Janissaries, by Jerry Pournelle ISBN 0671877097
Five out of five stars
In many ways, the best science fiction is that based on human history, and this story is one of the best. It opens with Captain Rick Galloway leading a group of mercenaries against a larger Cuban unit in a tropical African country. The situation is dire and they all know that their fate is to either be killed in action or executed after being captured. Officials of their sponsor, the American CIA, pulled all support for their operation, so they can expect no assistance.
Suddenly, a spaceship lands and the occupants offer them a simple choice. Stay on Earth and die or be transported to another planet to fight and have a chance at life. There is a complex interplanetary organization that allows for contacting Earthlings if they were to shortly be dead anyway. Taking advantage of their only real option, Rick and his men agree to be transported to a planet that is roughly in the technological state of the late Roman Empire.
The planet where the mercenary group is relocated goes through a complex cycle over hundreds of years where it warms up dramatically to a point where a very valuable narcotic can be grown, which is what the interstellar group is interested in. It is their hope that Rick and his band can learn how to produce the drug for interstellar commerce.
It turns out that bands of humans have been plucked from Earth during the cycles when the narcotic can be grown for thousands of years. Therefore, some of the functioning and feuding governments are a Roman Empire and a conglomeration of Scottish clans. As a consequence, the story is also a lesson in Earth’s history. The archives of the Roman Empire even contains parchments written by actual Roman Caesars.
Fundamentally, Galloway is trying to put in place the basics so that the societies of the planet can develop. Simple things like brushing teeth, other basic human hygiene, higher education and rudimentary health care are all unknown on the planet. He must do this within the context of nearly constant warfare between the various factions.
The story is very well written and after reading it I immediately looked online to determine if there is a sequel. They exist and I have a great desire to read them.