Saturday, April 23, 2016

Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Vol. 1: Dawn

Legend of Galactic Heroes a Sci-Fi Novel series written by Yoshiki Tanaka and adapted into what is often considered one of the classics of 80s OVA Anime. Tanaka's novel chronicles the ongoing conflict between two powers the Fascistic Galactic Empire who are involved in a war to crush The Free Planet Alliance a breakaway Republican group of states that sought freedom from the oppression of the empire. Basic structure of the novel is one of world building, character building and action while unflinchingly portraying the often gray moral landscape of warfare from the perspectives of Reinhard von Lohengramm on the side of the empire a smart almost obstinately self-assured warrior who fights not for his nation but with the ultimate goal of freeing his sister Annerose from the concubine status of the emperor and helping his friend the commoner Siegfried Kircheis while also consolidating his power. Reinhard for his part is unflinching often outwardly stoical and the only people that seem to ease his often troubled mind are his beloved sister and best friend. While on the side of The Free Planet Alliance is Yang Wenli a bookish officer with a long view of military history forced into the upper echelons of combat leadership due to political gamesmanship by those in higher positions of power. His own innate tactical genius and the loyalty of those that see him as a reforming influence in the moribund and increasingly corrupt Democracy he counts himself a citizen of. The first novel in this series of fourteen is very much Tanaka setting up his world developing the characters and their personalities none of this feels artificial but it is very many things being set up with the interior monologues developing the characters while the introduction of some feels “stagy.” Still this is a series that pulls no punches the Roman poet Horace's ((Quintas Horatius Flaccus; 65-8 B.C.) often quoted epigram“It is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country.” Is shown by this series to be at best a bright shining lie this is not a series that glories in war as the way for one to attain transcendence or the glory of battle as a romantic quest. Instead, war is an ugly unpleasant that takes the worst of human nature and makes it present while human decency is almost looked at as weakness in The Empire in short a more fitting epigram for the novel would be Hemingway's quote from A Farewell To Arms 'The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry”. (Ch. 27 A Farewell To Arms by Earnest Hemingway). With the novel laying hints that Yang may crack under the pressure of responsibility while Reinhard may end up “selling his soul” for seeing his actions met carried out. In a word a grim often unpleasant look at the futility of war and the often few examples of basic human decency. While overwritten in descriptions of battle feel fraught with tensions while even the loss of secondary characters hurts seeing them as sad sacrifices to the war that has no real winners. For setting up the world this novel succeeds exponentially filled with characters that can be cruel, kind, Machiavellian and sometimes all these things and more. An introduction to an epic world that seems dead set on breaking my heart at some point in future volumes. If anything the story in this book needs to be told even more at one point the deeply flawed invasion of Empire territory anachronistically (this book was originally written in 1982) reminded me of the failed American invasion of Iraq. Showing that sadly bad policy decisions are evergreen. Thoughtful when it does not at times feel ponderous in its world building (although I liked the world building). Worth reading

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