Chris Bunch,
The Scoundrel Worlds
(Roc, 2003)

The Scoundrel Worlds gives the reader another chance to tag along in the infamous and often incorrigable company of the slick mercenary outfit Star Risk. There is no such word as "overkill" in the corporate vocabulary of Star Risk, Ltd. and they undertake to get the job done, and come out of it at the other end, not only alive and well, but also sporting a healthy profit margin.

This time, they are employed to ensure that the greatest sport in the universe, Skyball, is played on even terms -- no sinecure when the fans of opposing teams have been known to kill referees for unpopular decisions and the competition on the playing field smacks more of warfare than sport. They fulfill their contract in unanticipated style, with customary panache, and are not at leisure for long. Their growing reputation for completing their contracts, retaining a certain ethical code within an unethical galaxy, and their "colourful way of doing business" has them charging a phenomenal fee and heading to the Dampier System, where politics are a particularly labyrinthine and deadly game.

Here the brains of the monstrous alien Grok, the sophistication of the beautiful Jasmine, the innate underhandedness of their leader Baldur and the sleek attractiveness and military training of M'chel and Chas form a formidable combination as they seek to complete their most challenging contract to date: not only freeing a prisoner on a penal satellite, but proving his innocence and implicating the genuinely guilty party. The stakes are high, interplanetary war looms threateningly on the immediate horizon!

Chris Bunch writes a fast-paced and fascinating game of galactic cat-and-mouse, and to describe it simply as military science-fiction is to miss many of the finer features of his cast of complex characters and the plots within plots. This has the suave hardness of James Bond, the gung-ho attitude of Han Solo and the legal and political chicanery of a Grisham novel! Not a truly challenging read, but an amusing, entertaining and heady blend which has you racing through the pages trying to keep up with the non-stop action. Bunch presents an ideally acceptable and affordable addiction in the form of wonderful science-fiction escapism; buy, read, enjoy!

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 13 December 2003

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