The Mercenaries: this fourth novel in Bill Baldwin's Helmsman Saga is a Military-Science-Fiction novel about intra-galactic competition and conflict. First published in 1991, it chronicles the adventures of StarSailor and extraordinary Helmsman Wilf Brim during an epoch of discord and outright war among various star-nations--within a galaxy that could be a far-future version of the one in which we live.
This special, "Director's Cut" Edition is heavily re-written, a la George Lucas' rewrite of the Star Wars Trilogy, to bring it more in line with later novels in the series, as well as existing "Director's Cut" Editions of The Helmsman, Galactic Convoy, The Trophy; the four other "Director's Cut" editions to come--as well as the continuation novel now in the works: The Turning Tide.
Helmsman Wilf Brim faces his gravest challenge. As the ravaged postwar Imperial Fleet stands helpless, nearby worlds fall to Emperor Triannic and his evil League of Dark Stars. To defend freedom, Imperial patriots have assembled the first squadron of Starfuries: amazing new astroplanes from Sherrington Hyperspace Works--and Wilf Brim finds himself in command. But before more Starfuries can be completed, Imperial intelligence sources reveal a plot by Triannic to seize the dominion of Fluvanna. This means war--for the Empire is sworn by treaty to defend Fluvanna. And without Fluvannian raw materials, there will be no new fleet.
Now the Helmsman sets course for Fluvanna. Fully armed and manned, the astroplanes should be invincible. But Triannic will stop at nothing to cripple them. And if he succeeds, the Empire is doomed.
For The Mercenaries, Baldwin borrowed the persona of American hero General Claire Chennault--architect and creator of World War IIs "Flying Tigers"--and gave it to one of his favorite, all-purpose Helmsman characters, Baxter Calhoun. Then he took Brim and his friends--made up pretty much to look like the guys of the AVG (American Volunteer Group)--on a swift trip to the backward (as in 1930s-1940s China) star nation of Fluvanna. Like all the Helmsman novels, the plot went pretty much wherever the characters wanted to go; Baldwin simply followed, banging on the keys as fast as he could, considering the fact that he types with only two fingers.
Instead of flying Curtiss P-40's, Brim's guys fly Starfuries, which for this novel take on some of the P-40's less-attractive characteristics, such as being heavy and less maneuverable than their adversaries. Like their outnumbered American counterparts, they learn not to try and maneuver with opponents, but to spread them out, drawing them away from one another, then cutting them down one by one with greater firepower. It worked for the Americans; it works for Brim and Calhoun, too.
Like many real war adventures, nothing much new results from action in The Mercenaries -- so far as the overall war is concerned. But the whole idea of the AVG was to make certain that the Japanese didn't get any further with their conquests than absolutely necessary. They did -- in spades. So does Brim.
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