East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

So you’ve dreamed of being a mercenary…


I have just received a gift of books and chocolate from a far-away friend. It’s the sort of thing that’s good for morale, because yesterday was a bad day – sometimes these coincidences happen, and they never cease to surprise me. We live in a strange, but not necessarily hostile world.

One of the books in the box was a well-beloved classic I mentioned I wanted to re-read, another is a war story that looks quite exciting, and the third… oh, the third I am starting right away, and filing it under research.

The third volume is a wonderfully used copy of a paperback called Manual of the Mercenary Soldier, published in 1988 by Dell Books, and written by a man called Paul Balor.
The book was later reprinted by notorious Paladin Press, long-time purveyors of military- and survivalist-oriented books.
And it is absolutely incredible.

How incredible it is, you ask? Well, check the back cover copy…

So you’ve dreamed about being a mercenary.
Here’s how they do it…
Whether you are a retire soldier or a man who loves adventure, you can broaden your horizons both financially and professionally in the world of conflict. It’s today most overlooked career – a job market that’s wide open with more than forty wars to choose from, sky’s-the-limit rewards and edge of the seat excitement.
Now professional mercenary Paul Balor brings you the only authoritative guide to becoming a free-lance warrior. He shares secrets of his survival in wars from South-east Asia to Central America, including:
. the best entry routes into the mercenary life
. the hard truth about mercenary schools, “the club” AKA CIA contract work, and scam journalism
. the most salable skills … and why NCOs are in high demand
. a complete review of all martial arts systems, including ninjutsu
. a shopping list of weaponry … and hoe to transport arms
. a checklist of international hot spots
. spotting the biggest money-making opportunities
. life saving tips on the false flag game, “license to loot”, employers, extractions and much more…
An Authoritative Insider’s Guide to the most exciting job in the world.

The lot, in 300 neat, pocket-sized pages.

Now, a few odd considerations, off the top of my head.

First, I love the idea that the book is second-hand and pretty roughed-up,stained pages, broken spine and all: to me, books like these only exist in second-hand copy, passed from one mercenary to the other… here, kid, I learned the basics from this one… I can imagine that this book spent the last thirty-two years travelling from Nicaragua to Afghanistan to central Africa to the Balkans and back in a variety of rucksacks and in the pocket of camo jackets.

Second, yes of course this will be a GREAT resource for research and for writing, and it might put me in the mood of trying my hand at the sort of “men’s adventure” stories that were so popular in the sixties and seventies of the last century.

Third, what got me thinking was the publishing date.
Nineteen-eighty-eight. Where was I, back then?
In university, trying to come to terms with a hostile environment peopled with individuals I had nothing in common with. I was very unhappy.
What would have happened, had I chanced on a copy of this book back then?
Nothing, of course – there is no one that’s more peaceful and sedentary than me. And yet, wouldn’t that be a good start for a story?
A man of twenty, listening to the siren call of a book that promises “both the glory and the gold!”
Hell, I was quite at a low point in my life at the time…

And the fourth and final thought is that the back cover copy sounds an awful lot like a lot of advertisements I’ve seen in the last few years for soul-crushing clerical jobs, courses and careers in IT and software development (“a complete review of all the major programming languages, including TurboPascal”) and, yes, writing courses and vanity press offers.
Which gives me a lot of weird ideas…

But here we go… I have a book about starting a career as a mercenary, I have chocolate, it’s Valentine’s Day and tonight I’m going to order me a pizza.
Life is good.
Weird, but good.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

8 thoughts on “So you’ve dreamed of being a mercenary…

  1. Good book, I read it about 30 years ago.


    • I’m curious to see how it has aged both vis-a-vis the evolution of the real world, and the evolution of action thrillers and the mercenary tropes.
      But so far it’s quite enjoyable, in a somewhat grim way. I’m eager to learn ninjutsu.


  2. “….I’m eager to learn ninjutsu.”


    The book came out during the period when the old school type of mercenaries were quickly disappearing. There were a lot of “colorful” characters back then such as Frank Camper and Mitch Werbell III. The adventurer (and sometimes mentally unstable )types weren’t really in demand any more. The PMC’s such as Blackwater here in the USA and Executive Outcomes in South Africa began to dominate and eventually the market.

    In short, mercenary work was beginning to become “Corporatized”.

    Leave it to big business to suck the life out of the “(not so) Professional Adventurers” life.


    • Thank goodness there is still room for adventure without one necessarily getting bogged down in some backwater with lots of people eager to use automatic weapons.
      But yes, the book has a very ’80s sort of vibe. As I said, reads like a brochure for some IT startup 😀


  3. Who hasnt at least at times dreamt of being a mercenary? I actually had a real offer of going to Sierra Leone as an artillery instructor in 1997. But I opted out after considering it for a bit, and deciding I did not really want to become a mercenary. i went to university instead. I sometimes wonder where, (and if) I would have been today had I decided differently.


  4. Back in the early Nineties, when I submitted a list of possible subjects for my degree dissertation, the changes in the legal status of mercenary soldiers was one of them. When he saw it, my tutor burst out laughing: “Come on,” he said. “You don’t want to tangle with that one!” I ended up working on the UN’s peacekeeping/enforcing missions in the Middle East – but I’m still a little sorry for not pursuing the other one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know a lady that did her degree on mercenary warfare in the renaissance and the effects of the diffusion of gunpowder on the structure of warbands and the mercenary market.
      Your tutor was too cautious.


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