Famous bounty hunter Talisha Artul is not having a good day. A hostile alien planet full of bandits and refugees, an entire group of mercenaries all told to kill her and take her armor, and it’s barely even noon. All she wanted was to earn a paycheck and make her mother proud. They’ve barely shared a kind word since she came out of the closet as trans and took her mother’s name.
Now she’s travelling with an android cowboy with split-personality issues and an eight-foot-tall warrior woman to beat a group of vengeful pirates and the galactic federation’s military forces to uncover an ancient alien temple. Talisha soon learns that despite her legal standing, there is little that separates her from these marginalized cutthroats and outcasts. They’re all victims here, all pawns in their shadowy employer’s game.
Overall Rating: 9/10 stars
Matt’s Review: 4/5 Stars
Mercs! is a science fiction novel about a group of mercenaries caught in a three-way galactic war between corporations. (Yes. Not countries. Corporations.)
The exclamation point in the title is really on point. The tone of this story reminded me a little of Douglas Adams—a layer of absurdism over the top of what would otherwise be a fairly standard and even recycled plot about the dangers of greed and excess, the horrors of war, and sticking it to the man.
But it’s that layer that makes this story really individual and an enjoyable read. Several of the characters start off almost as caricatures, from the enormous warrior Bluebird to the snivelling company man Snidely. (No, really, that’s his name.) Ironically the character who was most ordinary was also the least likeable. I never really clicked with Talisha, but I liked almost everyone else in the main cast so much!
Individually, anyway. There was a pretty sharp jump from mercenaries having to work together to romances that really didn’t feel organic, and left me very switched off. I must have missed the part where any of them—except Bluebird and Talisha—actually started to like one another? I don’t know, that part felt really flat in an otherwise really cleverly created story.
It’s a hell of an imaginative world, too. It’s gross. It’s ugly. It’s loud and messy and—look, I didn’t like Star Trek TNG, okay? There was too much bleating about how mankind are more enlightened and wonderful now. I’m loving sci-fi again now we’ve pulled away from that, and this book has definitely pulled away from that.
That said, sometimes too far. There’s a message about everyone having multitudes and depth, about even advanced societies backsliding into hate and anger, but…it didn’t hold up so well, because not everybody got to have those shades of grey. Anyone in a corporation setting was evil. Madame Inspector was a psychotic clone; Snidely was a snivelling coward and then jumped to being a power-crazed monster…I don’t know. If you want to acknowledge that everyone has multitudes, it doesn’t make sense that your bad guys are just bad.
But weirdly, I didn’t mind. I still don’t. Because it felt so good to read a genuinely complex novel. To have to focus and work with it instead of passively sit there. Do I agree with all the messages? No. Do I like all the choices made? No. Do I like Talisha? Not really. But did I like the book, the work that went into it, the creativity, the boldness of it?
I haven’t said a word about the trans rep and here’s why: I don’t feel I need to. This is a perfect case of incidental rep. Talisha is trans. That’s it. She just is. It’s crystal clear and spelled out—no JK Rowling nonsense, please—but it’s never the point, never the focus, never a feature. She is. And that’s all. And I have all the time in the world for rep like that.
Laura’s Review: 5/5 Stars
After seeing that rating, you won’t be surprised when I say I really enjoyed this one. It’s great queer science fiction, a bit irreverent at times, and I loved it.