|free eBook Mercenary by Mack Reynolds|
and The Warrior. But in a society of TV and tranquilizers—the Warrior acquires a strange new meaning...."
That quote is the first line of the free eBook from Gutenberg http://www.gutenberg.org, and probably a blurb from the back cover or an ad for the book. I added it because it is a nice summary and it truly describes the feel of the story. Mercenary was written in the early 60s and it has a bit of that 50s square hair, martini totting vibe typical in books of that era. I do not typically like those sorts of books and the first few pages of Mercenary had me worried; however, I ended up really getting into this book, once it got going.
The story is an alternate history where society is based on a caste system and large corporations settle disputes through fighting a small war called a Fracas. These Fracases are fought under strict rules limiting the equipment used to 1900 technology and they are televised. These battles are a major source of entertainment for the general public who, at least the lower castes, watch them via TV while high on a drug called "Trank".
Though Mercenary was written over 50 years ago, the premise of the story eliminates detailed descriptions of science and technology and limits opportunities for the characters to exhibit chauvinistic attitudes towards women, and I feel it is very readable today. The main character Joe Mauser has a little of the handsome, confident hero who always knows what to do prevalent in 50s and 60s sci-fi, but it is kept to a minimum. The caste based society premise helps with this a little. The hero, Joe, was born with a low status which makes everything he has to do more difficult if not impossible, somewhat limiting his ability to be a superman.
The story follows veteran fighter Joe Mauser as he joins, and fights for, the underdog in a fracas. He has a non-conventional idea to win this battle and hopes, if he can implement it successfully, that it will greatly improve his status. He has a history of taking chances like this to climb in society and has been successful in the past. He Started life as a Mid-Lower and then literally fought his way to High-Lower and finally to Low-Middle where we meet him. In the coming battle, he hopes to jump two levels to Low-High, through a twist on the rules he has worked out in advance. However the conservative command structure in the company he joins may make this impossible.
I do not want to give away more than that as the plot is pretty basic and the few surprises should be surprises. Mr. Reynolds describes the people and their lives at the various levels of society, and the interactions between them, very well and it made the book fun to read. For instance, Joe starts with one selfish goal, but we see him change a over the course of the book. I am not sure if this was a conscious goal for the story but it made the main character click for me, even though he is a bit of that perfect hero type of the era. I thought the premise was pretty original too, and was surprised that I had never read anything written since that had similar themes. It is highly possible that there is a whole genre like this, however, and only I am unaware of it. This was a fun read for me anyway.
This book is not a great book but good and super readable today. With very little modification, it could be a contemporary work and I think it would make a pretty good movie, actually. Also it is a free eBook so, really, the only cost is time and since I was looking to kill some time with a book, I was not disappointed at all with Mercenary. Gutenberg says it was published in Analog in April of 1962 as Mercenary and then later as Mercenary From Tomorrow in novel format, and I am assuming the two versions are the same as the free eBook from Gutenberg seems complete and about short novel length. It also says this is the First book of Mack Reynolds' Joe Mauser series. The 2nd book of the series is also available at Gutenberg and I will read that one pretty soon and do an entry on it if good. The link to the second free ebook is included in the links below, if interested.
Free eBook download:
More info about the book and Mack Reynolds:
I will be trying the next book in this series soon (also a free eBook at Gutenberg):
The Earth War, 1963. Reprint of "Frigid Fracas." Mack Reynolds