This gripping, though poorly thought out, first novel about Vietnam invites comparison not with the best Vietnam literature (Tim O'Brien, Michael Herr, etc.) but with Oliver Stone's melodramatic film Platoon. Like Stone, Anderson relies on authenticity--he was there!--rather than subtlety of purpose or design to convey his thoroughly amoral view of war. And it's his gruesome vision of Vietnam--""that none of it mattered at all""--which propels Anderson's meandering plot, really a series of set pieces all involving one man who is ""doomed to survive the war."" This Mailer-macho inductee joins the elite Special Forces (""like a small fraternity within the army"") because they train hard and their duties are dangerous--here, Sgt. Hanson and his equally tough buddies carry out illegal missions into Laos. Together with Quinn and Silver--no first names among real men, of course--Hanson becomes an expert killer, a master of his own fear and of the chaos that threatens to consume them all. With an obligatory rock sound track and lots of amphetamines (""It's a freaky war""), these Green Berets groove on battle, where ""if you're wrong, you're dead."" The simplicity of mere survival clashes with the larger ambiguities of American involvement in Southeast Asia, from the halfhearted gestures towards ""Vietnamization"" to the deceptive methods of counting the dead. In a war where anything goes, craziness becomes the best defense, and Hanson and his cronies display more than their share of lunatic behavior. The final orgy of ""murder and joy"" begins with an enemy attack, includes a ""fragging,"" then further attack by ""friendly fire,"" and finishes with an exciting--though morally repugnant--bit of revenge. Anderson's nihilistic ending stretches credulity in a book that derives most of its power from realistic detail.