fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Queen of the Legion by Jack WilliamsonThe Queen of the Legion by Jack Williamson

Fans of Jack Williamson’s LEGION OF SPACE series would have a long time to wait after part 3 of the saga, One Against the Legion, appeared in 1939. It would be a full 28 years before a short story featuring any of the Legion characters came forth, 1967’s “Nowhere Near,” and it was not until 1983, almost 50 years after part 1 of the series (The Legion of Space) was released, that the final novel of the tetralogy, The Queen of the Legion, was delivered.

Taking place several generations later than the earlier books, The Queen of the Legion tells the story of Jil Gyrel, the only woman to take center stage in a Legion epic. A lonely child growing up in the backwater Hawkshead Nebula, Jil’s life takes a decided turn for the worse at age 7, when her starship-pilot father disappears on a mission, her mother remarries, and the family moves to a more “civilized” region of the galaxy. Upon reaching adulthood, Jil returns to her beloved nebula, in time to find the sector in chaos. The Keeper of the Peace — the custodian of the superweapon AKKA, as readers may recall — has just been murdered, mysterious entities known only as “cliffdrillers” have been attacking the human settlements in the nebula, and, worst of all, deadly parasite aliens called “shadowflashers” have been invading human hosts and (perhaps in a nod to 1979’s Alien) laying their eggs in same.

Through a series of (somehow plausible) plot contrivances, Jil becomes drawn into this deadly state of affairs as she progresses closer and closer to the nebula’s lethal radioactive center. Her companions in her quest to rescue AKKA and save mankind (no easy task for an 18-year-old woman, even if she does possess a black belt in the yawara martial arts, as well as the Gyrel mutant ability to astrogate through the nebula) are Kynan Star, of the famous Star family; Lord Archy, a levitating, silver globule of a robot and one of the most endearing such that any reader could wish to encounter; and Hannibal Xenophon Gul, a Legion corporal whose gluttony, perpetual whining, slovenliness and incessant use of the word “mortal” will surely clue most readers as to his real identity. (Additional hint: He’s the same character who had taken an experimental longevity serum when last encountered, in “Nowhere Near.”)

Hardly as fast moving as The Legion of Space, as thrilling as The Cometeers or as compact as One Against the Legion, The Queen of the Legion still does have much to offer. It is the longest of all the Legion tales, with a large cast of interesting characters and several truly bizarre alien species, and Jil makes for a very appealing heroine. She and Kynan are an unusual love item, he being a good 20 years her senior and a bit of a beaten-up wreck of a man. Williamson, taking advantage of a 1980s permissiveness undreamed of in the 1930s, allows sex to enter into a Legion story for the first time, and although it really is no big deal, the brief allusions to it do startle. The shadowflashers make for excellent and scary nemeses, and the hosts and hostesses who they inhabit become truly repugnant creatures (including some very near and dear to Jil, unfortunately).

To my surprise, I found that this installment had several quite touching moments, perhaps none more so than when Jil regards an alien species known as the “lasermakers” — lumps of spiny matter attached to a rock shelf on a dying planet — and realizes that the creatures are “forlorn, doomed, strange in shape and mind, yet somehow kin.” As would be expected, Williamson’s skills as a writer show a decided improvement in this novel, after five decades’ worth of continual practice. Characterizations seem deeper, and instances of fuzzy writing markedly less (although his descriptions of the shadowflashers’ volcanic city are still a bit too sketchy for this reader’s tastes).

One more short story pertaining to the series, “The Luck of the Legion,” would appear posthumously in 2008, bringing the saga’s total to four novels and two short stories, and I would imagine that most readers who regretfully say good-bye to Jil at the end of The Queen of the Legion will be wishing there were a lot more to follow. This is a worthy addition to a legendary space opera, and I do recommend it to all FanLit readers.

The Legion of Space — (1934-1982) Publisher: They were the greatest trio of swashbuckling adventurers ever to ship out to the stars! There was giant Hal Samdu, rocklike Jay Kalam and the incomparably shrewd and knavish Giles Habibula. Here is their first thrilling adventure – the peril – packed attempt to rescue the most important person in the galaxy, keeper of the vital secret essential to humanity’s survival in the deadly struggle against the incredibly evil Medusae… The Legion of Space is the first self-contained novel in Jack Williamson’s epic Legion of Space series, an all-time classic of adventurous science fiction to rank with ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman saga and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy.

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  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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