cover image The Sharp End

The Sharp End

David Drake. Baen Books, $20 (377pp) ISBN 978-0-671-72192-3

Drake writes masterfully about future war in an environment that, if not dystopian, is clearly Hobbesian. Volume Six in the ``Hammer's Slammers'' series shows mercenary-turned-President Hammer keeping his army keen by hiring out elements of it to fight in ``the sharp end''--anywhere in the galaxy where someone can afford to pay them to participate in the endemic local wars that humanity's expansion to the stars has done nothing to preclude. A survey team sent to evaluate a possible new assignment contains members with assorted physical and psychic problems. Major Matthew Coke's previous paymaster was killed by an assassin; logistics specialist Sten Moden has only one arm; electronics wizard Niko Daun trusts no one outside the regiment; Intelligence Lt. Robert Barbour cannot confront the corpses that result from his calculations; Johann Vierziger is a pitiless killing machine, alien even to his hardbitten cohorts. None of the team is prepared for the planet Cantilucca, a nightmare combination of contemporary Somalia, Colombia and New York City. Its only export is narcotics; its only law is provided by gangs who destroy but cannot govern. Will it prove too big a challenge for these cynical soldiers-for-hire? Drake combines action and politics in a fast-paced space opera, building to an unexpected, if typically bloody climax. (Nov.)