Legend of the Galactic Heroes
Legend of the Galactic Heroes (LotGH) is basically Japanese Star Trek... if Star Trek was about Alexander the Great conquering space in order to settle a long running debate with his nemesis about the relative merits of dictatorship vs representative democracy.
Epic space war. Humans fighting humans. Death Stars colliding. Peaceful protesters getting nuked. Manly men in power armor hacking at each other with axes. Exterminatus used on Mormons. Eighty proof coffee. Foppery and whim. And above all else, good people, remarkable people, being killed meaninglessly.
- 1 The Basics
- 2 Other Important Characters
- 3 Plot
- 4 Tech Level of the Setting
- 5 Allegory
LotGH follows two commanders on opposite sides of a space war, alternating between their perspectives between chapters and episodes:
Representing the righteous freedom fighters of the Free Planets Alliance we have Admiral Yang Wenli, a reluctant soldier who enlisted because he wanted to be a historian but couldn't afford college. His coffee is straight brandy, and he wins his battles running away. Yang wants nothing more than to conclude the war in a peaceful stalemate so that FPA is still around to pay his pension. While devoted to the ideals of democracy, he also freely admits that if he'd been born in the Empire, he'd be happily fighting for Reinhard.
Reinhard von Lohengramm
Fighting for (and against) the Imperious forces of the Goldenbaum Dynasty of the Galactic Empire, we have Reinhard von Lohengramm. Reinhard fights to save his sister from the affections of the current emperor by taking over the entire goddamn galaxy. Has sex once before dying of space-AIDS literally days after conquering everything. Lost his best friend to assassins, lost his nemesis to religious terrorists; got revenge for both of them.
Other Important Characters
Reinhard's best buddy from childhood and second-hand man (At least in the first half of the series). Optimistic, idealistic, and a bit aloof, he's 100% loyal to Reinhard and isn't ashamed to admit that, creating a "Bromance" of sorts worthy of a Jojo character. Serving as the "morality pet" of the empire and keeping everyone else together with his gentle nature, he is nonetheless much smarter and talented than one might believe at first glance, thanks to a mix of skill and experience that leads to Reinhard always listening to his suggestions and taking them to heart - which pays off a vast majority of the time.
Paul von Oberstein
Commander Kubrik Chenkov incarnated into a Fleet Admiral. Oberstein serves as the man who does "What Needs to be Done" for Reinhard, and boy, does he do that and beyond the necessary in his actions. From allowing a nuke that kills millions of people to explode in order to increase Reinhard's popularity, to being a ruthless chessmaster who will gladly manipulate events and people to eliminate and competition, even the possibility of one, he is essentially a pure utilitarian who cares not for morals but what will keep more people alive in the long run (And what will keep Reinhard into power, of course). Unsurprisingly, practically nobody in the Empire likes him, not helped by the fact his voice is an permanente monotone who never changes no matter the gravity of the situation, but they neverheless keep him around because lack of morals aside, he is a very cunning strategist who gets shit done, and in spite of his manipulation and That Guy overtones, he is loyal to the bone when it comes to Reinhard and the empire.
Sub-Liutenant of The Alliance and the "face" of what it ideally should be alongside Yang. Fairly young which leads many to underestimate him, but just as skilled as Yang when it comes to being a leader and strategist by the end of the series. Just like Yang, he is your "to go" guy for the defense and meritis of democracy in the series, refusing to bow down to any autocratic leader no matter how "benevolent" he might be, and he damn sure demonstrates that as time goes on, fighting tooth and nail in spite of the incompetent leadership, and proving himself in battle multiple times with both the use of smart strategies and his skills when it comes to swinging an axe. This, plus his cooking abilities and polite attitude even towards his enemies makes him one of the brightest characters in a galaxy where so many nice people die in droves. (Just don't refuse to stand down against him, he might be Lawful Good but he sure as hell ain't Stupid Good)
The main story of LotGH begins in the year 796 UC. Roughly 300 years prior, the founders of the FPA had escaped the Empire in secret, settling a new world and building up their forces until they were eventually encountered by the forces of the slowly expanding empire. War immediately broke out, and has been fought more or less continuously for about 150 years. The FPA enjoyed an initial advantage in that they had known contact was inevitable and had been on a war footing since their nation was founded. The empire however enjoyed an enormous advantage in resources and population.
By 796 UC, the war has become stalemated and the known regions of the galaxy divided roughly in half. The charted, navigable warp routes between the two stellar nations flow through two choke points, the systems of Iserlohn and Fezzan. Iserlohn is defended by a massive space fortress held by the empire, while Fezzan is an autonomous state nominally held by the empire but recognized as a neutral zone by both sides. Interstellar travel off the charted routes is painstaking, slow, and dangerous, so the war has become focused on the Iserlohn corridor.
Reinhard von Lohengramm, a young upstart disliked by his seniors who would love nothing more than to see him die in combat, is sent into FPA space with a small fleet to test the FPA's response. Beating the odds, he defeats twice his numbers before being fought to a stalemate by a group led by Yang Wenli. Returning in glory, Lohengramm's prestige and power grows.
Likewise, Yang Wenli is hailed as a hero for preventing a bad defeat from becoming a total rout. Yang is tasked with launching a retaliation strike against Iserlohn Fortress. Using deceit and guile, he manages to bait out the base's garrison fleet, while getting a strike force into the base, turning it against the Imperials when they realize they'd been duped.
The surprise, instant capture of Iserlohn reverses war sentiment among the FPA's leaders. No longer content to sue for peace on favorable terms, they resolve to use Iserlohn as a foothold to launch an invasion of the Empire. Reinhard's superiors, still trying to get rid of him, place him in command of the defense. Reinhard's forces respond by looting food and supplies from all the planets in the FPA's path. Their aim is to create a deliberate humanitarian crisis that the FPA will be forced to respond to, slowing their offensive to a crawl and forcing them into supplying whole worlds or face uprisings on the worlds they're "liberating".
It works. The FPA's offensive stalls, Reinhard's forces prey on supply fleets until the alliance fleets are short on resources. When the empire finally turns its harassment into a full counteroffensive, the invasion collapses and retreats back through the corridor with massive losses. Reinhard's successes have now made him the most powerful admiral in the Empire, with the broad support of most of the military.
796 UC concludes with the the emperor, Kaiser Friedrich IV, dying of natural causes. With no clear line of succession, a power struggle ensues. The Kaiser has three descendants: two older daughters married into powerful families, and a young, spoiled grandson named Erwin Josef (child of the kaiser's dead son). Reinhard and Prime Minister Klaus von Lichtenlade support Erwin Josef, enraging the rival claimants and indeed most of the nobility who see Reinhard and Lichtenlade as usurpers trying to put a puppet on the throne.
The nobles, led by Otto von Braunschweig and Wilhelm von Littenheim (the heads of the two families the emperor's daughters married into), assemble a force called the Lippstadt League intending to challenge Reinhard. They manage to sway some of the military, led by the aged military genius, Admiral Merkatz, to support their cause. Reinhard, now military commander of the loyalist forces, rallies his admirals and brings the fight to the rebelling nobles, pressing them back.
A colony owned by Braunschweig launches a rebellion against him, and is nuked in response. Reinhard learned of the attack and ordered it to be intercepted, but his adjutant, Oberstein, stalls and allows the attack to occur, while making sure that it's documented. The attack is broadcast throughout the empire and support for the league evaporates. The nobles of the league are turned on by their own retainers. Most of the regular military who sided with the league surrender to Reinhard and are reabsorbed into the fleet, while Admiral Merkatz defects to the Alliance.
At the very conclusion of the conflict, an assassination attempt is made on Reinhard. The attack is foiled but Reinhard's closest friend and second in command, Siegfried Kircheis, is killed. Oberstein gathers Reinhard's admirals and gives them the idea of blaming the assassination on the Prime Minister. Taking the initiative, Oskar von Reuenthal and Wolfgang Mittermeyer charge back to the Imperial capitol of Odin, capturing the Prime Minister and seizing the Imperial Seal. Reinhard is now the sole power behind the throne.
Reinhard was concerned that a civil war in the empire would invite another invasion by the Free Planets Alliance. To keep the alliance distracted, he dispatched a prisoner of war turned traitor with a plan to incite the disgruntled FPA military into launching a coup.
It works. In fact it works quite well, with virtually every fleet EXCEPT Yang Wenli's turning against the government, which is at this point extremely unpopular with the military. Some blame it for not supporting the invasion enough, others are angry that the invasion was sent in the first place, and just about everyone thinks the civilian leaders are self-serving, two-faced morons. Yang however, out of stubborn loyalty to the concept of representative government, refuses to join the coup and leads his fleet against the rebels. In the aftermath of the failed invasion, Yang's fleet is the most experienced and strongest fighting force left in the alliance, and with some difficulty is able to sweep through the rebel forces and arrives at the capitol of Heinessen. The coup fails and its instigators die in a murder-suicide to conceal the truth of the Empire's involvement.
The year begins with the war on hiatus. Yang Wenli is grilled by an ingrateful government that somehow manages to resent him for saving their butts, fearing his growing political power and not understanding his motivations. They also don't understand why he has given shelter to a former enemy, Admiral Merkatz.
The child emperor Irwin Josef sits on the throne but not for long. With the civil war in the empire resolved, Reinhard dispatches a force to assault Iserlohn, using the using the semi-mobile Geiersburg fortress previously commanded by the Lippstadt League. Although the initial exchange of super-weapon fire between Geiersburg and Iserlohn inflicts serious damage on both sides, the Imperial attack ultimately fails spectacularly because it was a half-hearted, half-baked assault against a very determined defense.
As the year winds down, the last remnants of the league kidnap the emperor and flee to the alliance, forming a government in exile. Rumors fly that Reinhard orchestrated it, although in truth he merely did essentially nothing to prevent it. For all intents and purposes, Reinhard is now emperor. And his first act is... to launch a super-massive no-holds-barred invasion of the alliance through the totally undefended Fezzan corridor.
It works. Yang's fleet is half of what the Alliance has left and it's all the way out in left field at Iserlohn. Yang resolves to abandon the fortress to Empire, leaving tricks to facilitate any future attempt to retake it. Yang's superior and mentor, Admiral Bewcock, leads what remains of the alliance forces in a delaying action until Yang can get his forces to the field.
Reinhard is pressing ahead, eagerly seeking a final showdown with Yang Wenli. However, at the climax of his battle, Heinessen signals surrender and Yang obeys... despite having fought all the way to Reinhard's flagship. Reuenthal and Mittermeyer, bypassing the remaining defense forces, rushed the Alliance capitol to force a quick end to the conflict. They did this at the request of Hildegard von Mariendorf, a minor noble who backed Reinhard in the civil war and now serves as his aide and advisor, occupying the void left by Kircheis's death. Hilda is concerned about Reinhard's reckless desire for total victory or death on the battlefield, thinking that he has a death wish as his way of coping with loss.
With the fall of Heinessen, Reinhard is nominally ruler of all of known space. Yang Wenli goes into retirement for several months, until the puppet FPA government is pressured by the empire (without Reinhard's order) to move to arrest him. Yang is rescued by his officers, who go rogue. Stealing ships and gathering defectors, they set out for Iserlohn.
Consul Lennenkampf, the Imperial officer responsible for persecuting Yang, dies in the incident. The Alliance remnants are furious at the Empire. The Empire is furious at the Alliance. Reinhard sends another force to fully occupy the FPA. Admiral Bewcock assembles a last ramshackle fleet to meet it...
... and is killed in battle.
Yang Wenli and his freedom fighters of the 13th fleet recapture Iserlohn using the tricks they had left behind, but the mood is spoiled at the news that Bewcock is dead and the FPA government has fallen. Digging in for a long fight, they establish the Iserlohn Republic and prepare for Empire's response.
It comes. Reinhard throws everything he has at the Yang Fleet in a series of battles over several weeks. However, Reinhard falls ill during the fighting, and combined with (incorrect) reports that Mittermeyer had died, and a desperate counterattack by Yang, the Imperial assault stalls and the battle ends in a draw.
Reinhard offers to agree to terms, and Yang sets out to negotiate but is killed by religious fanatics from Earth while enroute.
Meanwhile somewhere around this time the child emperor in exile allegedly died during the trouble on Heinessen, although the body believed to be his turns out to be someone else. His ultimate fate is unknown, but the Empire quietly closes the matter rather than investigate further.
Oskar von Reuenthal has been put in command of the occupation of the former alliance territories to sort out the problems Lennenkampf created; this makes him effectively the second most powerful man in the empire. However a plot is in work to frame him as a traitor. Reinhard visits alliance territory for a memorial for the war dead but is nearly killed by an Imperial trooper who blames him for the nuking of Westerland in the civil war. This security fuckup, combined with some miscommunications and too much arrogant pride, causes Reuenthal to decide "fuck it, I shouldn't have to apologize, this is Oberstein's fault" and he goes traitor for reals.
Reinhard, returning to his temporary capital on Fezzan, is overwhelmed by the events. Yang is dead, his troopers think he's a murderous tyrant, and one of his few friends is on the verge of going renegade over a misunderstanding. Distraught, he spends the night with fraulein Mariendorf.
The Very Next Day
Realizing he just did what he was mad at the previous emperor about, Reinhard proposes to Hilda. Her father, Count Mariendorf, a genuinely decent elderly fellow who just wants a quiet life, realizes he's dealing with two emotional children who know more about running nations than they do about love and intervenes to quell Reinhard's concerns. Reinhard begins planning his offensive to resolve the matter with Reuenthal and asks Hilda to have an answer for him when he returns.
Reinhard launches ANOTHER invasion of the alliance territory, this time to remove Reuenthal. Both Reinhard and Reuenthal send emissaries to Iserlohn. Reuenthal offers to leave alliance territory at the end of the conflict if Iserlohn keeps the Imperials from passing. Julian Mintz, a young officer who grew up living with Yang as a foster child and now acts as his successor, considers this offer but ultimately decides to permit Admiral Muller to travel through the corridor. Reinhard is impressed by Julian's wisdom in not siding with Reuenthal.
Reuenthal is ultimately forced to do battle with Reinhard's fleets. He is gravely wounded but opts for quick battlefield treatment rather than be hospitalized. Reaching his office, and expecting Mittermeyer to arrive shortly to arrest him, he pours a pair of drinks and dies of blood loss.
Reinhard, returning from the battlefield, receives his response from Hilda: she's pregnant.
The new year begins with celebration among Reinhard's admirals. The war, it seems, is over. The alliance is pacified; the few holdouts at Iserlohn seem to offer little threat. The Emperor will soon be married and a child is on the way. Times are good, even if some old friends are absent.
And then the war wasn't over. Julian Mintz, seeing the consolidation of the empire, perceives that he has one chance to force a settlement that could secure some autonomy from the empire. Rallying all the forces he can, the Yang Fleet breaks out of Iserlohn, battering the fleets cordoning the area and daring the emperor to come to battle.
Reinhard of course isn't going to take that sitting down. He assembles his fleets and launches to meet the student of Yang on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, the church of terra makes an attempt to assassinate Hilda, although this is foiled by Admiral Kessler. Hilda goes into labor; it's a healthy prince. Kessler attracts the affections of Hilda's maid, and then rushes off to start persecuting religious extremists.
Julian and Reinhard meet in battle, as Julian and a strike team make a mad charge against Reinhard's flagship, boarding it and fighting their way to the Emperor. Reinhard is again ill, and his doctors say it is terminal. Julian reaches Reinhard and demands a settlement of the conflict. Reinhard agrees, although ultimately the terms are negotiated by Hilda as Reinhard's condition rapidly declines.
The church of terra makes an attempt to kill Reinhard before he can die naturally, but Julian and his officers fight off the attack. Reinhard dies.
The Yang Fleet surrenders Iserlohn to the Empire, but the nearby system of El Facil is granted autonomy. Reinhard's son, Alexander Siegfried von Lohengramm, will become the new emperor.
Tech Level of the Setting
LotGH is very close to Traveller in terms of technology. There are handheld lasguns, ships have energy weapons and shields, there's gravity and anti-gravity tech. The main quirk of the setting is warp travel. Travelling over interstellar distances is done by jumping each leg between charted stars. The trouble is logistics. Interstellar travel consumes a lot of energy, engines break down, and ships need to refuel and recharge. A lone smuggling ship, fitted for distance running, can cover known space in days. A fleet, attempting the same, will take weeks. A force can travel fast or it can travel in good order. When Mittermeyer and Reuenthal rushed to Odin after the attack on Reinhard, they set out with 20,000 ships but by the time they reached Odin they only had 3,000 left, with a long line of stragglers strung out across space behind them. The founders of the FPA wandered in unknown space for a couple decades, crawling between systems where their scouts confirmed they wouldn't be stranded permanently with no resources, until they finally found a system with an inhabitable world.
Another major piece of tech-fluff is the Seffle particle. Their actual composition is not explained, but in practice they are a form of insensitive explosive aerosol that reacts to laser weapons with similar force to a dust explosion. Released in battle, they serve the same story role as shields in Dune, forcing combatants to use melee combat in ships rather than risk triggering a blast that could breach the hull.
Both the Alliance and the Empire, as odd as it seems, represented the same thing: 80s Japan as seen by someone who lived through and was influenced by the left-leaning social protests of the 60s.
On one hand, you have a gerontocratic oligarchy led by a party that have been in power for 30 years by the time the novels were written, ignoring many social issues in favor of corporate elite, and the only serious opposition, the loose alliance of left-leaning protest groups responsible for social upheaval that shook the nation during the 60s, petered out due to infighting and government suppression (The Alliance). On the other hand, they kept the power because the Japanese voters valued stability above else and did not want to rock the boat, and this seemingly paid off in 80s when the economy was booming to heaven, apparently justifying the authoritarian methods (The Empire).
Of course, this was all before the economic bubble popped two years after the novels were finished, leading to a crash that left an entire generation constantly trying to make ends meet in contrast to their parents being set for life, followed by as of this moment three "Lost Decades" of extremely slow economic recovery.
Which rather puts a damper on a key thesis of the series; that the militarized, stratified authoritarianism the Empire represents has advantages over the decadent, crumbling democracy it dismantles and supplants.