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The Ramal Extraction by Steve Perry3 stars

Buy from Barnes & NobleBuy from IndieBoundBuy from PowellsI had a heap of fun reading The Ramal Extraction, a military SF/police procedural hybrid in which the Cutter Force Initiative, a team of mercenaries led by Colonel R. A. “Rags” Cutter, is hired by a colonial Rajah to locate his abducted daughter. What seems a straightforward political kidnapping will naturally turn out to be one of those situations where there is More Than Meets the Eye. But Steve Perry, by now an old and steady hand at this kind of thing, knows how to get the tale told with wit, crisp action and, dare I say it, almost military storytelling efficiency. His fans, as well as milSF mavens in general, will want to notch the rating upward. There’s crossover potential among gamers as well.

Because the team of mercs are small and tight, we come to know and like them, in much the same way we liked the marines in James Cameron’s Aliens. There's the usual tough-guy/gal banter, and the team is commendably diverse, with a couple of women, an astonishing alien murder machine named Kay, and one character gender-nonconforming. Cutter himself also appears to be a pretty good sport for putting up with the kind of nickname usually given to terriers. Perry’s concepts involving biological enhancements, the way they are utilized, and their side effects, will win the admiration of Deus Ex fans. And I enjoyed the satirical touch of a hyper-capitalist future, where the CFI’s main client, TotalMart, is a retail entity so massive that individual stores are in effect their own cities, with spaceports and public transportation and police departments. Naturally, dealing with the competition would be the kind of thing occasionally requiring the military touch. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “market forces.”

The team’s investigations into the unfolding mystery are enjoyable, too, leading you down paths where you’ll think you've pretty much got it worked out, until a smart twist appears in your path. But I’m giving the book a three-star bottom line because Perry indulges himself in a couple of ways that don’t draw upon his better storytelling instincts. For one, characters’ backstories are doled out in a perfunctory way, by literally stopping the narrative in its tracks so someone can tell their “first guy I killed” story. After the third of fourth one it got kind of silly. I began envisioning that clichéd movie transition where the screen goes all wavy as we dissolve to the flashback. 

The other is that, as in his Matador stories, Perry sometimes just makes things too easy for his heroes. Combat scenes in general aren’t as nerve-wracking as they need to be when the good guys just skate through them, fragging enemy after enemy while taking, at worst, a nick in the arm. If I wanted that, I’d just set COD Black Ops on beginner and go. Still, there’s satisfaction in how things wrap up at the climax and, especially, denouement.

The Ramal Extraction is an engaging actioner for readers in the mood for a shoot-’em-up with a little more than usual on its mind. Now the only concern is whether, ironically, it fails to draw the attention of its ideal target audience, who might have a hard time being convinced to log out of their Playstations long enough to curl up with a book instead.

Followed by The Vastalimi Gambit.