Reviewed in the United States on May 23, 2020
For more than fifteen hundred years, the Savages were the bane of the galaxy. At first, they were no more than opportunistic raiders, raping and despoiling worlds, and then disappearing into the voids in-between the stars that had made them who they were. But now, the Savages have made common cause with one another against their unevolved, unenlightened cousins who leapt to the stars ahead of them.
Gods & Legionnaires is in a way two separate but related books. The first, Gods, is a harrowing look at what it means to be a Savage, to understand them from the inside. The second, Legionnarires, perhaps reaches similar heights of intensity; Legionnaries is our look into what it means to be shaped into a weapon against the Savages by a man who matches their intensity and ferocity.
Our introduction to the ways of the Pantheon comes through Crometheus, Savage Marine, and one of the Uplifted. Crometheus survived the battle for New Vega, but when the medics come to extract him from his ruined combat frame in the aftermath of Rechs and Sulla’s escape from New Vega with a handful of survivors, we get our first hints of just how deep this rabbit hole is going to go.
Crometheus has a part to play in what will transpire, but perhaps more importantly, he retains enough of his humanity to be relatable to us. For while the Uplifted in particular, and the Savages in general, have intentionally left their humanity behind, they are nevertheless still very much like us.
What transpires through the rest of Gods is part mystery, part acid trip, and part adventure, as Crometheus negotiates the fraught world the Uplifted have created. Everything in Crometheus’ world is a lie, especially the things he tells himself, and part of the fun is looking for the truth within the lie that cannot be entirely concealed.
In a way, Crometheus started the game at a disadvantage. Unlike his compatriots who have already attained the Xanadu Tower, Crometheus retains some of the sins of men: wine and wenching. However, as time goes on, it is clear that Cro does share the overweening ambition and pride of the leaders of the Prometheus. What he wants is in.
I am reminded of the lecture given by C. S. Lewis at King’s College in 1944, “The Inner Ring”. Lewis had a great appreciation for the temptations that belong to class and status, and in this lecture, he accurately describes the process by which Billy, once a little boy who rode his bike and played videogames in suburban America, turned into a monster of legend:
Of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.
I honestly found this book hard to read, because it is harrowing to enter so deeply into such a wicked mindset. I wonder whether it was a challenge for the authors, as it was for one of Lewis’ more famous works, The Screwtape Letters. Lewis said he found the work “ dry and gritty going“. For as much as the Uplifted see themselves as superior to mere humans, the Path is one that is all too human.
In my review of Savage Wars, I talked at length about the millennarian aspects of Savage culture. And now we get to see it, in all of its grotesque glory. To be a Savage, is in some ways, to be worse than to be one of their victims, insofar as the worst thing they can do to you is break your body or your mind. To be a Savage is to maim your soul.
Cromethueus is a compelling protagonist because he still has some glimmers of humanity in his soul, even as he enthusiastically sheds everything in an attempt to climb the greasy pole that is status within the Path. During his long stretches inside the virtual realities the Uplifted have made for themselves, Cro often returns to the safety of his childhood, or memories of food, or the one woman he truly loved.
The supreme irony of the Path is that no matter how much the Uplifted think they have left behind the past, ultimately they end up creating imitations of the good things they could have had, back on Earth, if they had simply applied their efforts to doing so. But, even the greatest burger would have turned to ash in their mouths, because for those who chose to abandon Earth and embrace the Path, they never really wanted the better world they told themselves they were going to create. They wanted power, and domination, and to be seen as superior.
The Uplifted see the shedding as them leaving Earth and humanity behind, but the truth that in the long dark inbetween the stars, what happened is that their outer appearance began to conform to what they really were, long before they left Earth.
The second part of the book is shorter, approximately of novella length. It is also much different in its moral valence, although perhaps similar in intensity. We get to see the birth of Legion, under the unkind tutelage of the man who thinks that killing a whole planet is better than letting the Savages win.
Since Tyrus has gotten his own series of books, I’m glad to see Casper getting his due here. Casper and Tyrus really worked best together, as Tyrus’ mind, while steadfast, was absolutely useless for things that needed doing if the galaxy was to be saved from the Savages. And we begin to see some glimmerings of the burden that must have built upon Casper over the centuries, as Tyrus was absolutely unreflective about the times that Casper saved him.
Legionnaires is also an opportunity for some fan service, the introduction of the N-1 blaster gives an opportunity for a little science fantasy woo about what a blaster does, and a sequence aboard a derelict lighthugger that features a motion detector, and the origins of the Legion’s uncrackable L-comm communication system.
Altogether, Gods & Legionnaires is a remarkable entry in the Galaxy’s Edge universe. Entering into the mind of a Savage, and at least partly making him comprehensible, if not quite admirable, is a testament to the skill of the authors. I look forward to seeing the next chapter plays out.