A trip back to my reading interests at age 9
I’ve had this sitting on my shelf for a while now. Despite the fact that it’s a slim 125 pages, I’ve been putting it off for a very specific reason. I read this when I was very young and have very fond memories of it. I wasn’t keen to have those memories sullied by rereading it to discover that it is totally formulaic and one-dimensional (fortunately I was happily surprised in most respects).
Douglas Hill, who sadly passed away in 2007, was a prolific Canadian author and editor who moved to the UK in 1959. He was a great reader of science fiction from an early age and, as an adult in his position as Literary editor of the weekly Tribune, he regularly reviewed science fiction books despite the fact that the literary community at large did not take the genre seriously. The novel Galactic Warlord came, apparently, from a conversation with a publisher in which Hill claimed that there wasn’t enough quality science fiction for younger readers. He decided to put that right.
Galactic Warlord is the first novel in The Last Legionary Quartet: a series which tells the tale of Keill Randor, the last survivor of the planet Moros. I remember having a stand-up argument at school about the pronunciation of this. I said it was like Kyle; Richard Shears said it was pronounced Keel. I still think I’m right. He was way cooler than me at school, however, so everyone else went with him. Randor sets out on a quest for vengeance for the murder of his world, aided by a mysterious group of senior citizen scientists called The Overseers and a telepathic alien parrot called Glr. The focus of his vengeance is the titular Warlord: a shadowy Keyser Soze type figure who creates wars throughout the galaxy.
This was a remarkably pacy story, but I was left at the end with a feeling that nothing much had actually happened in 125 pages. I can see why I liked it as a child. There are Mos Eisley-like spaceports, needle guns and hollowed-out asteroids, not to mention a boss fight at the end which, if a film had been made of the novel around the time of its release, would definitely have featured Pat Roach
Really though, as a standalone novel, it’s incredibly lightweight. If it serves as an origin story for the central character and to set up the players, that’s fine, but once this is done, we are left with only about 30 pages left to get into any meaningful action. The central character, Keill Randor comes off very much like Dune’s Duncan Idaho, a master of combat and warfare but without the immediate hook of undying loyalty that Frank Herbert created for the character. Indeed this is not the only debt that The Last Legionary owes to Frank Herbert’s Dune universe. The planet Moros, home of the greatest mercenaries in the Galaxy, has great similarities to an Arrakis or a Salusa Secundus: tough worlds on which the very ability of people to survive makes them fearsome warriors.
This is only the first book of four, and it is aimed at children. My view of it now cannot help but be coloured by my expectations as an adult reader. All four books are available as a set on Amazon (Buy the book on Amazon here) and I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone who has a 9-11 year old who likes space and adventure stories. Galactic Warlord hurtles along at quite a pace and has enough to keep you engaged all the way through. It sets up an interesting galaxy with plenty of intrigue and the promise of adventure. I remember being enthralled with the whole series, including the prequel, Young Legionary, which was released later and it hasn’t dated at all. The imagery is still quite fresh and doesn’t feel overworn.
Above all, I read loads of books when I was that age. This one must stick in my mind for a reason. I think because it was a series and there was the anticipation factor of getting the next one and completing the story. My advice would be to buy the whole set. All Galactic Warlord does is set things up. You need, and so do I now I’ve twisted the cap off the tube, to get the whole story.
Thanks for reading,