The lineage of mercenaries in fiction is long. It goes back at least as far as Mitchell V. Charnley's "The Buccaneer." More recently, we've had Frederic Forsyth's "The Dogs Of War." Then came Glen Cook's "Black Company" series, and David Drake's "Hammer's Slammers." Others have followed in their train, though often with stories suited only for comic book publication.
James Daniel Ross has concocted a far-future military adventure that deserves considerable respect. His Radiation Angels, a mercenary corps that sells its skills on an interstellar bourse of contract violence, are among the best characterized representatives of that fictional rogues' gallery. Indeed, the characterization Ross gives his Marquee Characters, especially Captain Todd Rook, the Angels' commander, is worth the price of the book all by itself.
Let me not slight the plot, which is clever, swift, and action-packed. The Angels start the tale in service to a coup attempt on politically troubled Ashley 9. Events prove that taking the contract was a mistake; the Angels' employer Tomlinson, Supreme Admiral of the Ashleian Navy and aspirant to the planetary presidency, never intended to pay them. He'd striven to pit his hired mercenary groups against one another, in an attempt to minimize the overall cost of his coup. Yet that mistaken contract proves to be the entry to a great opportunity, for when the Angels have beaten down the resistance and taken possession of the presidential palace, they discover a multi-billion-credit fortune in chimerium, a fictional ultra-precious metal. They succeed in making away with it as de facto spoils of war, but Tomlinson is determined to have it back; it was a great part of the reason for his coup.
The book has two flaws of note. The first and lesser is that it didn't receive a sufficient proof-editing. There are quite a few mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and even a few cases of accidental clashes of nomenclature. I hope that Ross will employ a proofreader with really sharp eyes before committing his next work to publication; his stuff is good enough to deserve it. Also, the use of italics is questionable; more restraint in that regard would have been appropriate.
The second and greater flaw in Chimerium Gambit is that it's rather overwritten. In keeping with its subject matter, military fiction generally exhibits a rather lean, even Spartan style, with which Ross apparently disagrees. Quite a number of his devices and images misfire badly. They serve as examples of why "kill your darlings!" is among the best pieces of stylistic advice ever given to aspiring writers. As a rule, if a simile, metaphor, or other literary device sounds contrived, it almost certainly is, and should be excised without regret or pity. Ross should study the stylistic discipline of Tom Kratman and John Ringo, grizzled veterans of these wars who seldom put an iamb, dactyl, or trochee wrong.
Still, this is a fine entry in the military / mercenary SF subgenre by a promising new talent. I plan to keep abreast of this writer. Recommended!
Theme: As ye sow, so shall ye reap, especially if ye soweth explosives and high-velocity projectiles. I concur: A
Style: C+ or B-
4 Stars of 5.
(reviewed 3 days after purchase)