The Legion of Space
|The Legion of Space|
Dust-jacket from the first edition
|Illustrator||A. J. Donnell|
|Cover artist||A. J. Donnell|
|Series||Legion of Space Series|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback)|
|Followed by||The Cometeers|
The Legion of Space is a science-fiction novel by the American writer Jack Williamson. It was first published in book form by Fantasy Press in 1947 in an edition of 2,970 copies. The novel was revised from a version that was originally serialized in the magazine Astounding in 1934. Its serial origin is evident in nearly every chapter ending with a cliffhanger.
The story takes place in an era when humans have colonized the Solar System but dare not go farther, as the first extra-solar expedition to Barnard's Star failed and the survivors came back as babbling, grotesque, diseased madmen. These survivors spoke of a gigantic planet, populated by ferocious animals, and of the single city of the evil "Medusae". The Medusae are elephant-sized, four-eyed, flying 'jellyfish' with hundreds of tentacles. The Medusae cannot hear or speak, but communicate with one another via radio waves.
The Legion is the military and police force of the Solar System. It was created to keep the peace after the overthrow of the "Purples", a dynasty that ruled all humanity for generations. John Ulnar, a young graduate of the Legion academy, shares a surname with the Purples but is an enthusiastic supporter of the Legion.
A weapon called AKKA was used to defeat the Purples. Using a space/time distortion, it erases matter from the Universe—any matter, of any size, even a star or a planet. The secret of AKKA is kept in one family, descended from its creator, and is passed down from mother to daughter. One of the Legion's most important tasks is to guard the current Keeper, a beautiful young woman named Aladoree Anthar.
Through the machinations of his uncle, a powerful politician with a hidden agenda, John Ulnar is assigned to Aladoree's guard force at a secret fort on Mars. When she is kidnapped by a huge alien spaceship, John and the three other survivors of the guard force follow her kidnappers to a planet of Barnard's Star. They crash-land and must battle their way across a savage continent to the sole remaining citadel of the Medusae.
John Ulnar's uncle and his nephew have allied with the Medusae as a means to regain their empire, and have kidnapped Aladoree to ensure that AKKA is not used against them. The Medusae, however, turn on the Purples, seeking to destroy all humans and move to the Solar System, as their own world, far older than Earth, is spiraling into Barnard's Star.
John Ulnar and his companions rescue Aladoree, but the invasion of the Solar System has already begun. The Medusae conquer the Moon, set up bases there, and bombard Earth with gas projectiles. John, Aladoree, and their companions land on on a ravaged Earth. Fighting off cannibals maddened by the gas, they build AKKA and destroy the Medusae fleets (and Earth's Moon as well).
Aldiss and Wingrove, noting that Williamson had produced much better work, dismissed Legion as a Gosh-wow! epic which thundered along "on the cloven heels of Doc Smith." Everett F. Bleiler, although faulting the novel's "stylistic and developmental problems . . . notably the irritating characterizations of the musketeers and John Ulnar," concluded that Legion is carried along by a drive and verve that make it one of the better early space operas."