these (mostly) faceless characters in such a way that you will end up caring about them. Considering that they usually didn't have the luxury of showing facial expressions, that's a remarkable achievement.

In the same episode of Geek Gab linked above, Nick revealed another key ingredient of GE's success: telling simpler stories. Legionnaire succeeds at that aim. The plot is almost brutally streamlined. If you're looking for a Clancyesque military thriller with convoluted twists and intrigues around every corner, look elsewhere. Anspach and Cole boil their mil-SF story down to the bare bones: fight, survive, and escape.

But what of the authors' #StarWarsNotStarWars meme? Fans of the swashbuckling, clear black and white morality, and heroism of the galaxy far, far away might be inclined to simplify the hashtag to #NotStarWars. Legionnaire makes ample use of Star Wars tropes, but it also subverts them. Turn the throne room scene at the end of A New Hope on its head, you've got the idea. The subversion makes sense when you bear in mind that the whole premise is to tell a story from the Stormtroopers' perspective. It's easy to forget in light of how sympathetic the leejes are, but they're basically fighting for the Empire.

The authors were clearly aware they'd inverted reader expectations, and they obviously know their audience, because they offer a classic space opera-flavored treat in the epilogue. I wouldn't dream of spoiling the fun, but suffice it to say, Nick and Jason saved the best for last with what is hands down the most captivating, inspired writing in the book. I sincerely hope they give Legionnaire's epilogue its own novel-length treatment some day.

With the implosion of Mouse Wars in progress, it's encouraging to know there are creators who are stepping up to fill the galaxy-sized void.

Everything Star Wars should be doing, but isn't.

20 comments:

  1. Mouse Wars: "It is... too late for me, Star Wars Fan. Nick Cole and Jason Anspach will show you the true nature of the Sales Force. 'Galaxy's Edge' is MY Master now."

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    1. James Earl Jones says these words in Bob Iger's head every night. Every night.

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    2. Some people pay good money for that kind of action.

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  2. All right, you've convinced me. I'll have to give this one a shot.

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    1. You're 8.5 books behind? Shame!

      Savor them. They will suck you in like a rollercoaster.

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    2. Witness the power of their fully armed and operational sales pitch!

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    3. And sign up for the newsletter and get a free short story that's connected to the series.
      xavier

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    4. "And sign up for the newsletter and get a free short story that's connected to the series."

      Concur! Worth it!

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  3. Yeah, if you start now and read 1 a month, you'll be caught up by... never lol

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    1. I envision a book rack of 'Galaxy's Edge' books to rival the number of my 'Doc Savage' collection.

      As with Brian and his work, drown Cole and Anspach in your money!

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  4. I never even got into Star Wars, but this book and the next in the series really gave me that feeling that others got from the original trilogy, I think.

    I just stop to think, man this is so cool...

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  5. Great review. A series I have been meaning to get into for some time. My backlog of books to read is crazy at the moment though. I don't dare buy more books...oh who am I kidding.
    Speaking of #starwarsnotstarwars did you read John C. Wright's review of seventh episode of Star Wars?

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    1. Same. Discovering indie publishing has left me drowning in books. It's a good problem to have.

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    2. Yep. Read John's review. He's right on the money.

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  6. I read Legionnaire a month or so ago. The whole book was good but the story-within-a-story at the end blew my mind. Looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

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    1. Agreed. That's how you do a frame narrative!

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  7. TV Tropes is days long addictive fodder for a reason. Tropes are aweawes Especially when you honor the trope but add somwtsome new.

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    1. "TV Tropes is days long addictive fodder for a reason."

      Yep. It's easy to lose yourself in there.

      "Tropes are aweawes Especially when you honor the trope but add somwtsome new."

      Agreed. You just described my novels ;)

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