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Legend of the Galactic Heroes Vol 4 [Archive]

Legend of the Galactic Heroes translator Tyran Grillo speaks!

Please enjoy this special blog post from Legend of the Galactic Heroes v 4: Stratagem translator Tyran Grillo, and don’t forget to pre-order LOGH v5: Mobilization, coming soon!


On September 9, I had the fortune of giving a book talk and reading at Kinokuniya’s Manhattan store on my translation of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Volume 4: Stratagem. Being a relative newcomer to LOGH, I felt gratified to be in a room of ardent fans, and to see their heads nodding in agreement as I gave my thoughts on Yoshiki Tanaka’s masterwork. During the conversations that followed, I saw just how genuinely engaged such fans could be. One revealed to me her love of Tanaka’s side stories, especially the diary of Yang Wen-li’s ward Julian from his time on Iserlohn Fortress. Another grew up with the series in Japan, and was so inspired by its political insight that he went on to pursue a career in international diplomacy. Such anecdotes confirmed what I’d already sensed throughout the translation process: that Tanaka’s tale of universal conquest was indeed striking a universal chord in its readers. Above all, speaking with those who understand LOGH in distinctly personal ways further validated its relevance to today’s tense political climate. Despite being cast centuries into the future, Tanaka’s fictional world feels almost too close for comfort, and therefore begs to be internalized, mentally savored, and shared in turn.

I append a slightly edited version of my talk below for those interested.

Tyran Grillo

Autumn 2017


Author Yoshiki Tanaka, born in 1952, characterizes himself as a quiet child who read voraciously, surrounded by the iconic landscapes of his hometown of Kumamoto, Japan. Only now, he erects psychological landscapes of comparable intricacy using literary building blocks. Although one can’t claim to understand fictionists from their writing, at the very least Tanaka betrays a consuming passion for history that backgrounds every word he inks to page (literally, as Tanaka still writes his novels in longhand). He has realized his approach in three distinct streams. First, in a smattering of standalone novels, he examines actual events, personages, and mythologies of premodern China. Second, in his ongoing fantasy series The Heroic Legend of Arslan, he transplants ancient Persian history into a kingdom of his own design.

Yet his masterpiece is the Ginga eiyū densetsu, or Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Originally published between 1982 and 1987, this series of ten novels was adapted into both a manga and an anime of the same name, and an animated reboot is currently being produced in Japan—even as plans for US distribution of the original series are underway in response to a growing English-speaking fan base.

Legend of the Galactic Heroes meshes Tanaka’s love of the past with a hypothetical future in which two warring interstellar factions—the dictatorial Galactic Empire and the democratic Free Planets Alliance—alternately toe the line between peaceful coexistence and gruesome entanglement. As of Volume 4, the Galactic Empire is under the leadership of prime minister Reinhard von Lohengramm, who has grown from humble beginnings to become a power-seeker of the highest order. On the Free Planets Alliance side stands Yang Wen-li, a young military commander who never deigned himself as such.

Together, Reinhard and Yang constitute the binary star of these novels. As poster children of their respective politics, they are equally committed to seeing their inner ideals manifested in outer space. Reinhard is a tyrant to his core, reigning over not only countless soldiers and subjects but also a storm of conflicting emotions. He vows to bring peace to humankind, and will do anything, no matter how underhanded, to bring that lofty goal to fruition. Yang, for his part, lives his life on the defensive, thwarting Reinhard at every turn with affable intelligence and an uncanny nonchalance in the heat of battle.

Where Reinhard’s Galactic Empire takes apparent inspiration from Germany’s rise to fatal power in the 20th century, Yang’s Free Planets Alliance is a hodgepodge democracy. These modes of political subsistence are at constant odds throughout the story, and it’s all the civilians vacillating between them can do to commit to either. As our omniscient narrator puts it: “Choosing between a corrupt democracy or a virtuous dictatorship was one of the most difficult dilemmas faced by human society.” If Yang’s democracy is corrupt, it is not by fault of his own, but of the egomaniacal politicians fraternizing in his shadow. And if Reinhard’s impending monarchy is virtuous, it is only through his faith in justice, and not in how he ensures its survival.

Some fans have been wont to point out fascist tendencies in the series, not least of all given overemphasis of Reinhard’s Aryan features and Yang’s apparently East Asian extraction, but our narrator sides with democracy, if complicatedly. To that end, Tanaka prefaces Volume 4 with quotes from two fictional historians. The first reads:

“Mutations of history and consequences of victory are determined in an instant. Most of us live idly on as echoes of such instants, as they retreat into the past. Those cognizant of them are few, and those who willfully set them in motion fewer still. Unfortunately, the latter always win the day, bolstered by armies of malice.”

The sidelong glance with which rabble-rousers are viewed here indicates a simultaneous fascination with, and critique of, the will to power that drives this novel’s militarism. As commanders of vast armies, Reinhard and Yang both have more blood on their hands than they could ever wash off in a lifetime, and their mutually beneficial need for action over pacifism is addressed in the novel’s second epigraph:

“Knowing the future, directly experiencing the present, and indirectly experience the past: each offers its respective thrill of happiness, fear, and anger. Those who live in the past are destined to be slaves of regret.”

Here, allegiance to the past is condemned as a nostalgic idealism destined to be replaced by our heroes. The relationship between these two nominal extremes is therefore one of dependency over polarization. We understand that Yang Wen-li, as a flag-bearer of emancipation, is fraught with conflict at having to expend so many human lives to achieve it. This aligns him with Reinhard von Lohengramm more than he might care to admit. Reinhard, for his part, is certain that his visions are in the best interests of humanity, that the corpses littering his path to conquest and absolute sovereignty are unavoidable collateral, and that any hiccups along the way only serve to valorize his interventions.

As one diplomat in the novel puts it: “Dictatorship can be a good thing. Dictators are unwavering in their beliefs and sense of duty, express their own sense of righteousness to maximal effect, and possess the strength to regard their adversaries not solely as their own foes, but as enemies of justice.” At the end of the day, Reinhard respects Yang’s intelligence, tactical acumen, and unwavering commitment to a cause that, despite going against Reinhard’s own, fuels a worthy adversary.

If history is Tanaka’s genesis, it is also the blood flowing through his characters’ emotional organs. Reinhard wants nothing less than to be a tool of history, nothing more than to be a crafter of it, and Yang the reverse. But the intergalactic deck has dealt them fateful hands, and each is left holding his cards, looking for a tell that might lend ultimate advantage over the other.

As the curtain opens onto Volume 4, a child emperor sits on the Galactic Imperial throne to carry the torch of a centuries-long dynasty begun by Rudolf von Goldenbaum, a.k.a. Rudolf the Great. The Goldenbaum succession is a scourge in the worldview of Reinhard, who is now struggling to figure out how he might circumvent this promise of continued Dynastic rule. When Reinhard learns of a plot to abduct the child emperor being hatched from within the independent dominion known as Phezzan, in classic “Problem-Reaction-Solution” fashion he turns a blind eye to its completion, thus affording him a pretext for all-out war and, he hopes, self-nomination as emperor.

Tanaka gives readers a deep understanding of Reinhard’s hatred for the Goldenbaum Dynasty by including choice examples of its tyranny throughout the series. Yet what Reinhard may lack in the senseless violence of his predecessors, he makes up for in the network of men perpetrating violence on his behalf.

On that note, it’s worth addressing a criticism often lobbed at Legend of the Galactic Heroes—namely, its relative lack of female characters. As a quick perusal of the dramatis personae list included at the front of every volume will attest, men far outnumber women in the series. That said, a closer reading proves the latter to be the glue of the former’s collusion. There is Yang’s trusted aide, Frederica Greenhill, whose presence and insight draw a baseline of sanity under the Free Planets Alliance commander’s militaristic dealings. There is Reinhard’s sister, Annerose, sold by their father as a sexual slave to Emperor Friedrich IV—yet another contributing factor to Reinhard’s contempt for, and desire to overthrow, the dynasty set in motion by Rudolf the Great. Even more noteworthy is Reinhard’s chief secretary, Hildegard von Mariendorf, known affectionately as Hilda. Hilda’s initiative and good counsel do, in fact, set Volume 4 into motion and, as will be made explicitly clear in Volume 5, she is much more than a sounding board for Reinhard’s intended action. She is the indispensable fuel bringing his grander flame to light. And while gender differences seem to have changed little in the many centuries leading up to the events taking place herein, one can hardly expect them to have done so when history is still being written, performed, and edited by descendants of the same men leaving their own trail of droppings in the forest of our present century. And why, these books implicitly ask, would any woman desire to accede to such levels of power, if only to repeat the mistakes of the men whose tainted authority they would be usurping? The master’s tools, as the late Audre Lorde would’ve reminded us, will never dismantle the master’s house.

One must also consider that, until this point in the series, Earth has been something of a non-variable, meaning that societies are bound to replicate the mistakes that led to Earth’s downfall in the first place. Despite being the birthplace of civilization, the only ones eking out a meager existence below Earth’s barren surface—ever since a global thermonuclear war and interplanetary exodus left it for dead—are followers of a cult known as the Church of Terra, who’ve anointed our abandoned world as the seat of universal theocracy.

In addition, Tanaka goes to great lengths to show us that his male protagonists’ egos are full of holes. To that end, this volume hangs a gallery’s worth of psychoanalytical portraits. Reinhard struggles to bring peace to the known universe, as also to his grief, which clings to the death of his dear friend Siegfried Kircheis, with whom he will never share spoils of conquest. Meanwhile, Yang dreams of being an armchair scholar, despite knowing he is destined to slaughter his way into the future. Furthermore, there is his young ward Julian Mintz, who came to be in Yang’s service under a military law that placed war orphans in the care of other veterans. Julian’s own grappling with identity and masculinity leads to some of the book’s most heartrending sequences.

Rendering even one dialogue of Legend of the Galactic Heroes into fluent English is therefore not always an easy task. But while it was intimidating for me to jump into a series so late in the game, the first three volumes having been lovingly translated by Daniel Huddleston, and not least of all for juggling an extensive lexicon of military terms, character names, and backstories, once I sat with these characters and let them speak to me, I began to hear their voices as individuals. The result is by no means perfect, but is something I’m proud to have been a part of nevertheless.

What I have made a matter of difference in my renditions, however, is bringing across the author’s realism. Tanaka treats these events as a matter of record. Consequently, in my translation style I tried to strike the unembellished tone of a history textbook, all while maintaining, I hope, Tanaka’s flashes of poetry and philosophical virtuosity. Maintaining this integrity believably was my biggest challenge, and it is my sincere hope that aficionados of the series will appreciate this pared-down, yet dynamic, approach.

More than anything, I want readers to feel Tanaka’s way of reimagining the past by substituting it with a speculative future of his own as not simply a means to his narrative ends, but as a way of commenting on the present sandwiched between those two chronological extremes. It is, in other words, impossible to read Tanaka without seeing how far humanity has reached—and fallen vying—for power. Toward those who naïvely salivate over the crunch of forbidden fruit between their teeth, Tanaka shows empathy without mercy, and in this volume, perhaps more than in any preceding it, provides a poignant reminder that sometimes fiction, by whatever relevance we are willing and able to read into it, hits closest to a reality from which we might otherwise wish to escape.

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It’s the LEGEND OF THE GALACTIC HEROES giveaway contest!

To celebrate the release of Legend of the Galactic Heroes v4: Stratagem, we are doing a giveaway contest, and a special one. We’re giving away copies of v2, v3, or v4 to one of four lucky winners. (Winners’ choice, of course!)  We’ve not done giveaways for the prior volumes of LOGH for the simple reason that many people were eager for the series—word of mouth is the best marketing tool. But as we are almost halfway through the series now, we wanted to remind fans who may have read the first volume that it is continuing, and at a rapid pace. We’re here to help you keep track and catch up!

The contest is a simple one: in the form of a comment to this point, write about your favorite science fiction series: it can be a set of novels, films, comics, manga, pulp stories from the Golden Age, what have you—just make sure it’s science fiction and a series. Tell is why it’s your favorite, and what the series element of it brings to you as a reader. (And as we’re publishers here, we probably will have a bias toward novel series.) You can submit in English, Spanish, Japanese, or Greek, and on Friday we’ll announce four winners! Pick the volume you need and we’ll send it your way. And yes, we ship worldwide.


So, favorite SF series and why? Ready, go!



Until nearly two years ago, Heidrich Lang had held an important bureaucratic position. As chief of the Bureau for the Maintenance of Public Order, his duties had involved rounding up political offenders and thought criminals, monitoring or suppressing free speech activities, and even dabbling in education and the arts. He was a fulcrum of authoritarianism within the imperial government, and as such exploited the full range of his power and influence. He stood to one day become secretary of the interior.

Lang had not been put to death as a member of the old regime by von Lohengramm’s new order. There were two reasons for this: First, as chief of secret police he’d excelled at intelligence gathering and had amassed much in the way of valuable information on the nobles. Second, as a business specialist he possessed an awareness and loyalty all his own, and had expressed his intention to follow the new ruler after the former high nobles—whom Mittermeier maliciously dubbed the “shepherds”—fell. Lang saw no reason to despair over Reinhard’s abolishment of the bureau, and he believed in himself enough to wait patiently for the day when the sun would again dispel the darkness.

His patience had paid off sooner than he’d expected. The military police, whose self-imposed disgruntlement was an apparent obligation of their work, were ordered by Senior Admiral von Oberstein’s office to release him from house arrest.

Fortunately for Lang, von Oberstein’s thorough investigation turned up no evidence to suggest he’d abused his authority in any way for personal gain. He was, among the higher-ups of the old regime, uniquely flawless in his personal conduct and was treated like a darling of the nobility despite disliking their company. He put all his diligence into his duties and was, not without reason, known as the “Hunting Dog.”

Just looking at him, von Oberstein wanted to laugh—not that he would have said as much to his face. Lang’s outward appearance was incongruous with his talents and achievements. Although he wasn’t yet past forty, 80 percent of his brown hair had vanished. What little was left clung for dear life around his ears. His ashen eyes were big and restless. His lips were thick and red, although his mouth was small. His head was relatively big for someone of his short stature. His entire body was more than plump, and the skin covering it pink and glossy. In short, Heidrich Lang gave the visual impression of a healthy baby full of mother’s milk, and guessing his professional duties by his appearance alone wouldn’t have been easy for anyone with an active imagination. As chief of secret police, he stood out for not having a more coolheaded, grizzled exterior.

But it was his voice that showed just how unique he was. The average person would have thought such a man to have the high-pitched voice of a child. What came out of Lang’s mouth was instead a solemn bass, like that of some ancient religious leader preaching the gospel to his believers. Those who stood ready to stifle their laughter were bowled over. Taking advantage of this contradiction caught his opponents off guard, and his bass had served him well as a weapon of interrogation.

But the man before him now, whose artificial eyes stared at him inorganically by way of a light computer, would decide whether Lang deserved consideration and then report back to the imperial prime minister, Duke von Lohengramm.

“Your Excellency Chief of Staff, you can spin it however you want, but government has only one reality.”

Lang spoke emphatically, and von Oberstein had already been evaluating Lang’s speech from word one.

“Oh, and what might that be?”

“Control of the many by the few.”

Lang’s voice was so much like that of a solitary man appealing to God that one almost expected a pipe organ to accompany him. Then again, holding full life-or-death authority as he did over Lang, von Oberstein was like God in that no matter how sincerely one spoke to him, it was never enough.

“We insist on democracy being rule of the many by free will, but I’d like to know your thoughts on that point.”

“If the people number one hundred, fifty-one of them can claim majority rule. And when that majority is divided into so many factions, it only takes twenty-six of those to rule over that same hundred. In other words, it’s possible for a mere fourth to rule the many. A conventional and reductionist view, I admit, but one that shows just how useless majority rule is as a democratic principle. I know a man of Your Excellency’s intelligence will understand.”

Von Oberstein ignored the knee-jerk flattery. Like his master, Reinhard, he couldn’t help but notice that those who brownnosed him were always the ones who despised him. Ignoring that he was being ignored, Lang went on.

“Since the reality of government is control of the many by the few, I’m sure you’ll agree that people like me are indispensable for keeping things in line.”

“You mean the secret police?”

“Someone to maintain a system of public order.”

It was a subtle turn of phrase, but von Oberstein again disregarded the man’s modest self-assertion.

“The secret police may be convenient for those in power, but their very existence becomes a target of hatred. Although the Bureau for the Maintenance of Public Order was only recently dismantled, there are many who would punish you for overseeing it. People like that reformist Karl Bracke.”

“Mr. Bracke has his own ideas, but all I’ve ever done is devote myself to the dynasty, never once exercising the limits of my authority for personal gain. Should you take my loyalty as cause for punishment, it won’t turn out well for Duke von Lohengramm.”

From beneath the clothes of this goodly intentioned advice, a holster of threat was beginning to peek out. If he was being accused not only for past misdeeds but also for his tenure at the bureau, then did he have something else in mind?

“It would seem Duke von Lohengramm doesn’t care much for your existence, either.”

“Duke von Lohengramm is first and foremost a soldier. It’s only natural he’d try to subjugate the universe through grand battles. But sometimes the smallest false rumor may outrival a fleet of ten thousand ships, and defense becomes the best form of attack. I would expect nothing less than the utmost discernment and forbearance from both Duke von Lohengramm and Your Excellency.”


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