The Bastard Legion is the latest Military Science Fiction from Gavin Smith, very much in the style of his earlier book Veteran and its sequel War in Heaven, although not connected in terms of plot or characters.
Smith’s hard hitting protagonist is Miska Corbin, a thief and hacker who steals a prison ship full of dangerous criminals to facilitate her new commercial concept or perhaps to fill the aching void in her life left by the her father’s death.
Needless to say the criminals, despite their motivational explosive collars, are not always as cooperative as Miska hoped and definitely more emotionally distracting that she believed they ever could be. This, along with her interactions with the characters with artificial intelligence, allow us to see her more vulnerable side, which moves her firmly away from the “Strong Female Character” stereotype and into a believable, relatable character, who happens to be female.
The themes of the novel include morality vs law abiding. All of the human inhabitants in the prison ship, the Hangman’s Daughter, are criminals, including Miska who stole the ship, but they have moral lines that they are not prepared to cross. Some of them are not prepared to cross those lines even when under threat of their life to do so. This blurs the boundaries of right and wrong, leaving the reader to pick their way through layers of grey to make their own decisions.
The different types on AI used in the story are very interesting, sophisticated to the point of displaying a consistent personality, making it unclear how much is learnt or programmed behaviour and how much is the ability for programmes to self actualise. Even the human characters are not sure of the answer to this. Although in one case it is a question that Miska does not like to think about, allowing an AI programmed from the memories and personality of person while he was alive take that persons place now he is dead. At what point can a programme become an independent entity? At what point does it become a person?
The combat is violent and brutal, graphic, but not unnecessarily so. The action very much moves the plot on at a good pace. The novel is complete in itself, but does leave enough questions unanswered that you find yourself wondering what comes next for Miska.
This is a fast paced, action packed novel with an intriguing, flawed, but human protagonist that makes for great reading.
Written on 29th November 2017 by Karen Fishwick.
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