Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: military science fiction, science fiction
Published by Harper Voyager on February 22, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Ocean's Eleven meets John Scalzi in this funny, action-filled, stand-alone sci-fi adventure from the author of Planetside, in which a small team of misfit soldiers takes on a mission that could change the entire galaxy.
Sergeant Gastovsky--Gas to everyone but his superior officers--never wanted to be a soldier. Far from it. But when a con goes wrong and he needs a place to lay low for a while, he finds himself wearing the power armor of the augmented infantry.
After three years on a six-year contract, Gas has found his groove running low-level cons and various illegal activities that make him good money on the side. He's the guy who can get you what you need. But he's always had his eye out for a big score--the one that might set him up for life after the military.
When one of his soldiers is left behind after a seemingly pointless battle, Gas sees his chance. He assembles a team of misfit soldiers that would push the term "ragtag" to its limits for a big con that leads them on a daring behind-the-lines mission, pitting him not only against enemy soldiers but against the top brass of his own organization.
If he pulls this off, not only will he save his squadmate, he might just become the legend he's always considered himself. He might also change the way the entire galaxy looks at this war. But for any of that to happen, he has to live through this insane plan.
And charm rarely stops bullets.
The “misfit soldier” of this book’s title is just the kind of well-connected NCO who appears in lots of military stories, whether those stories are science fiction or not. Gas is an “operator” in his little fiefdom. He knows EVERYONE, and they ALL owe him favors. When we first get to know him, it seems like Gas is WAY more interested in his side hustles than he is in being a soldier.
(If you remember M∗A∗S∗H, which was also an anti-war story told as a war story, Radar and Klinger were both operators of this type, as was the character of Sgt. Bilko from the 1996 movie and the 1950s TV show. The difference between Gas and Radar as The Misfit Soldier opens is that Gas (and Bilko) seemed to be out for themselves while Radar (and usually Klinger) were out to help their entire unit even if their methods were generally an end run around the snarl of official red tape.)
But as much as Gas seems to mostly have his eye on the main chance, that it appears that he’s more invested in adding to his post-military nest egg than he is carrying out his current military duties, he’s every bit as much invested in being a good sergeant. Maybe not “good” in the way that his superior officers would appreciate, but good in a way that the soldiers in his squad can count on.
In other words, he’s just as invested in taking care of his squad as he is in taking care of himself.
When one of his men gets left behind after yet another pointless battle on the shithole planet they are currently both orbiting and squabbling over, Gas is just as invested in going down to rescue the man as he is in his latest scheme.
Unless, of course, they are one and the same.
Escape Rating A-: I picked this up with grabby hands long before the book came out because this is an author that I absolutely love and couldn’t wait to read his latest book. And I have to say that Sgt. Gas Gastovsky took me on a much wilder ride – with a much twistier ending – than I initially expected.
I also have to say, however, that I also felt a little bit of niggling disappointment. Not that The Misfit Soldier wasn’t an excellent military SF read – because it absolutely was – but because I discovered that I very much missed the universe-weary voice of Carl Butler, the protagonist of Mammay’s first three books, Planetside, Spaceside and Colonyside.
Butler is kind of a blunt object, and I liked his self-awareness as well as his unwillingness to take any shit or put up with any bullshit. From anyone. It helps that Butler has enough rank to get away with that attitude at least some of the time.
Because Gas is more of a bullshitter, I didn’t enjoy his internal voice nearly as much. I still liked his story, but, unlike Butler, I wouldn’t want to have a drink with the man. If I shook his hand I’d be much too worried about getting all my fingers back afterwards. And I’d need to go in KNOWING that I’d be picking up the tab whether I intended to or not.
Howsomever, because Gas is such an operator, this ends up being a wheels-within-wheels type of story that spins along at a breakneck pace – even if the reader is so mesmerized by the spin that they aren’t able to figure out where Gas is going until the end. But that’s the whole point, after all.
A lot of this story is wrapped around following Gas’ as he, well, operates. He always has a plan inside a plan inside a plan, and a scheme inside a scheme, and the only true thing about Gas’ clandestine mission to save his soldier is that said soldier is stuck behind enemy lines. Everything else, Gas is making up as he goes along. Just like always. Or so it seems.
As much trouble as Gas gets himself – and his squad – into, and as much trouble as he has – and makes – getting them all out again, his scheming, wheeling and dealing conceals a keen mind and a much bigger plan than anyone, including the reader, ever expected. Watching that plan unfold is a lot of the fun of this book.
Which winds all the way back to that comparison to M∗A∗S∗H early on. There’s a M∗A∗S∗H meme going around right now that makes the point that war is worse than hell – because there are no innocents in hell. Gas Gastovsky’s plan, the scheme he’s been all in on under the radar and behind the backs of absolutely everyone – including the reader – is going to rub that exact same point in the face of everyone who has been selling all the justifications for the unjust and unnecessary war that Gas, his squad, and all the troops orbiting this dirtball planet have been fighting for no good reason whatsoever.
If he can manage to pull the insane thing off without getting himself – and his squad – killed.
That means that any reader of military SF who loves stories where just as it seems the grunts are utterly FUBAR’d they manage to pull yet one more half-baked plan out of their asses, screw the brass AND save the day is going to want to get in on the ground floor of Gas Gastovsky’s operation.