We at Shiny Book Review receive many review requests, so when a request came in from Leo Champion — who once wrote a review for SBR — we discussed it and decided to accept it as it has been two whole years since Mr. Champion’s review and he has not been actively involved in the running of SBR in all that time.
Now, on to the review!
Leo Champion’s LEGION is about Paul Mullins, a bright, well-educated American citizen living in the year 2215. Mullins, an advertising exec, gets drunk after finally receiving word that he was about to be promoted into the position of his dreams . . . then wakes up the next morning to find himself the newest member of the United States Foreign Legion, a branch of the U.S. military formed to deal with what’s euphemistically termed “colonial conflicts” — in other words, extraplanetary colonies that would much rather be independent instead of paying tribute to the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Mullins quickly finds out that there’s no escape from his drunken pledge; instead, he’ll have to spend five full years in the USFL before his enlistment is up. And, much like the French Foreign Legion and other fabled groups made up of a bunch of roughnecks and misfits, most of the people Mullins serves with are radically not to his taste.
But as he goes through training, then serves in combat, Mullins finds a number of kindred souls, including his company commander, Lieutenant James Croft IV. Croft, you see, has a similar background in many ways to Mullins, excepting that Croft opted for West Point instead of Boston University, then opted for the USFL rather than the Army because he wanted to see actual combat rather than push a bunch of meaningless papers.
Wisely, author Champion avoids throwing Mullins and Croft together too quickly. Instead, they develop on separate paths that end up putting them in the same place at the same time on the colony world of New Virginia, just as the Second Insurrection is about to break out.
Lives will change, blood will spill . . . and the only question remaining is this: Will Mullins and Croft get out alive? And if so, how?
Everything else — and I do mean everything — is for you to discover. But if you enjoy military science fiction, LEGION will definitely keep you up long past your bedtime.
The pluses of LEGION are many. Champion’s writing is crisp, clean, and rings with authority. His grasp of military behavior, tactics, and training is stellar. The characterization is outstanding — Mullins goes from a rather naïve Yuppie hotshot to a competent soldier, while Croft quickly discovers that officers often carry the heaviest burdens on their souls and that second-guessing is just part of the territory. And Champion’s conception of twenty-second century America — complete with corrupt politicians, unthinking regular Americans who blindly put their faith and trust into these same corrupt politicians, and citizens of other countries desperate to become American citizens (perhaps hoping that the American “Shining City on the Hill” somehow exists somewhere outside of myth and legend) enlisting in the USFL as that’s the only way through toward American citizenship — is also plausible.
In addition, Champion’s tale could be seen as allegory. We have corrupt politicians now. We have blind, unthinking American citizens now. And assuredly we already have citizens of other countries enlisted in the various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces in order to eventually become American citizens now.
So the conceit of having Mullins, an average, unthinking American forced into waking up and taking charge of his life (albeit because he was shanghaied into the US Foreign Legion), rings true on both levels. And I liked that very much.
However — and I really wish I did not have to say this — there are two drawbacks here to LEGION that I must point out.
First, the year is 2215. Yet the men in the USFL are issued M-16s. Still. And that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, even if the USFL is considered the most expendable force in the entirety of the American military.
Granted, there is an internally consistent reason that Champion gave that works for his story, and because of that, I was willing to suspend disbelief while reading LEGION. But every time I came up for air, I thought again about this . . . and it still did not make sense. (Sorry.)
Second — and this is much bigger sticking point — there was only one female soldier in the entirety of LEGION.
You read that right. There was only one female soldier — that being a Naval Commander who blows up an extraterrestrial stronghold — in the entirety of LEGION. And that completely blew any suspension of disbelief out of the water.
Look. I can believe that Mullins would never see a female USFL soldier during his training. Segregated training is the norm in the American military, and it has been since women became an important part of the U.S. Armed Forces.
But I cannot believe there are no women in the USFL. Because that is absurd.
Here’s the deal — if men are given the option after stealing, lying, cheating, blowing things up, and even murdering people of going into the USFL rather than to jail, why aren’t the women?
Surely there are female prisoners out there who’d much rather go deal with Chauncy, the USFL’s intimidating stronghold, than rot in jail for years on end. So where are they, and why wasn’t any mention made of them in this book?
But worse even than that, there’s an insurrection in New Virginia that’s causing massive unrest. We see man after man in the colonial militia, and we’re told that these men start shooting guns at around age five or so, which is why they’re so difficult to kill.
Yet with all those fervent men who are willing to blow things up and run the American military off the planet (including the USFL), wouldn’t you expect to see at least a few fervent women soldiers here and there, too?
And yet, there weren’t any. Which again is absurd.
And finally — and this was the most problematic point of all — I didn’t even see a female doctor or nurse, not in the USFL, not among the colonials. And that’s just wrong.
Bottom line? Leo Champion is a writer to watch. He’s got boatloads of talent. LEGION is entertaining, solid, has moments of humor and got nearly everything right. In fact, I kept getting absorbed in LEGION to the point I didn’t want to put it down . . .
. . . but every time I did so, I wondered where the Hell the women were.
Because of that complete and utter implausibility, the final grade for Champion’s otherwise sparkling debut is a B-plus.
–reviewed by Barb