Doktor Bizarro's Bookshelf of Horrors

Janissaries: C: Turkish Disgust

Welcome to my humble laboratory again, you oversized guinea pigs. Before I discuss today's experiment, I'd like to bring up the Ottoman Empire. They've left a considerable legacy, despite most of you probably never having heard of them (save perhaps as the enemies in "Lawrence of Arabia" or any movie about Gallipoli). They're essentially what happens when you cross the Mongols and Byzantine Greeks and let the blend simmer in the Mediterranean heat. They were one of the first armies to realize the potential of firearms, employing them more widely (at least at first) than many of their rivals. The huge bombards they brought against the walls of Constantinople in May of 1453 helped put that pathetic remnant of the Roman Empire out of its misery, accelerate the Renaissance (by means of driving scholars towards Europe), and showed how classical fortifications had met their match with gunpowder.

Once in control, they gave the world a number of innovative firearms (such as the abus gun), and the first indoor shopping mall, the Grand Bazaar. They employed elite troops called janissaries (Turkish for "new troops"), the children of Christian subjects raised as sons of the Sultan. In time, they became power brokers in deciding which Sultan would rule (and how), preventing them from modernizing the military. Thanks to their eventually corruption, the Ottoman Empire faded into the "sick man of Europe" until one Sultan managed to finally depose the janissaries. By this time, the damage had been done. It wasn't for another century that a fellow named Ataturk brought Turkey kicking and screaming into modern, secular republic, and finally put the Ottoman Empire to rest.

Today's work, however, has nothing to do with the Ottoman Empire, save the title being "Janissaries." The trashy tome I'm going to inflict upon you today is "Janissaries" by Jerry Pournelle. Now, Mr. Pournelle has several science fiction, fiction, and non-fiction books under his belt, including the CoDominium series and famous collaborations with Larry Niven, such as "The Mote in God's Eye" and "Lucifer's Hammer." Today's literary refuse, however, somehow fathered a brood of sequels despite the poor evolutionary fitness when compared with more worthwhile titles.

Now, the cover art of the copy I was cursed with is a nonsensical jumble of images: a flying saucer, some giant staring women, a castle, some horsemen, and a Twentieth Century-era soldier pointing his rifle at the reader. The back cover summarizes the starting place of the story: a group of American mercenaries surrounded by communist guerillas in Africa. It says they can fight on and get annihilated, surrender and get executed after a show trial, or some unmentioned third alternative. The tone hints at some manner of geopolitical thriller plot. So, how could the main characters make it out of this? Some clever strategy, surprise attack, or daring escape?

As it turns out, none of the above. The main characters are abducted by humanoid aliens and forced to act as cannon fodder for their goals. Thus, they become the titular "janissaries," elite slave soldiers for someone else's war. This version also has illustrations in it, a rather poor attempt to pad out the length, at that. At least the tome is rather short compared with others we've had the misfortune to endure.

The alien race (called the Shalnuksis) give them a mission to take over a primitive shithole planet called Tran, populated with humans abducted from other points in history. Given their advanced weapons, they think it should be easy. Option 3: the mercenaries take over, and then grow a crop of illegal space drugs for the Shalnuksis. So, option number three turns out to make less sense than anything even my superior intellect could have thought up. There is strange, reader, and then there is stupid. Guess what this falls under? That's correct, plain fucking stupid.

Once they arrive, there's trouble in the ranks. A mutineer named Parsons takes over and drives off previous leaders Galloway and his companion Mason. Parsons then helps a local usurper take over a nearby kingdom, Drantos. Galloway and Mason meet a woman fleeing the recent political turmoil, the love interest Tylara. The group heads back to her homeland, a region full of Celtic descended highlanders (of course). Galloway reorganizes their military into a more effective formation, and they mount a border raid on a nearby Roman descended culture holds for food. Despite kicking their asses, the Romans arrange an alliance with them. Galloway falls for Tylara, and they plan to marry.

They get a chance to take back her homeland, and go for it. They begin the production of gunpowder, although they know the other mercenaries have heavier weapons. Parsons, the traitor, tries to assassinate Galloway, but Tylara blows him away with Galloway's pistol. The remaining mercenaries then liberate the kingdom and give Galloway a noble title. They begin to realize that the aliens tend to dump humans on the backwater planet every six Earth centuries or so (same as the timing for their drug harvests), and speculate on galactic politics. They realize that the Shalnuksis (and the galactic confederacy they're part of) keep Earth isolated so they can raise "wild" humans as slaves and cannon fodder. They decide to educate and uplift the people of Tran to be ready for the aliens, instead of just glorified galactic drug mules.

So ends another convincing argument for illiteracy. Every pore of your primate bodies will flow with the puss of neurons dying from the sheer idiocy of this tome. From the premise to the wasted potential for cool historical matchups. The writing itself is dry and bland at best. No metaphors, colorful descriptions, or creative language fill the book. It violates "show, not tell" on several levels. In addition, characterization never rises above the mediocre. Even in the soulless, often contrived genre of military science fiction, that is saying something. Even the whole "primitive humans rebel against alien abductors" was done more competently, such as in "The High Crusade" by Poul Anderson. This book was printed approximately two decades afterwards, and it's rather hard not to draw parallels in some ways.

Oh, the putrid pool of printed puss perpetually hungers for fresh sacrifices. And thus, we come to the end of today's experiment. This novel is no Turkish delight. If any real janissaries read this book, they'd use it for target practice. Having a pile of copies of these book blasted to smithereens with an Ottoman basilica bombard seems appropriate enough. The boredom induced by this awful prose could lull the entire army besieging Constantinople to sleep. If they knew that their name would be used for this pathetic novel, the Ottoman elite should besiege the publishing company like the city of Constantinople until reparations are paid. (Just hope there's no "They Might Be Giants" song made afterwards.) I'm Doktor Bizarro, and this is the Bookshelf of Horrors, where your worst tomes are my favorite tortures.