Jerry Pournelle
Falkenberg's Legion (1990)
Fixup of West of Honor (1976) and The Mercenary (1977).
Reviewed: 1995-09-10

Set in Pournelle's CoDominium future history, Falkenberg's Legion is the story of John Christian Falkenberg III, a charismatic leader and military genius. (Already obsoleted by actual history,) the CoDominium was formed by the USA and the USSR at the end of the 20th century in an attempt to avoid mutual annihilation and ensure the two countries' hegemony on Earth. Under the direction of the CoDominium, humanity spread to the stars and created a small interstellar empire. Now growing nationalist revivals foreshadow the end of the CoDominium, an all-out war, and a return to barbarism on many settled worlds. In short, it's the typical motif of the final decline of a formerly great empire and the attempts of a handful of dedicated and farsighted men to delay the approaching end, putting out fires before the big storm sweeps away civilization. (Cf. Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry novels.)

Falkenberg is one of these men, an officer whose military career is sadly guided by his unfortunate habit of annoying those in power. A promising lieutenant in the CoDominium Navy, his first commendable action not only earns him a promotion to captain but also a forced transfer to the Marines. In this rank he excells by liberating the planet Arrarat from marauding gangs. Many years later, we meet Falkenberg again, then a colonel and commanding officer of a disbanded battalion, who is hired with his troops to put down a civil uprising on the planet Hadley. Expelled from the CoDominium forces, this marks the beginning of Falkenberg's Mercenary Legion, an elite military force for hire, not controlled by any state, with exceeding qualities which are finally proven in an against all odds war for the independence of the world of New Washington.

Falkenberg must fight against superior military forces, incompetent, shortsighted, power hungry, and corrupt politicians on the friendly side, and even treason. I found his purported military genius more a matter of luck and by now conventional blitzkrieg tactics (minus the air support), but Pournelle spares us from the stereotypical implausibly stupid enemy and spins some very engaging stories.

The general outlook of Falkenberg's Legion is very pessimistic. Pournelle makes sure to stress that military governments don't work - but neither do the civilian ones. It turns out that Falkenberg isn't quite the unconcerned mercenary he appears to be, in fact his operations not just accidentally support the CoDominium and prepare worlds for the inevitable dark ages to come. Originally written during the depressing times of the Cold War, this book casts a very gloomy image of the future.

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