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‘In the Cold Light of Morning’
Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle


Reading from the 1980 Ace edition, illustrated by Bermejo, 336 pages

First edition published in 1979

Rick Galloway is a history major who, through ROTC training, found his nerd way into a mercenary outfit handled by the CIA as a Captain. Knowing he is unqualified but chosen for his high IQ, he leans heavily on a former Foreign Legion man with a sardonic wit. In one of the best starts to any science fiction novel, Rick and his men have been forsaken by The Agency and left to die or be captured by Russian-Cuban-Native troops in some African shithole country. The setting is very similar and might have been based on the real life adventure firepower, about an American criminal and British military veteran serving on the doomed side of the Angolan civil war in the mid-1970s.

In any event, minutes from getting overrun, a UFO lands and gives the men a chance to board with their equipment of stay and face the triumphant enemy, sure that the U.S. Government will never recognize they exist. The men are soon in some airlock on the dark side of the moon being offered a job to plant and harvest drugs for some alien race on an uncharted planet which only has correct conditions for growing said crop once every 600 years. It turns out that earth is like Camden New Jersey, a place in which the occupants know nothing about the outside world but are the subjects of the occasional student of retarded cultures sinks from the outside world of sentient beings.

The plot is marred by the insertion of a ditzoid, bimbo of the selfish American ME ME ME variety who is the discarded sex toy of a human pilot working for the aliens, which have high connections with earth hierarchies and, as it turned out, have stocked the planet with human military units to harvest their drugs every 600 years since the siege of Troy. This provides plenty of military adventure, with a well written feudal system abutting a defunct Roman Empire in the narrow habitable zone of the planet.

Janissaries, by the preeminent Military Science Fiction author, Pournelle, is in a strange place in speculative literature, halfway between the “Gee whiz, we can figure this out and make it right” stories that Pournelle grew up reading from the 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s, and the feminized soap opera of super babes kicking masculine ass and striding lavishly towards the reader out of the text, placing specifically between the original Star Trek of adventure and of Star Trek the Next Generation, a feminist soap opera of guilt driven societal angst. The female version of William Wallace and the relevance of some coed slut to a platoon of stranded men at war are the only weak spots in this powerful adventure story, very grittily illustrated by Bermejo.

Specifically, if you are a history geek and a science fiction reader, you will love Jannissaries, a story that places the thinking man in a position of relevance he rarely enjoyed in the real worlds of impulsive meatheads that is military contracting and was the age of iron men that was feudal Europe.

A White Christmas

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