JANISSARIES CLAN AND CROWN BY JERRY POURNELLE AND ROLAND GREEN

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Copyright 1982.

It has been several years since the alien Shalnuksi brought Rick Galloway and his CIA mercenaries from a certain death in Africa to the planet Tran. Now they have settled in with Rick marrying a countess. Most of the mercenaries are now follow him and he has alliance with the kingdom of Drantos and Tameraethon. Time is getting short for him. The Demon Star the third sun of Tran is making its 600 year appearance. He has to start growing the madweed for the aliens. Otherwise they won’t trade ammunition, medicine and other modern necessities they need. The Demon star is already causing massive disruptions in the weather and refugees are starting to pour in from the south. His first move is to form an alliance with Rome. The Romans are in a civil war in no small part to him. His victory over them caused a losing general to revolt. Galloway joins the rebel general to make him Caesar and secure a powerful ally. No sooner than that war is over than another threat from the west. Hordes of Westmen the descendants of the Scythians are coming from the high plains to escape the drought. All this while setting up a university to preserve knowledge for the coming disaster.

The second book sees Roland Green join him in writing. Another excellent book filled with big medieval battles. Throw in some modern weapons to give it an interesting twist. Add to it medieval machine politics and an alien race of drug dealers who are going to bomb the planet back to the stone age so it stays primitive. The main concern is to preserve his new university so knowledge will survive the coming catastrophe. The book does a good job of showing how life was in the middle ages and some of the more simple measures in hygiene to improve society. There is still the threat of the aliens and this mysterious Confederacy. Not much is talked about that which I would have liked to see but there was plenty of time for that in future books. At least at the time it seemed that way. Which we will go over in the next book.

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JANISSARIES BY JERRY POURNELLE

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Copyright 1979.

Captain Rick Galloway is the head of a group of CIA mercenaries in an unnamed African country. They are their to help the local rebels overthrow the Marxist government. Unfortunately thing didn’t turn out good and now they find themselves on a hill surrounded by Cuban troops. They can either surrender and get a public show trial before they are executed or die fighting. Then a miracle happens. A flying saucer lands and offers to take them to safety. With no other option they quickly accept and are flown to a secret base on the Moon.

It is here they find the real reason they were rescued. The aliens want Galloway and his mercenaries to go to the planet Tran. A planet that is inhabited by humans that have been stolen from different periods and is in a medieval state. Every six hundred years a third sun comes and makes the growing of a drug feasible. The aliens want Galloway to use his modern weapons and establish control of an area to grow this drug.

With little options he agrees and are taken to Tran. Soon after landing Andre Parsons one of the mercs stages a coup and deposes Galloway as leader. With the pregnant girlfriend of their human pilot and one deserter from the mercs he heads out alone. Along the way they link up with Tylara who is a deposed countess and head to her family lands of Tamaerthon a people descended from Celts. With Galloway’s help they organize modern pike formations and take on the Empire of Rome. Galloway is establishing himself but there is a greater threat from the aliens and the Galactic Confederation they belong to.

The first in the Janisarries series by Pournelle. I think it is one of my favorites of his work. It has the common themes to his stories i.e. a decadent stagnant society vs. the human desire to grow through technological advancement. In this instance the Galactic Confederacy is a collection of alien races that has ruled for over five thousands years. They do it by keeping the peace through stagnation and no change. Also they use humans as Janissaries. Janissaries were the slave soldiers and administrators of the Ottoman Empire. They took as tribute the first Christian son from a family and raised him. A successful system that saw them eventually becoming the power brokers of the Ottoman Empire. They grew too powerful and had to be disbanded. So humans in this Confederacy are the Janissaries of the Confederation. Now with Earth starting to advance into space the Confederacy is looking at options to force them into the Confederation and control them or bomb them back to the stone age. Some of the human slaves work to conceal Tran in the hope it can be a bastion of human freedom.

I really think this is a unique story idea. Taking a group of modern mercenaries kidnapped by alien drug dealers and dropping them on a medieval planet. There is plenty of adventure in the realistic battles fought. There is the medieval intrigue of Tran plus the threat of the aliens as Rick Galloway tries to build an empire on Tran to save it from the coming catastrophe. Galloway eventually kills Parsons and reestablishes control of the mercenaries which is where the first book ends.

THE WAR GOD BY FREDERICK E. SMITH

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Copyright 1980.

1944 Italy. Joe Beccione is serving in the American Army. Born to Italian immigrant parents in Hell’s Kitchen the tough guy is a good brave soldier but has a problem with discipline. One day a MP jeep hits the young brother of the girl he wants to marry. In his anger he shoots the MP and soon is about to face a firing squad. He escapes and makes his way to a group of renegades. Lead by a German named Franz Kessler the group survives by raiding both Allied and German supply convoys. It is a hodgepodge of deserters and criminals from every nationality. Beccione fits right in with this group. Yet he wonders about Kessler an obviously educated man. A man who can one minute shoot down soldiers but have a sad look in his eyes. A man who is worshiped by the local peasants and he reciprocates in kind. In fact he goes out of his way to help them.

Then they finally find out Kessler’s true purpose. On a mission to liberate stolen valuables in a complex of caves held by the Germans as an artillery position. Soon this village will be the site of a major battle and will destroy the village of Valderosa. Kessler convinces his men to protect the village by fighting off both sides so they can’t occupy it. Now they battle both the Allies and Germans in a big epic battle.

It is hard to write an anti-war war novel but Fredrick Smith manages to do that. Kessler is a pacifist who served in the First World War and lost his brother and father. Later he loses his Jewish wife to a concentration camp. His son in the army and daughter killed in an Allied bombing raid. Stationed in Yugoslavia he witnesses atrocities and is forced to kill to survive. He deserts and forms his own army. One that will exist to protect the civilians that are caught between the armies that are fighting. That he believes foreign armies care little for the civilians and they are the true victims in the war. That all soldiers are in some way to blame. Of course he sees that an Allied victory is the only good outcome. Yet he will fight them to save his beloved peasants. His personality gets his men to fight and die to protect a village. A village at the end that manages to come to the rescue and pay back the survivors. A fascinating book that makes you think.

Fredrick Smith was a RAF gunner on a bomber during WWII. He wrote a successful series called 633 Squadron and some other books. He writes characters that have an interesting backstory and did a lot of research on the war in Italy. Might give some of his other books a try.

IN THE COURTS OF THE CRIMSON KINGS BY S.M. STERLING

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Copyright 2008.

In the year 2000 Jeremy Wainman makes it to the American settlement of Kennedy Base on Mars. In this timeline both Mars and Venus are inhabited. The cold war rivalry has been channeled into settling these worlds. After the encounter with the advanced alien technology on Venus both sides are looking for more. Wainman an archaeologist is there to explore the ancient ruins on Mars. The Martians are an ancient race that were once ruled by the Crimson Dynasty. Now are nothing more than a collection of city states. Wainman hires Teyud za-Zhalt as a guide to the ancient city of Rema-Dza. Aboard the landship Intrepid Traveler they must fight off the various creatures and pirates that populate the Deep Beyond. Teyud has a secret. She is the daughter of the emperor and rightful heir to the Crimson Throne. In Rema-Dza they find the ancient invisible crown which activates because of her genetic heritage. Now they must make it to the old imperial city of Dvor Il-Adazar or City beneath the mountain at Mons Olympus and restore the power of the Crimson Dynasty.

The second book in the Lords of Creation series. This one deals with Mars. Here we have a much more advanced race of people. Mainly in biological sciences they create most of their tech from living machines. They are a people that are somewhat different genetically from Earth humans but still related. They also are a race that seems to have little curiosity and believe everything that has been worth discovering has already been done. So their society is stagnant and they show little interest in the Vas-Terrain or people from the Wet World.

I think this was better than the first book. The Martian society had a fascinating complexity to it. Plus you had the good old fashioned adventure with flying ships, swordfights ,intrigue and romance. Sterling left open some new story ideas at the end for the ancient technology activated by the invisible crown opens stargates on all three worlds to a new world. So there are new worlds to explore and maybe someday Sterling will continue with this fascinating look at a reality where Mars and Venus were made habitable by a mysterious ancient alien race.

THE SKY PEOPLE BY S.M. STERLING

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Copyright 2006.

In this alternate reality the planets of Venus and Mars support life. Probes sent in 1962 confirm that the worlds have humanoid civilizations. So a great space race begins between the U.S. and its allies on one side. The Eastbloc countries on the other. By the 1980’s settlements are established on both worlds. In 1988 Marc Vitrac is a young man who is part of the Jamestown settlement on Venus. He later becomes part of an expedition to rescue and Eastbloc shuttle that crashed far to the west. Aboard the blimp Vepaja they encounter a war between a tribe of humans that are amber skinned and blonde. They are in a war with a cannibalistic Neanderthal tribe. This tribe is armed with AK-47s salvaged from the shuttle. They are also lead by a survivor of the shuttle that is possessed by an ancient alien artifact. Joining with Teesa the beautiful leader of the Cloud Mountain People Marc must battle dinosaurs, sabretooth tigers, cavemen, and an alien computer gone mad.

This is the first book in the Lords of Creation series by Sterling. Basically it takes the premise that Burrough’s worlds of Venus and Mars are inhabitable and transports them to a more modern time. In this reality an ancient race terraformed the two worlds. Now Venus is a world of jungles with dinosaurs, cavemen, bronze age civilizations and blonde caveprincesses in furkinis. Add to this the cold war competition going on at the time. Indeed the competition to establish bases on these worlds make for a more peaceful world. Neither side has the money or time to carry on the cold war. Southeast Asia was peacefully resolved and the last Arab-Israeli war in ’67 ended with both superpowers imposing a peace and now the Middle East is described as a peaceful backwater. This seems like a reasonable outcome if Venus and Mars were inhabited. They two superpowers would have little money left to wage the cold war. This was a fun book done in the spirit of Burroughs. An exotic world with a quest, romance action and a mysterious alien race that created these worlds. A great start to a fascinating series.