This is a combined volume of The Mercenary and West of Honor, stories set within the same group of mercenaries in a far future where Earth has colonised many different worlds. Epic SF book The Mote in God's Eye which Pournelle co-authored with Larry Niven is set in the same universe, taking place after the events in Future History.
The future is grim, overcrowding on Earth meaning facistic, controlling governments dominate the globe, demanding goods from the colonies to try to keep their populances alive, whilst they export the poorist members of society out to the colonies. The army that was created to keep peace between the two major power blocs on Earth from space are being controlled more and more by corrupt politicians with their own short-term gains in mind.
The first part of the book, The Mercenary, follows John Christian Falkenberg as he joins the military and becomes a successful officer, then his creation of a mercenary troup when he is dismissed for political purposes. We follow him through difficult campaigns as he earns a reputation for an excellent leader while trying to keep his company alive. The story gives various insights in to military training and the various ways of letting troops blow off steam without breaking ranks, at least not too badly.
West of Honor pulls back from Falkenberg himself and concentrates on a new junior officer, Harlan Slater, as he learns how to be an officer and lead during violent campaigns as the mercenaries are used to tackle local disturbances, and he tries to second-guess how Falkenberg turns situations to his own advantage.
Mercenary is the strongest of the stories, but both are entertaining and give an interesting insight in to how the military works, with the futuristic settings giving it a slight twist.
Review by Paul Silver, 2004
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