I first picked up the novella Legion when it was offered free as an audiobook a few months ago. Unfortunately I soon found that my mp3 player didn’t handle audiobooks, so I owned a book I couldn’t read. But now that I have an mp3 player that will, I decided it was time to dust off the file and give it a try. And I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much. Thus far I’ve only enjoyed Sanderson’s work when he’s avoided contemporary fantasy.
I was pleasantly surprised. The concept is fresh and interesting, the plot reasonably engaging. The characters, though, make the story work. Stephen Leeds is a schizophrenic who is able to interact with his multiple personalities and utilize their specialized talents. His “aspects” are also able to interact with one another, with sometimes comedic effect. Yet Sanderson keeps the relationship between Leeds and his “aspects” vague: are they somehow real and smarter than he is, or is he a jack-of-all-trades genius who creates these multiple personalities to compartmentalize his abilities as a form of “multi-threading”? I don’t know, but it’s fun.
Where Sanderson’s Alcatraz series was over the top and quickly got old with its slapstick humor, Legion walks a different line. Humor is a strong component, but it never overpowers the story and feels out of place. While seldom laugh-out-loud funny, I was frequently smiling to myself.
It is a novella, so it does feel short–television episode short. My theory is that Legion was either written to be a TV series pilot concept that failed to get picked up, or is being dangled out there now in hopes it will get picked up. All the components are there: a quirky main character, an ensemble team (the story is told first-person, so we see the aspects as if they were real people), the ability to get involved in and go on adventures, running gags, an ongoing plot of indefinite length and potential for resolution…far too much to be a coincidence. This was written with TV in mind. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And if he is able to sell the rights…good for him.
Even if he doesn’t, and he’s merely setting himself up a side-series where he can duck in, play around, and create a new “episode” novella to sell every so often, I’m game for more. It’s a fun novella, and a nice palate-cleanser after some of the “heavier” stuff I’ve been reading of late.
As a side note, the audiobook I listened to was narrated by Oliver Wyman. He sounded familiar, and a quick check reveals I’ve heard him at least once before, narrating Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat. While a decidedly younger, non-standard voice, he did an excellent job with Legion, voicing such divers characters as a distinguished black man, a southern black professional woman, a semi-redneck ex-SEAL, an Israeli guard, a female Indian translator, and a handful of Filipinos. His ability to narrate characters so distinctly and so effortlessly gives the reading of Legion a radio-play quality that works well here.
On another note, fans of Sanderson’s writing podcast “Writing Excuses” will recognize the hat-tip to fellow podcaster Dan Wells in a cameo by “Armando” as one of Leeds’ “aspects”.