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Death's Head: Maximum Offense by David Gunn

01/10/2008. Contributed by RJ Barker

Buy Death's Head: Maximum Offense in the USA - or Buy Death's Head: Maximum Offense in the UK

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pub: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. 351 page hardback. Price: $25.00 (US), $28.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-345-50001-4). Death’s Head: Maximum Offence pub: Transworld Publishers/Bantam Press. 416 page Trade Paperback. Price £11.99 ISBN: 978–0–593–05871–8.

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Sven Tveskoeg and the Aux return in the sequel to 'Death's Head' - a book I absolutely loved. I think it's the glee that makes it. There's a certain amount of joy apparent in the writing. Almost as if the writer is freed from all strictures when writing these books and is wallowing in the chaos of all the unrelenting, unrepentant violence and mayhem.

The text is just a joy to read. First person, stripped back, black as night noir. Gunn never uses one word when an implication will do. There is no fat here. At one point I misread a sentence and it left me confused for the nest few paragraphs because Gunn's writing is that tight. The writing take less prisoners than Tveskoeg himself.

All the characters that made 'Deaths Head' great return in full effect. The rag-tag Aux, the immortal boy-emperor Octo V, Sven's psychotic Intelligent Gun and there's even a guest appearance from the suicidally violent Val clones. The danger with this type of book is that it ends up being the same story as the first, just in a different setting and, thankfully, David Gunn avoids that trap.

The characters are more rounded than they were in 'Death's Head'. There's a sense of growth about them and Sven Tveskoeg himself is surer of who he is. This leads to a nice sense of irony about his own behaviour. He knows he's bad and enjoys being so but he can also see just how insane his life is.

We get to see more of the galaxy in 'Maximum Offense', a visit to a U/free world which really does hammer home the similarity to Iain M Banks 'Culture'. Although they are a much darker, mirror version. Where The Culture have an air of free love and well meant meddling the U/free come across as all hedonism and self interest.

If you, dear reader, are familiar with Sven Hassal's stories of a troupe of WWII German troopers you'll find a similar dynamic in David Gunn's books. These men and women are soldiers, the battle is unimportant, the cause is not their concern. Their loyalty is to each other and their mission is to survive, not only the fight but also the Byzantine politics of the world around them.

At the start of this book, Sven and the Aux are saddled with a teenage Colonel, Vijay. He's useless, arrogant and more used to ordering around his desk furniture. To some degree 'Maximum Offense' is Colonel Vijay's coming of age story. Tveskoeg's mission on the ringworld 'Hekati' is vague and Vijay will not tell him what's really going on. The only reason Tveskoeg doesn't ensure Vijay has an 'accident' is that the young colonel has the codes to get him and his men off planet. As you're in Sven's head you don't like Vijay neither but, very slowly, your opinion changes. Vijay grows as the book progresses until, as Sven says, 'he's starting to sound like a real officer'. It's a great piece of observation as the change in Vijay feels very real. Of course, when you find out you have a million credit bounty on your head as Vijay does, then some growing up is bound to happen.

'Maximum Offense' is even better than it's predecessor and if you like your SF with a huge slice of action then this is the book for you.

RJ Barker

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