Sunday, January 02, 2011

Re-reading the Classics–Cohort of the Damned

Monty over at Ace of Spades continues to shame me with the volume, breadth, and sheer intellectual heft of his offerings, but I feel my delving into the classics of American literature remains a worthwhile pursuit.

Today’s selection is actually the third (and I believe last) book in the “Fifth Foreign Legion” series by Andrew Keith.  If you haven’t read any of the books on this series the thing you need to know is that the series is predicated on the idea that the universe went batcrap crazy and the French ended up the dominant superpower.  No one works, no one bathes, empires have risen and fallen, and currently the Terran Commonwealth is in charge.  It is also in a state of perpetual war with various bird and lizard people; mainly because, except for the Legion, the Commonwealth seems ready to surrender and accept terms anytime someone farts loudly.  (That part actually seems historically sound).

Now that we have the background of the series lets take a look at “Cohort of the Damned”.

In general this novel could be considered the classic bildungsroman (no the dung in the middle of that word doesn’t mean what you think).  Following the loss of his planet to alien invaders, the aforementioned lizard people, Wolfgang Alaric Hauser, a member of the aristocratic class on that planet, is accused of cowardice and fights a duel to redeem his honor.  Unfortunately this makes matters worse and in a bid to redeem himself he joins the Foreign Legion.  Enlisted under the highly imaginative name of Karl Wolf, we follow as the trappings of his former life are taken from him and he is forced to adapt without them.  Each loss also leads to the development of new ties and a new level of self examination.  Finally at the end of his training, and coincidentally the end of the novel he has emerged transformed; a man where previously he was a boy (even though he seems to be about 30 years old) ready to accept what life has thrown at him and to do so competently.

The book is pretty well written, even though it relies heavily on stock characters and settings, and the story is mostly enjoyable.  Karl Wolf is a bit of a spoiled brat and you sorely want him to get his ass kicked a number of times as he engages in his interminable self-reflection, but that is the nature of the beast with this kind of story.  I really only have two problems with this book: 1) Heinlein did it much better in his juveniles, but that is not the author’s fault, Heinlein was a genius. 2) I have been through Boot Camp twice (Navy and Army) it is never as organized and efficient as books like this (including Starship Troopers) make it out to be.  Hurry up and wait probably doesn’t make for much of a story but it is the reality of most of military life.

In closing you could do worse than reading this book, but if it was me I think I would check out Heinlein again first. 

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