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Review © 1997 T. M. Wagner.
Book cover art by Alan Gutierrez.



This guns-a-blazin' SF war actioner has the most ironically apropos title I've ever encountered in a book of its type. Here, David Drake clumsily relates the tale of a conflict suffered by a group of mercenary fighters employed by the "Federal" government of the planet Cecach, who are turned over to the enemy "Republicans" as part of a sleazy deal. Thinking this to be, like, uncool on the part of the Federals, the mercs decide they'd rather high-tail it out of there, firing at all who stand in their way.

Whoa, dude, pretty kickass stuff, right? Right, if the tale had been even competently rendered. Drake is ordinarily decent at this sort of thing, so the sheer muddle of this novel's narrative is something of a surprise. Indeed, the book comes across as little more than a feeble knockoff of Drake's own Hammer stories. It's like David Drake doing a bad David Drake impersonation.

The story's principal offense is to fail to burden us with anything so boring as backstory or character development. Who needs it, right? Let's just cut to the action! And so from Chapter One, we are thrown headfirst into the midst of explosions, bombings, and testosterone, and it takes quite a bit of juggling on the reader's part before you work out who's who, who's fighting on what side, and what the whole mess is about in the first damn place. Then, once that is figured out, you look for a reason to care and come up empty. Almost without exception, each of the characters is a stereotypical jarhead, with nothing beyond the surface to give any one of them any level of distinction (Drake's instistence on making the mercs both co-ed and all of different nationalities — Czech, Middle Eastern, etc. — is pure cliché, and the latter seems rather pointless given the story's offworld setting). One character, Lt. Waldstejn, who deserts the Federals and joins up with the mercs, has some degree of interest and a few good scenes. Otherwise, the novel's a rote exercise. I read it shaking my head, amazed how a book with so much BADASS ACTION in it could have been... so... very... boring. A forlorn hope indeed.