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The Vastalimi Gambit
by Steve Perry
Ace Books, 2013, $7.99, 292pp
Release Date: December 31, 2013
This the second installment of the Cutter’s Wars series follows almost immediately on the heels of its predecessor, The Ramal Extraction. “Rags” Cutter leads a team of mercenaries who are the best in the business and have an esprit de corps that Marines and Seals will admire and others envy. There’s Jo Sims, a human sporting more bio-upgrades than is usually safe or sane, but she’s got Formentara, a hermaphrodite cybernetics genius who can keep hardware tuned and aligned so precisely that Jo may manage to live a normal lifespan, instead of flaming out in the accelerated burn of augmentation – if a merc can live a normal life span. There’s also Tomas “Doc” Wink, an adrenaline junky who keeps the others alive when he’s not risking his own neck; “Gramps” Demonde, who has perfected the arcane arts of following the slime trail of money as it exchanges hands, or paws, or bank accounts; “Gunny Sayeed” whose passion is for mastering ballistics and trajectories, but she’ll spare some attention to spar verbally with Gramps; and Kluthfem “Kay”, the Vastalimi warrior who left her homeworld under a cloud. But now a message from her brother calls her home, for a mysterious something is striking their kind dead.

Accompanied by Wink, Kay sets out to help her family solve the riddle of the deaths, even if it means risking humiliation. (No Vastalimi thinks twice about risking mere death.) Keeping Wink safe from duelists and hunters just makes things interesting.

Meanwhile, the rest of the company has a job: an up and coming corporation is cutting in on their employer’s profits; their task is to reverse this trend and put a serious spoke in the rival company’s corporate wheels. Too bad for Cutter – these guys fight dirty. Sabotage is business as usual, but they call in… his ex-wife to deal some blows where it hurts most.

One of the best features of this series is the way these guys spend their downtime or fill the intervals between fights: they tell each other stories. Last time, they were telling a newbie who was struggling with the shock of his first kill their own “firsts”, although a few held their silence. We hear one of the missing stories now, and also how “Rags” Cutter came by his nickname. It’s a great story. As bonus, we find out how Wink got diverted from a normal nerd’s course to nerd-who-mainlines-epinephrine. I only hope Perry continues these stories-within-stories in future volumes; the give a wonderful Arabian Nights quality to Cutter’s Wars. With a film noir-ish quality to Kay’s storyline, realistic and accurate detailing of fights and battles, a lot of wit and humor, and a nice nod to “The Most Dangerous Game”, this is a blast to read. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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