Andromeda’s Fall: A Novel of the Legion of the Damned, William C. Dietz (ACE, 2012)

Grade: Γ — clip(Gamma) A good book within the genre, possibly worth reading regardless of which genre’s you like, but has a setting or style that is likely to be unappealing to individuals who are not fans of a given genre. This is the highest grade that many very good books that are part of a series can receive, since series require an investment in reading that normally only appeals to fans of that genre. 

In brief:[1]

Andromeda’s Fall is the exciting prequel to the Legion of the Damned series by William C. Dietz.  Due out on December 4th (2012), this book is a great addition to the series that introduces one of the best female characters I have seen in Military Science Fiction.  My only real complaint is that it could have been longer, but more pages adds cost to production and thus the price of the book, which no doubt had a part to play in that decision.  Even so, Andromeda McKee (a.k.a. Cat Carletto) stands out as a unique character in the annals of Military Science Fiction, and for that reason, I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes Mil Fic.  Indeed, it might also appeal to anyone looking for a strong female protagonist.

Setting:

This is a prequel to the Legion of the Damned series, set in the far future of near galactic space. Cybernetic technology is high enough to put brains in robot bodies, and FTL exists. Other intelligent species exist and Human space is an Imperial State with a single Emperor holding the reigns, but a coup d’état takes place in the opening scene, setting the stage for a purge.

In Depth:

Andromeda’s Fall is an action packed adventure that stands out as a Gamma for one reason: it has one of the best female protagonists I have ever encountered in Military Science Fiction.  Indeed, Lady Catherine Carletto (a.k.a. ‘Cat’, and Andromeda McKee) may indeed be my favorite female character in Military Science Fiction.  Why?  Well, there are lots of reasons, but before I get into that, let me at least set up the book a little.

The story opens with the sister of the Third Emperor of human space seizing power by assassinating her brother and instigating a purge of all his supporters and allies.  Among these supporters is the Carletto family, who manufactures the cyborg units who make up a key part of the Legion,[2] as well as the synths (anthropomorphic robots equipped with sophisticated, but not ultratech AIs) who are controlled by the new Empress.  Part of that family is Catherine Carletto, commonly known as Cat, the beautiful, smart and wayward daughter who has spent a life of extravagance.  Suddenly finding herself on the run, Cat decides her only chance for survival, and perhaps revenge, is to join the Legion and adopt the nom de guerre of Andromeda McKee.  The book then goes forward to chronicle her adventures as a wanted woman hiding away in the Legion of the Damned.

So, what sets this book apart from the others is the way Dietz handles the character of Cat/Andromeda.  First off, he never objectifies her.  She is described as attractive (in the same way any male protagonist in an action book described), and it is made clear that she partially identifies herself with her good looks,[3] but rather than using this as a way to sexualize her, Dietz uses this as an element of her character growth and development.  Indeed, her beauty plays little role in the book other than in her changing perception of herself and her sense of identity.

What is more, there is a scene (which is really hard to discuss without giving spoilers) in which the author could easily have dwelt on a sexualizing or titillating narrative, but instead he deftly avoided this, and while noting briefly Cat/Andromeda’s discomfort, he moved quickly on to the true nature of the scene and played it out quite nicely.[4]  To this end, he deftly portrays a future where women really are considered a normal part of a fighting force and creates a female protagonist who is not defined by her sex or appearance.

Added to this is the fact that Andromeda is an enlisted woman throughout the book.  I can’t for the life of me think of another single female central protagonist and principal viewpoint character who serves as an enlisted woman throughout the book.[5]  Oh, she becomes a non-com pretty quickly, but she starts as a recruit and spends the bulk of the tale as a Corporal.  Most Mil Fic books that have women as central characters show them as Officers; here she’s a grunt, and has all the problems of a grunt.  When she becomes a squad leader, she has the problems of a squad leader.  That is the focus of the book, not her status as a maverick because she is a woman – it is assumed that the future has managed to tame sexism, at least to some degree.

On a similar note, I can’t think of another book in which we see a Corporal as the POV character. Privates, sure, Sergeants, all the time, but Corporals?  None spring to mind.  For the most part Mil Fic (be it speculative or not) portrays Corporals as Privates with an extra chevron. Here we get to see action and combat in which the E4[6] is finally given some due.  What is more, we get to see the difficulties of that rank.  That by itself is a bit rewarding.

What is missing from this book, however, is a bit more personal story.  I would have loved to spend ten or so pages seeing the protagonist’s life as Cat in a bit more detail.  A bit more time showing her life as a socialite, her spoiled ways, her lack of fulfillment – all of which is discussed and implied, but a bit of time spent in the set up before the hunt begins would have added a great deal more to her tale.  Similarly, I could have used a bit more showing her struggling through the initial parts of basic training and losing her sense of privilege as she does so. Admittedly, she loses that pretty hard and heavy before she even joins the Legion.

The other added scenes I would have liked would have shown more bonding with Weber, her first cyborg comrade-in-arms. Some tale of his past, particularly the misdeeds that led him to be encased in a cyborg body, would have served the story extremely well.  All of this is implied, but I would loved to have seen it showed.

Of course, books are ever a game between cost of production vs. length of narrative, and action and plot movement vs. backstory and character history.  I have little doubt that in order to keep the book affordable while also keeping the pace of action at a critical mass, compromises had to be made.  For me, however, I would have happily seen another 50 or so pages added to the book, and doubt it would have made any difference to the action packed pace of the novel.  That never lets up.

Besides, who knows, maybe Dietz and Penguin (Ace is one of their imprints) intend to release a series of short stories intended to build the background (and thus marketing) for anyone interested in the personal tales.  ‘Webisodes’ for the text industry are hardly new, and this could well add to the sales as a whole.

Regardless, one can hardly say that wanting more of a book is a damning concept. Indeed, this was definitely an action packed, page turning adventure tale: the very definition of a Ripping Yarn.  It was also a clear contender to the “Does What It Says On The Tin” award:  it was a great, fun read that gave me a character whose adventures I look forward to following for years to come.

A must read for any fan of Mil Fic, and highly recommended for anyone looking for a strong female protagonist in an action adventure setting.


[1] Full disclosure: I was sent an advanced copy of this book by the author after he saw my review of the first book in the series.

[2] For those of you who don’t know, the Legion is the futuristic descendent of the Légion étrangère, that elite military unit known to most English speakers as the French Foreign Legion. Key to this unit are the cyborgs, who are almost entirely made up of criminals who received the death penalty and are given the option of being resurrected after execution to live out the rest of their days in a giant robot body. Actually, it’s a lot more complex than this, so for a full discussion see http://wp.me/pWa2h-q7 for a description and review of the book that introduced this series.

[3] As any good looking person does, but I should note that she more closely associates herself with her determination, which is her defining characteristic.

[4] Indeed, it has made me rethink some scenes in my own novels.

[5] Oh, there are lots of tough women shown in the ranks in Mil Fic, but not really as the central character whose POV carries the book.

[6]  Or E3 if Dietz is using the French designation of Caporal Brigadier, which I don’t believe he is, but just to be sure…

About Thomas Evans

I'm a writer of mysteries, espionage, and speculative fiction. In my previous incarnation I was an archaeologist specializing in gender and identity in Iron and Bronze Age Europe. Mostly, however, I was known for my works with the use of geomatics, multiscalular spatial analysis and landscape theory within archaeology.
This entry was posted in Identity, Military Science Fiction, Post Colonial, Ripping Yarn, Saga, Science Fiction, Series, Space Opera, Strong Characters, Uncategorized, World and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Andromeda’s Fall: A Novel of the Legion of the Damned, William C. Dietz (ACE, 2012)

  1. Yolanda says:

    I’ve just added this to my wish list on Amazon. You had me at Gamma, and Military Sci Fi! Also, From the description of the beginning of the book, this will be one that I will devour with gusto.

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