by Timothy Doyle

#51, 12 September 2005

BookThink Book Review
Soldier of the Legion
Book One of the Beta 3 Series
by Marshall S. Thomas

Reviewed by Timothy Doyle

I may as well make it clear up front that I'm not a big fan of typical military SF. Examples of this sub-genre are often thinly veiled political manifestoes, often coupled with a gung-ho plot that reeks of 1950's (i.e., pre-Vietnam) sensibilities.

That said, there are examples of military SF that I would rank as among the best of the genre as a whole.

Joe Haldeman's The Forever War is a dazzling story of a war fought against an unknown enemy for unknown reasons. Due to time dilation effects, centuries of real time elapse during the ten years the soldiers experience in their war against the Taurans. In the end, the soldiers return home to find they have lost everything they've ever known, except each other, and that human civilization is nearly as alien as the enemy they were fighting. Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is a thought-provoking examination of the concept of "total war" and how far we would go if the very survival of the human species seemed to be at stake.

Marshall Thomas' Soldier of the Legion is set in a far future where the known galaxy enjoys an uneasy truce between the System, the inner core slaver empire, and the Confederation of Free Worlds. Protecting the interests of the ConFree is the Legion, a professional military corps that gives its soldiers very cool hardware and the best available biotechnology. In theory, a Legion soldier is immortal, though the odds of dieing in the next battle are significantly more likely. We follow the story of Beta Squad and of the soldier codenamed Thinker, so-called because of his tendency to think beyond the immediate demands of duty and survival. Recent graduates from the boot camp called Planet Hell (where the final exam is a no-holds barred assault and rescue mission on a slaver camp), Beta Squad members are deployed to investigate evidence of Systie activity in the backwater Andrion system. Treaty violations, slaver operations, primitive descendents of a lost human civilization, and the mysterious presence of monstrous non-native giant exosegs are the varied threads that combine to reveal a secret that will shatter the uneasy truce between the Systies and the ConFree.

And if that weren't bad enough, Thinker has managed to fall in love with two of his Legion comrades. When your jealous girlfriend is armed with Tacstar micro-nukes, all hell could quite literally erupt.

Thomas' Legion universe is richly imagined. As explained in my interview with Thomas, the novel was started in 1982 but did not see publication until some twenty years later. During that time, Thomas continued to refine and add detail to the backstory, including technology, politics, military tactics, history, religion, culture, aliens, and much, much more. Some of this information is available in the book in a ten page glossary, and there is much more available online at the author's website. The depth of this detailed background gives the universe that so very important "lived-in" feel.

As part of the publishing process, Soldier of the Legion went through a ruthless editing process in which long stretches of narrative were removed and the remainder rewritten. While Thomas is the first to admit that the novel as first written needed this editing in order to produce a publishable product, the result suffers slightly from a sometimes choppy, quick-cut plot line. There are a few transitions within the story where I sensed a big chunk had ended up on the cutting room floor. The effect is similar in some ways to SF novels that are fix-ups of previously published short stories, strung together to novel length.

As a young man, one of Thomas' favorite SF books was Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers. The influence is clearly visible in Soldier of the Legion, but Thomas has a better grasp of character. To be fair, Heinlein was competent at character development; it's just that, much like Woody Allen, he used the same cast (with different names) to populate all of his stories. Commenting on the importance of character, Thomas says, " ... stories are about people, and if the reader doesn't care about the characters, he will not care about the story."

Soldier of the Legion has a ton of action, interesting plot twists, and a rigorously detailed story line and background. The characters are memorable, and the series shows great promise of good things to come. Current plans are for a six part series. The second installment, The Black March, should be available from Timberwolf by the end of 2005. Soldier of the Legion is also available in a full-cast, 9 hour unabridged audio production, featuring a cast of 22, sound effects, and music. Available formats include cassette, CD and MP3

Soldier of the Legion - Book One of the Beta 3 Series Marshall S Thomas Publisher: Timberwolf Press (June, 2002) ISBN: 1587520397 Available in trade paperback or as a full-cast audio production in cassette, CD or MP3 format

To order the paperback book,
click the title below-

To order the unabridged audio CD,
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To order the unabridged audio cassette,
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To read Tim Doyle's interview with Marshall S. Thomas, click here.

To visit Marshall S. Thomas' website, click here,.

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