ROBOT BLUESA novel by Margaret Weis and Don Perrin
(1996, ROC Science Fiction)
Mag Force 7, book 2
Mag Force 7 gets more than they bargain for when Xris takes on an easy-money job to steal a robot, and Darlene is targeted by her enemies.
-- First reading (paperback)
Pretty disjointed in terms of story, but the characters seem to behave as usual. But I after two stories like this, I don't know how these guys can be called the best mercenary group in the galaxy.
The first question that I want answered is why everybody counts six members of Mag Force 7 when I count seven. When Tess is discussing her plan, she notes that Darlene must be the seventh member, and that she's not there -only six of them. Later, when Xris counts bodies by the infrared heat they project, he counts six, including himself. Let's see: Xris, Jamil, Tycho, Doc Quong, Harry, Raoul and Little One. That makes seven.
Much of the story was disjointed, and many of the ways they come across information seemed too convenient. Some of the coincidences were made up for when Tess explained that she knew about him, and smuggled him outside the army base on purpose, and staged the raid on purpose, but it was too late, I think, for such a twist. And having Little One and Raoul tell Xris in the middle of battle that Tess was a triple agent seemed shoe-horned in at the last minute.
The job looked like easy money to Xris, which, of course, meant that it wasn't. But there was no way for Xris to know that. He is to steal a robot from a planetary government for a museum curator. Only this is not a museum curator. He is a man who is making a large profit for selling technological gadgets to the Corasians, the main bad guys in this universe. These are molten blobs who have no engineering skill whatsoever, so they steal technology from humans, and are addicted to human flesh. I'm not too fond of them as bad guys, but as long as they don't make too long an appearance (as in King's Sacrifice), I'm fine with them appearing in a story.
Xris figures that the job will be easy, so he and Jamil (an ex-Navy officer) pretend to be Army officers giving a speech to a far-away base on the planet of Pandor (great name for a planet, as far as I'm concerned). Everything is going extremely well, until it is just about time to get to the robot. Jamil gets called away, as a real Army officer, which is suspicious. He is being taken to the Navy's flagship, where he meets the Lord Admiral Dixter, who essentially blackmails him into seeing the mission through, and planting a bomb in it as well. The robot is a trap, to catch the man who is selling secrets to the Corasians. And just in case it fails, the bomb will make sure the Corasians don't get the robot.
Meanwhile, Tess, another Army officer, has nearly seduced Xris, smuggles him off the base to go to a bar, which gets raided. I knew immediately after hearing Tess talk about the place always getting raided, that a raid would happen, and sure enough, it did. Bad foreshadowing, I think. Even if it was staged. Xris escapes, and gets to the site where the robot crashed its ship, centuries before. After a few minutes of fearing that he would be discovered, he escapes with the robot, gets it into its crate, and goes back to the base.
Because Jamil has been called away, Xris has to give the speech. The speech is meant to be funny, I think, but it ends up being uncomfortable. Thankfully, the authors don't focus too long on it, as the rest of the Mag Force 7 team shows up. This makes Tess suspicious; she thinks they want to double-cross her and take the robot for themselves. So she pulls a gun on them, and forces them to explain themselves.
The reason the team has been assembled is because Raoul and the Little One figure out that the theft is not what it seems, and that Xris would be in great danger. They and Darlene (kidnapped or rescued by Xris in the last book, depending on the point of view) went to Raoul's home planet of Adonia for an annual celebration, which consists of absolute hedonism. Raoul has to be the funniest person in the whole book, and the authors know how to write him. He is concerned only with fashion and beauty, and is constantly on a drug-induced high. Whenever he makes a comment on something, you can be sure that it is from a point of view completely different from what anybody else would say. And the way he frets over his upcoming party was handled quite well. Just about every line he speaks had me laughing. At the party, Raoul is trying to outdo his neighbour, and he does, when Darlene is nearly killed. Raoul gives her a death-imitating drug to throw off the potential assassins, and one of the party-goers says to the neighbour that nobody ever died at his party!
Darlene is a target based on what happened in the last book. The Hung are a group of terrorists that Darlene, when she was still a man, Dalin Rowan, sent to prison. I always thought that the name of the third book, Hung Out, was strange, until I realized that the book would be about the Hung. After reviving Darlene and killing her potential assassins, Raoul sends her on an Adonian pleasure cruise, where her cabin is destroyed, and she is nearly killed. She gets arrested for sabotaging the cruise liner, and is put under 24 hour a day security -which means that the Hung will not get a shot at her again. This whole part of the book was pretty much wasted, except as what I see as setup for the next one.
Unfortunately for Xris, for whom everything is going wrong, a civilian shows up with the receiver unit that controls the robot. The robot escapes, kidnaps the civilian for some reason that I cannot fathom, except perhaps to gain language experience, and goes off to resume its previous mission. It used to lay hyperspace lanes. And suddenly Xris sees what a hot item this robot is. But instead of laying lanes, it begins destroying them, because it does not get confirmation from its boss, who died centuries ago. The civilian proves to be the key to getting a hold of the robot again, and Xris gets blackmailed again by Tess into bringing the robot to its original purchaser, who will sell it to the Corasians.
The ending is supposed to be a big battle to escape the Corasians, and is fairly well done. However, Raoul gets hit on the head and gets amnesia, to be made into more comic relief, and Tycho is killed! Tycho seemed always wasted to me anyway, except when stealing the exterminator's ship in Knights of the Black Earth. He could change his skin colour! And he was rarely, if ever, used. He also had the best line, since his translator was always malfunctioning: "All for one, and damn the torpedoes!" When they do escape, because of the Little One's revelation about Tess, and because Xris decides to trust her one more time, the mood is grim, but not as grim as I thought it would be with the loss of a major crew member. Someone actually makes a joke about it!
Another thing I did not like was the use of the present tense. The story would be going along, all in the third person, past tense, when suddenly the authors would decide to explain something, and they would use the present tense to do it, as if we were in the story's timeframe.
The book was enjoyable, with lots of humour, people put completely out of their element, and with things going nowhere near as they were expected to go. I don't mind the language they use, but there seemed to be a lot more swearing here than in the other books. Unfortunately, this book seemed more disjointed then the last one, too. It kept switching back to the for-now nonsense plot with Darlene, or the civilian's point of view. At least we got to know the fate of the robot. When the civilian escaped the Corasians, he brought the robot back to his "museum", but when the police and media were swarming over his house, he decided to use the Navy's bomb, after all. There were too many contrived parts, and I wonder if Xris and his company ever get any business that is not connected to the royal family.
Still, the book is easily recommended, as the writing is excellent (though not top-notch), the adventure is engaging, and the humour is great.
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