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Death's Head by David Gunn
Review by Harriet Klausner
Del Rey Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345498274
Date: 01 May 2007 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Review of U.K edition by John Berlyne / Show Official Info /

On a remote dangerous desert planet, sergeant Sven Tveskoeg is whipped for insubordination and removed of his rank, and kicked out of the military for insubordination; a sentence that never occurs even for murder in the deadly outposts. Not long after he is left to die from the flogging, the native ferox attack the military encampment; none of the purebred human outsiders survive. Sven lives, but then again 1.8 percent of his body is composed of non-human DNA that enables him to heal rather quickly even from the brink of death and to communicate with the native aliens by telepathy.

While Sven survives his ordeal, the Emperor OctoV sends Death's Head General Jaxx to find him and test his loyalty, ability to follow orders, and mostly his stamina to live. If Jaxx fails to bring this nobody home proven capable he faces the wrath of OctoV. When Jaxx meets Sven he learns the man is a deserter so he sends him to the frozen prison planet Paradise where shockingly he proves capable when he leads a successful rebellion against the guards. Jaxx recruits Sven for Death's Head duty in which he is to lead a squad in a fight against the Enlightened, once human but changed into powerful invincible cyborgs.

Readers wanting hardcore realistic military science fiction in outer space will have to pass on this fun lighthearted satirical thriller that lampoons all the heroes who have saved the universe from malevolent adversaries. Instead Jaxx is an antihero with no compunctions about killing and not just armed enemy combatants. His adventures are over the top, tongue in cheek amusing yet vividly brutal. He is the only fully developed character as everyone else from the General to the Emperor to the alien races to the Enlightened are purposely caricatures of common SF archetypes.

Underneath the veneer of each of Jaxx's adventures on different worlds is a fascinating theme that people like him and other soldiers are throwaways to be used as desired and discarded when no longer viable as a weapon. Sven finds out the hard way as he and his squad fight for their lives only to learn that their basic reasoning for war is built on a series of lies. In fact the "us vs. them" universe is quite peaceful and controlled by a hive the U/Free who condones a little fighting to fulfill a needed human trait. Readers who appreciate a fine lampooning of a future save the universe for our side will want to join Sven in his comic book like adventures as he begins to understand how expendable he truly is to the powers that be especially General Jaxx and yet remains loyal anyway to OctoV. This faithfulness in spite of his knowledge that the military serves no valid purpose except to provide a key human need and to allow some to become generals and others heroes in meaningless battles. Readers who enjoy strong satirical science fiction will want to join Jaxx on his escapades in the Gunn galaxy.

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