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A well-done, enjoyable novel of Vietnam.

Scientist Spock turns his attentions to more soulful pursuits in this fictional tale of one man’s experience in Vietnam. Although the book opens with a clumsy and unnecessary grandfather-to-grandson rumination on the war, it soon delivers its hero into the Vietnam War at its apex. Secure in his patriotism but unsettled by a fear of dying, Sergeant Sylvester “Sly” Wright volunteers to become a combat infantryman in the fall of 1968, the year of the devastating Tet Offensive. The young soldier, leaving behind his wife and daughter, is promptly sent to the heart of the Mekong Delta, where he reports to Alpha Company. Sly’s ragtag Green Platoon, who quickly dub him “Psychedelic Six,” is composed entirely of peculiar malcontents more interested in getting high than fighting the enemy. In a diverting subplot that complements the more familiar sights and sounds of jungle warfare, Sly befriends a Vietcong defector named Tan and a heartbreaking Vietnamese beauty named Min. Their inclusion provides a compelling window into the culture of Vietnam and a nuanced dichotomy to the more traditional bravado of Sly’s fellow soldiers. While the platoon’s Dirty Dozen–like exploits are familiar from post-war cinematic portrayals of Vietnam, Spock infuses Sly’s rites of passage with a verisimilitude rooted in combat details and the short-hand language of warfare. The company has an implausible superstition barring the use of a certain expletive, and Green Platoon sings a swaggering theme to the tune of “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” But those are small quibbles with a mostly rewarding novel. Sly’s transformation from wide-eyed recruit to jaded but determined leader of men is compelling, albeit not entirely original. While no replacement for classics like Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato or Phillip Caputo’s A Rumor of War, Psychedelic Six is nonetheless a satisfying excursion into a terrible conflict, buoyed by its particularly empathetic point of view.

An earnest meditation on the experiences of brothers in arms.

Pub Date: July 11th, 2006
ISBN: 978-141208236-5
Program: Kirkus Indie
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