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The Mercenary Hardcover – March 1, 1988
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To be precise the book titled "The Mercenary" is a collection of related stories "fixed-up" as a novel. The stories were all published in the American science-fiction magazine, "Analog". Following are the individual story titles and magazine date of publication: "Peace with Honor" May, 1971, "The Mercenary" July, 1972 and "Sword and Sceptre" published as a two part story May and June 1973. First paperback edition was published by Pocket Books in January 1977.
In summation this book is a militarized Space Opera: glamorous US marines of the space ways (referred to as the CoDominium) battle hired mercenaries on foreign planets.
I will concede that author Pournelle's efforts at verisimilitude are laudable, but overall they ring hollow, reality is sacrificed to the yarn. This is not to concede that the story is tedious or uninteresting but what might have been a sweeping epic is just a good read - and quite honestly there is nothing wrong with that!
Pournelle presents a future where political dissidents and felons are involuntary shipped out to become colonist on habitable planets. This is similar how Britain populated Australia. On Earth the electorate is being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians - not much new here folks. The story line concerns an ex-CoDominium marine discharged for "political" reasons who recruits a mercenary army that is hired out by the colony worlds to fight the inevitable wars.
Dr. Pournelle is particularly good on the training and motivation aspects of the military and what makes the true professional soldier (as opposed to the testosterone-driven idiots of Hollywood fame and the military bureaucrats of the US Army) do what he or she actually does.
Dr. Pournelle has been unfairly characterized as a fascist, or worse, based upon what he wrote here. To describe him as such is to betray one's own ignorance since it clearly misses the whole point of the book. I won't spoil the plot by going into further details but I think its safe to say that Dr. Pournelle is not advocating martial law.
If you haven't read it yet, I would urge you to do so posthaste. Unfortunately, with the possible exception of West of Honor, Pournelle's later Falkenberg's Legion books are not in the same class as The Mercenary. They show clear signs of hasty writing and insufficient attention to detail. I suppose Dr. Pournelle's growing fame and time-commitments are to blame for this detectable drop in quality. In any case, that should not prevent you from reading this book.
This book is intelligent and well written science fiction - it is an entertaining and satisfying story, with credible characters and a rich and well crafted future setting.
It distinguishes itself, however, in its portrayal of soldiers, military culture and battle. It is a real treat for those serving and retired military fans of science fiction.
The soldiers in this book are professionals, whose competence, bravery and fighting spirit are put to the test in brutal combat. The battles and combat situations show an unusual understanding of warfare, human nature and the unique psychology of the profession of arms.
The author clearly doesn't believe that wars of the future will be bloodless, sanitized contests won by wise cracking amateurs.
Overall, a good read, and highly recommended.
King David's Spaceship, also by Jerry Pournelle, and Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (the book, definitely not the movie) are also recommended.