Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2020
Begun, the Savage Wars have.
Jason Anspach and Nick Cole take us back to the beginning of the Legion. To those desperate battles that rent the galaxy in twain, yet at the same time also called forth humanity’s greatest heroes. And it is very much humanity versus… something else. While the denizens of the lighthuggers that left Earth before the invention of the hyperdrive do share common ancestry with the varied multitudes that inhabit the far-flung worlds of the galaxy, being a homo sapiens isn’t necessarily the same thing as being human.
Exactly what humanity entails of you is the living core of this book of military space opera with a very hard look at the horrors of war. War, as such, is horrible. This war, is something else entirely, and if you want to know why, you should take a short detour into the universal phenomenon known as millennialism.
The name for it in English implies a particularity it does not possess. The name comes from the Book of Revelation, referring to the an age of 1,000 years in which Christ rules the Earth. That meaning has been extended to refer to all movements that believe that the end of the world, or the end of an age of the world is imminent, and that therefore radical changes are called for with special urgency.
When the lighthuggers, giant colony ships with the capacity to achieve an ultimate velocity a substantial fraction of lightspeed, abandoned the dying Earth, that seemed abundantly true. An age of the world really was ending, and people responded accordingly. What was different here, is that in our history millenarian movements have always needed to physically co-exist with everyone else. The precursors of the Savages took the equivalent of a commune, a kibbutz, or a cult, and separated it from the rest of humanity for generations, at least.
If you want to know how nutty millenarian movements can get, here are a few real examples. The Skoptsys. The Cattle Killing of the Xhosa. The Taiping Rebellion. The Münster Commune. There is a tendency for such things to get to the point of self-destruction, like the Jonestown Massacre, but there is also the reaction of the rest of society to such things, illustrated by the Taiping Rebellion or the Münster Commune, which were crushed with alacrity.
The Savages are the survivors of a Darwinian process that eliminated those who self-destructed, and protected the dangerous ones, who had an opportunity to consolidate their power completely free from outside interference that might have ended their menace when they were weak. Thus, when the monsters come roaring out of the depths of space on their massive ships, those ships contain every horror mankind has ever feared, dialed up to eleven. Their ideologies swollen to madness, in their isolation, and powered by the wonders produced by the best minds of Earth, unmoored from restraints.
Against these post-human hordes, only one response is possible. WARRE. War to the knife, nuclear weapons, fire, and destruction. Or is it? Thus we return to the question I posed at the beginning? What does our humanity require of us in this situation? The Savages deliberately left their humanity behind, seeing it as weak and broken. For them, the question has been definitely answered.
For the Savages distant cousins who leapt to the stars ahead of them, this is the question that will determine who they will be. Do you need to become a monster, in order to fight them? Can you lose by winning? And at the heart of this question is also a relationship, between two men who understand each other as no one else possibly could.
In many ways, they are utterly different. One is a warrior. The other a magician. Their personalities and habits of mind are opposed, but also complementary, rather than contradictory. Or at least it is possible for them to be so. Coming to agreement for such stubborn and willful men cannot be easy. Which is why the ultimate resolution requires the intermediation of a woman. And from that, great things shall come.
That Anspach and Cole can manage to combine such subtlety with great action in an expansive universe that feels like home will never cease to amaze me.