Armed with illegal, bio-organic technology, a sentient handgun and a young squad of Death’s Head troopers, Lieutenant Sven Tveskoeg returns with Brit author David Gunn to deliver the sophomore installment of a wholly unique, more than a little terrifying, far future series.
Now that larger-than-life Sven has proved his worth to Emperor OctoV in last May’s Death’s Head, the genetically augmented commander is given a new assignment to test his loyalty. Sven and his unit the Aux are sent to the desolate, ring world of Hekati for reasons that seem a little shifty even to their own ears. But when you’re working for a half-crazed tyrant and allied with the United Free, the galaxy’s foremost technological civilization, it’s not uncommon for pawns like the Aux to get churned up in the most nonsensical of political schemes.
Yet the Aux aren’t typical pawns and Lieutenant Sven isn’t a typical commander. As Hekati becomes an unlikely battleground with the cyborgs of the Enlightened (the U/Free and OctoV’s sworn enemy) Sven and his troopers must overcome absurd odds and numerous betrayals to complete their seemingly insurmountable objective.
In Maximum Offense David Gunn is once again able to cultivate a far future universe with descriptive minimalism, a no-bullshit style that’s perfect for fleshing out fast-paced, military SF adventures. With lots of action and plenty of distinctive sci-fi concepts Offense successfully carries on the Death’s Head tradition of Gunn’s debut novel.
But whereas the first Death’s Head bordered on almost mock satire of military SF, Maximum Offense settles into its own skin with all the callous grace of its leading protagonist. And indeed the Death’s Head series is shaped predominantly by this boisterous, take-no-prisoners Lieutenant. The harsh politics of the U/Free and OctoV’s rule are given a heavily personified, somewhat sardonic spin through Sven’s eyes. The Lieutenant’s cynical, tell-it-like-it-is manner, although a little over the top at times, also provides a lot of necessary realism. In short Sven’s personality and Gunn’s universe are inherently linked, and neither would work as well on its own.
One of Gunn’s greatest strengths is his ability to flesh out a gritty, realistic future without large amounts of backstory. The emphasis here is on break-neck pacing, a quick-and-dirty approach that keeps the action fast and the plot leaning forward. This style doesn’t, however, give you time to stop and smell the roses, which could be a jarring experience for readers who are used to more detail and a more relaxed narrative delivery. Given these observations it is a bit odd that one of the most stand-out chapters in the novel is also the only flashback sequence into Sven’s early life. Though the chapter isn’t very illuminating in terms of providing loads of crucial plot facts, it offers a much welcome glimpse into another side of Gunn’s universe.