THE LAST CENTURION, John Ringo, 2008, Baen, 602pp, paperback
Ten years in the future, bird flu devastates the world just before global warming trends abruptly reverse themselves with a frigid, lingering winter.
In embattled Iran, an American Army officer known by his radio callsign of Bandit Six is left with a Stryker company and 100 men and instructions to guard an incredibly huge storehouse of weapons and supplies. They’re being left as the rest of the deployed forces are abruptly withdrawn and returned to the States to help deal with the crisis. Bandit Six has his work cut out for him and is eventually forced to take the trail of The 10,000, an ancient army of Greeks hoplites who found themselves alone, surrounded, and vastly outnumbered in ancient Persia, fighting their way back to Greece.
I am choosey about what I read, even in sicence fiction which I have returned to from time to time since I was a kid. That includes military science fiction. The premise sounded so interesting I was induced to get it and am very happy I did. This is a great read. The best novel I’ve read in months. I expect to reread it within a year.
Former Army Airborne trooper and science fiction author John Ringo has Bandit Six spending the first third of his memoirs explaining the disaster and discussing the factors that went into the mismanagement of the crisis by a Hilary Clinton-type president. It is an entertaining at-length mix of this fictional background and the expounding of fact and theory by Bandit Six on such issues as socialized medicine, global warming, immunizing a population as an effective deterrent, the role of personal space in the spread of disease, organic vs. industrial farming issues, the custom of barn-raising as a unique American experience, as they relate to the crisis and to the specific wrong-headed emergency management decisions by the president. I love a book you can read for enjoyment and can learn from — that’s what initially drew me in to science fiction so many years ago.
Ringo does not stint on action. He has, after all, written numerous military science fiction books, not the least of which is A Hymn Before Battle and Gust Front, in which near-present-day soldiers confront an alien invasion by the seemingly numberless Posleen. After the set-up, The Last Centurion turns to Bandit Six’s efforts to defend his huge supply dump, an incredibly popular target for would-be warlords who are springing up to replace the central government, such as it was.
Rest assured this is not an “everyone dies in the end” story. Things are never going to completely fall apart, even if Bandit Six does describe himself as The Last Centurion, — a reference to the last Roman legionairre who laid down his gladius and took a barbarian bride.