Rick Shelley,
Spec Ops Squad:
Sucker Punch

(Ace, 2003)

Sucker Punch is the third in the Spec Ops Squad series, which takes us into the future where a major war is ongoing between the Alliance of Light and the Ilion Federation. People travel between planets as we now travel between cities, and military troops are seeing crippling action. The books focus on the Special Operations Unit of the Ranger Battalion, 1st Combined Regiment, which is permanently stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. It's a unit in which Earthlings fight alongside aliens as friends and buddies.

Sucker Punch is written in the voice of Bart "Dragon" Drak, a buck sergeant in the squad. He's a squad leader with an ambition for telling the truth about the war. The book begins just after a battle on Olviat really messed the unit. They suffered tremendous losses and were sent back to Earth to rest, recuperate and train replacement troops. Drak begins his story a few days after their return home.

The troops spend a few weeks kicking back and enjoying the rest while the military shuffles replacements into vacancies. The process is complicated because there are several species that have to be indoctrinated to the unit and to Ranger routines. Then, standard training begins. The training maneuvers are almost as excruciating as the war, with accidental deaths and injuries high among the new troops. Before the unit is functioning smoothly at normal performance level, they are needed to protect an experimental colony on the planet Unity.

Unity has no military. The Rangers are sent to establish a post, recruit a militia from among colony residents and train them to defend their colony. Before they can really begin their mission, the Ilion Federation attacks the colony. The Rangers must function as a cohesive unit, despite their new replacements. Can these troops get their act together and save the colony?

I found this book especially interesting because I was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., and stabilized (not allowed to rotate to other duty stations) because I was in a critically shorted job and was considered "mission essential." For me, reading this book was like having a glimpse of the future of my old unit. It was an intriguing take on where the Spec Ops will be headed in the future. It is a book that I think most troops would find fascinating!

The plot is fantastic. The storyline is strong and has all the elements for a great story. But the voice of Bart Drak does not fit with the character he portrays. Nothing about him sounds like a buck sergeant in a Ranger unit. I do realize that people will be different in the future. We will change. But let's face it, folks, the troops of the 101st Airborne Division are still using the same phrases that were used when the first paratroopers jumped. It is considered "heritage, honor, glory and history" of the unit. The traditions are passed down from one generation of troops to the next. They are painted on the walls of the hallways! Units have "mottos" and "call and answer" sayings. None of this fits with Bart Drak. This character seems to have been created by a person with no military background or knowledge of troops.

An example is when Drak is talking about fireworks going off, shortly after he returns to Earth and is dealing with post-war trauma. Yet he says that when the fireworks went off it gave him "a bad minute." A bad minute? Oh, please! It would have taken more than a minute for anybody standing within an arm's reach of him to be secure with their lives.

Strangely enough, Tonio Xeres, the first platoon sergeant, seems much more credible in his role. This left me wondering if the author was purposely trying to create Drak's character as understated and dry. Regardless, I could never establish if it was on purpose or accidental. Drak just did not live up to his role.

Still, it is a great book and one that most people will enjoy. You will enjoy it more if you have never been in a hardcore unit of the military.

- Rambles
written by Alicia Karen Elkins
published 3 May 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.