I’ve been reading Mr. Larson for a while now & the one thing I have to state is that I’m really glad I haven’t given up on him. Some of his earlier books were a bit hard to get through and while they had elements that were interesting they didn’t necessarily live up to the promise – this was probably most evident in Swarm (reviewed here) as it started out so well, but just got gradually more and more annoying and tiresome. The Undying Mercenaries series though seems to be a showing of his true potential and as long as he doesn’t flog a dead horse past its expiration date, I have really high hopes for it!
In a similar vein to the Legion series’ of books – Book 1 Marine Cadet (by Tim C Taylor) reviewed here – Earth has been contacted by the “Galactics” and given an ultimatum if they want to stay alive. In Legion, Earth had to give up millions of its own children to become fodder in the Galactics wars and battles. Here it’s slightly different. Every planet has to provide at least one trade good that is unique to their world, something that cannot be copied or stolen by another world in that sector. The solution to this request was similar … Earth was going to be supplying mercenaries. Soldiers that the other planets could use in their own internal struggles at a price.
Sad as it is, the theme seems to be fairly constant amongst SciFi authors that one of the things Humans do best is fight. This is something I remember reading for decades in books like The Man Kzin Wars and others of a similar vein. While I’d like to believe that we can offer more, I can understand this assumption, especially if we are the ones being contacted! One would rightly assume that the people doing the contacting have more available to them in terms of technology and knowledge than we do! However, I think you’d agree that humanity as a group being only suitable for soldiers is somewhat depressing!
Anyways, with the above being said, this is actually a very engaging and enjoyable story. Similar to pulp SciFi it still has a hard and gritty realism to it that is quite enthralling. Jame McGill is our primary protagonist although there are quite a few other characters that you’ll grow to know throughout the book also – Carlos, Natasha, Graves and Harris to name but a few – and unlike other series of a similar nature, you really can invest yourself in these characters as Humanity made a very smart purchase with its initial fund of Galactic Credits. See the reason this series is called – Undying Mercenaries – is because they initially purchased a machine that can literally recreate a copy of someone. These are not clones but are rather new bodies with all of the memories and abilities of the originals. Restricted (by Galactic Law) to a single copy at a time, the mercenaries are able to constantly replenish their forces and while they may at times get wiped out, they tend to never lose!
Overall the weapons and technology at play in this series are believable and realistic and make sense. While the Galactic Empire possess faster that light travel, that is written more as a “black box” without too much detail of wormholes or anything of the like. Guns are guns and armor is armor. The biggest technological marvel at play in the book is the ability of the mercenaries to return from the dead and that is given just the right amount of detail.
Steel World tells the story of James’ first missions as a mercenary and his acceptance into Legion Varus. Exposed to a planet ruled by Dinosaurs is nothing if not intimidating and it was really refreshing to see that “modern” technology was not automatically superior to mass. While the eventual outcome was never really in doubt, some of the twists and turns along the way were quite interesting and really well written. You could almost feel the Dino’s rushing the wall in preparation of a new tasty mercenary snack! As the story progresses you can definitely see James grow into a more interesting character and change from a callow youth into a man. While he’s still a bit of a womanizer, it’s obvious that he actually cares about the people he’s around and tries to always do the best he can for them.