Friday, September 30, 2016

Legend of The Galactic Heroes Volume 2: Review

Civil War breaks out in both The Galactic Empire and The Free Planets Alliance while shadowy conspiracies and betrayals are carried out on both sides While Reinhard Von Lohengramm is forced to fight against disgruntled Aristocrats who see him as a low-born usurper using his influence to whittle away at their privilege and state in society. While Yang Wen-Li in the Free Planets Alliance is forced to fight a battle with more personal stakes involving betrayal and questions of his ultimate loyalty to a system that feels irrevocably broken. All the While the Phezzan Dominion sets plans in motion to prolong the war for the personal enrichment of its leader Adrian Rubinsky and the shadowy leader of The Church Of Terra a man known only as the Grand Bishop who rules Phezzan from the shadows. If volume one of Legend Of The Galactic Heroes was Yoshiki Tanaka building his world and laying the groundwork for his fictional universe. Volume two takes that fully realized universe and grounds it in a painful stew of cynicism, the horrors of war, and the crumbling of personal ideals and personal relationships in the face of the ambition of others and morally dubious but expedient political and military choices. The use of a two-sided Civil War with Reinhard's forces having to fight reactionary Aristocrats and Yang's forces having to fight a military coup. Allows for the focus to be more on the characters and less on battles or stratagem while the few battles that are mentioned range from epic fights between space armadas that capture the brutality of war with references to soldiers being reduced to space dust or commanding officers committing suicide in the face of defeat to revolts and fragging incidences toward the end of the novel. One of the worst battles in the volume is also the "smallest" in which two of Reinhard's subordinates try to take a corridor in a fortress only be met by enemy forces armed with axes and doped up on Amphetamines and Psychedelics to keep them fighting beyond normal human capacity. Making for a blood-chilling expression of violence made only worse by the fact that you have to imagine it and Tanaka's terse matter of fact prose. Thankfully it's not all blood and battles with Yang being shown to have internal conflicts about his place in The Free Planets Alliance sickened by the cult of celebrity built around him but unable to escape due to The Free Planet Alliance's need of his tactical wizardry in battle . This drives Yang deeper into an ever more introspective mood and a burgeoning alcoholism. With his ward Julian often having to try and get him to taper off or promise not to drink a promise which Yang does not keep with his drinking only becoming worse by the end of the novel yet still able to function. This is the part of the more internal battles of the book as Yang feels like he's betraying his principles by working for such a morally dubious system but is stuck having to fight because even the admittedly corrupt government he defends is better than the Fascistic alternative of the Galactic Empire in his eyes along with his own unwillingness to stoop to the level of becoming a demagogue. While Reinhard also comprises his principles causing a rift with his best friend Siegfried which helps humanize Reinhard beyond his icy genius demeanor. It's this humanizing of Reinhard that is the stand out part for the book while outwardly a seemingly cold and dispassionate person. Reinhard is often times influenced by Paul von Oberstien for the worse given Oberstien's perfectly logical but amoral arguments. Or shown to often be more scrappy and impetuous than would first appear making less an imperious caricature and more a realized person with flaws, loyalties, and vulnerabilities which are welcome since Yang, for the most part, has been the most humanized and fleshed out of the two rivals in the series so far. In short, this dark extremely cynical view of life makes the story while not enjoyable compelling as a study in lost illusions and man's inhumanity to man to discussion the flawed nature of democracy in comparison to Autocracy. While oddly my sympathies were more with Reinhard's forces of nattily dressed Fascists even if I didn't agree with their tactics than the cynical real politic of many in the Free Planet Alliance. Honestly, Yang is the only character that keeps me from completely supporting The Galactic Empire as simply put his arguments are so reasonable and cogent. While Yang and Reinhard get some much-needed development in this volume. Sadly some characters simply feel like plot devices or a way to string the story out for future volumes such as Job Trunicht the cynical and corrupt politician who is only interested in consolidating his own power and using Yang for his own means or one of the leaders of the Military insurrection in the Free Planets Alliance. Or they simply feel like re-purposed versions of other characters like Hildegard von Mariendorf feeling like Reinhard's Frederica Greenhill only more stoical. Or Walter von Schönkopf being Yang's Paul Von Oberstien only slightly more moral than the icy and Machiavellian Oberstien who full disclosure is my favorite character in the series. I can hope volume three develops some of the secondary cast giving them more personality and definition beyond feeling like the same but different in comparison to others In conclusion, this continuation of the saga of the war between The Galactic Empire and The Free Planets Alliance gives more definition to the main characters and Tanaka is not afraid to make the audience uncomfortable or question their presumed loyalties. In parts unremittingly bleak and painfully human it is a story that sadly is still so very prescient and may remain so for the foreseeable future. Neither light in themes or tone Legend Of The Galactic Heroes is a series that feels timeless because the issues it broaches will always be debated and questioned as long as people continue to think.

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