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Book Review: Seventy Maxims Of Maximally Effective Mercenaries (Defaced Edition)

January 1, 2018

Straight out of the box, the book looked like it had been shot. . .and stabbed. The pages were yellow with water staines, coffee cup “rings” and the literal scribbling of multiple people in black, red and blue ink. And even some werid green felt tip marker. Had I loaned a book to a friend and it came back in this condition, I would have one less friend. And yet, it was perfect! Exactly what I hoped it would be.

Last year I reviewed Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. It’s a book of maxims based on the award winning online comic Schlock Mercenary. Much like the book Princess Bride, which is credit to “S. Morgenstern” but is actually written by the talented William Goldman, Seventy Maxims is credited to the fictitious author Link Weimar. If there is any doubt he is fictitious, the fact that the Introduction page is dated “June 12, 2700” should be a major clue. It’s also a subtle Easter egg for fans. The first Schlock Mercenary strip appeared June 12, 2000.

The book was actually the creation of Howard Tayler, the brilliantly funny creater of the aformentioned Schlock Mercenary. When Howard decided to create a real-world version of his in-universe mercenary instruction book, he promised his readers a version “annotated by Karl Tagon,” one of the principal characters in the strip.

When it came time to actually create and produce the book, Howard realized he had a problem. While he was certainly capable of creating a book and then adding annotations from not just Karl, but his son Kaff, a Sgt Edwards, another captain named Murtaugh and the titular character Schlock himself, anyone not intimately familiar with the source material would be completely confused by seemingly random scribblings throughout the book.

Howard’s solution was to produce two versions of the book. The first, the pristine version, works great as a gift to friends who are not (yet) fans of the online comic. The pristine version of the book reads like a somewhat tongue-in-cheek version of many self-help books.

For the fans, and in order to keep his promise of an annoted version, Howard created the defaced version. The level of detail is amazing. Just looking at the pages, it is impossible to tell they are not actually stained and damaged. Like all items from Hypernode Press, the production value is outstanding. It’s only when you touch the pages that you can tell they are not damaged.

The writing is equally brilliant. To provide variety, Howard enlisted several co-writers to provide differing handwriting styles. He also assigned a consistent color to each author. This helps decipher the notes later on since the characters are only identified in the flyleaf.

What I Liked

As a fan of the comic and the maxims, it was wonderful to finally have the maxims in book form. It was also great fun to see how each character felt about each of them. The five characters that Howard chose represent a good cross section of his universe and are able to offer completely different perspectives on the various maxims.

I’ve already mentioned that the production value was outstanding. The “art work,” and I don’t know what else to call unique colorization for each page, is very believable, without detracting from the readability.

What I Didn’t

While Howard used unique colors to keep the characters comments separate, it was nonetheless still confusing at times telling the voices apart. Except Schlock in his big green felt pen. I’m not sure I have a better suggestion, but it was still confusing at times. Sgt Edwards is identified as the original owner of the book. Because he doesn’t figure into the online comic story, except as part of a flashback that I may have missed, his comments were less impactful than the characters we were more familiar with.

Reading the book, especially for the first time, is a challenge. Each page has the stated maxim, the printed scholarly commentary, and the “handwritten” commentary from the characters. Reading each page in its entirety breaks up the flow of the character conversations. But, skipping some of the content to follow the characters’ conversation also feels incomplete. Ultimately, I think it was this challenge that influenced Howard to create a pristine copy. I found the “best” way to read the book was:

  1. Read just the maxims starting with #1 through #71
  2. Start over and read the scholarly commentary on each page
  3. Start over and read the character comments on each page
  4. Start over and add your own comments to each page

Fortunately, it’s a relatively short book. By the time you’ve been through it multiple times, it’s easier to keep the character voices distinct. And rereading doesn’t detract from the enjoyment at all.

What It Means To You

If you are a Schlock Mercenary fan, you should absolutely get this book. It will provide you with hours of entertainment and help you feel like you know the characters and the Schlock-universe even better. If you have never heard of Schlock Mercenary, this book will be confusing. I would instead recommend the prisine version.

My Rating

For Schlock fans: 4 out of 4 stars

For Non-Schlock fans: 2 out of 4 stars

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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