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Book Review: Overkill by Robert Buettner

Genre: Military Science Fiction, Adventure, First Contact
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Baen; Original edition
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
ISBN-10: 9781439134207
ISBN-13: 978-1439134207
Author Website: Robert Buettner

Military science fiction author Robert Buettner returns to the universe of his popular Orphanage series for a new tale with a new protagonist in Overkill.

Twenty-three year old Jazen Parker has left the Legionnaires, a band of mercenaries who serve the highest bidder. But leaving the military is not without consequences. Born illegally on Yavet, Jazen will only be protected from becoming a bounty hunter’s prize for a further four months. Jazen hopes that by taking a guard duty job for a rich, Trueborn Earthman named Cutler as he hunts game on the Downgraded Earthlike 476 world known as “Dead End” he will earn enough pay to buy a new identity. But he doesn’t bargain for meeting the girl of his dreams, his employer’s true aims, and the eleven-ton maneating grezzen that just might be the only other intelligent race in the galaxy.

Buettner’s story is an action-adventure that is part Romancing the Stone and part Aliens. Like the former, the story is an action story where two protagonists, male and female, make their way through infested jungles, stand-up to self-serving men, and fall in love in the process (after first antagonizing one another). On the other hand, they do all this on a world where every living thing is carnivorous, and where the king beast is the grezzen. As you can imagine, this gives Buettner lots of opportunity to place his protagonists in peril, and he really is able to ramp up the excitement level, especially when the grezzen’s true nature is revealed.

Also mixed into the story are a series of flashback’s of Jazen’s. Here we get a sense of the man Jazen is as he fights a war against men on a desert world. It shows Jazen to be a man of noble character and while initially I found it difficult to get the narrative flow of the story when these flashbacks first interjected, the story would have been lacking in characterization had Buettner not included them. However, some of the segues into the flashbacks can be a bit ham-handed and obvious, lacking any textual subtlety.

Though described almost entirely through Jazen’s perspective, and so colored by his romantic interest, Kit is a strong, principled woman that manages to be both feminine and self-sufficient. Though Jazen and Kit come to rely on each other in the novel, it is a partnership, not one of dominance for either. This allows the romance between them to seem plausible rather than a tack-on or insertion as often happens with stories of this kind.

There is another perspective in the novel, that of the grezzen. His perspectives attempt to get at an alien mindset, and Buettner does it well. The way the grezzen think, though told in human terms, comes across as something alien, something so other that man thought the grezzen just a beast rather than a thinking creature. It makes for an interesting first contact story, one where the alien being is so different that humanity couldn’t even recognize its intelligence when living in close contact.

Buettner does do a few things I disliked. His chapters are very short and very clipped. Early in the novel this was troublesome to me, as I felt that a mere line break would have been sufficient to keep narrative flow. Buettner’s reasons for writing the chapters the way he does makes more sense as he adds Jazen’s flashbacks and the grezzen’s perspective and the pace of the narrative speeds up. He also overuses the title word “overkill”. I think the reader gets it the first time it is used, but Buettner keeps returning to it again and again, failing to use synonyms or nuance and it gets annoying after a while.

All in all, Overkill is excellent escapist fiction with a little thought-provocation thrown in. I liked thinking about what an alien race might be like, how we would even know it if we saw it, and what we would do if we encountered one. Jazen is the noble hero we would all like to be, and Kit the type of lover we wish we had. Cutler is sufficiently self-serving to provide a villain, and the plot is so full of action-adventure that it is easy to sit back and enjoy the narrative.

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