The Cold Cash War (1977) was Robert Asprin's first book. Mr. Asprin was later to establish a name for himself with humorous fantasy - the Myth Adventures series probably being his most impressive and longest-running contribution to the genre. However, in 1977, Mr. Asprin seemed to have a much grimmer look at things.
In The Cold Cash War, corporations are using military operations as a bizarre way of settling contract negotiations. Armies - all wearing special suits and using non-lethal weaponry - muck around in the wilderness (mostly Brazil).
By employing armies of mercenaries to zap one another in this advanced form of lasertag, the corporations resolve their disagreements without having to deal with things like 'courts' or 'laws'.
The book starts with a conflict between a communications conglomerate and an oil company, but its focus quickly expands. A negotiating tactic results in non-military personnel (e.g. 'Jan in Corporate') becoming fair targets. Fake warfare immediately becomes real assassination. It doesn't take long for the government to notice the sudden spate of dead executives, and fake warfare soon becomes dangerously real...
There are other players involved as well. A Japanese zaibatsu - for no discernible reason - is preparing to get involved. Information brokers and spies flit around the outskirts of the conflict, trying to figure out what's going on. And most ominous of all - the Communist nations (the "C-Block") squat silently in the background, biding their time as the capitalists kill one another off.
The story is told through a half-dozen disparate points of view. The narrators include a corporate negotiator, an information broker, a mercenary commander and even one of the marketing team assigned to 'sell' the war to the public. Although some of these characters are only tangentially related to the story, Mr. Asprin does an excellent job of making these (thumbnail sketches of) characters interesting, if rarely empathetic, through the old-fashioned use of cinema-style bad-assery. I'm not sure I ever cared very much about Captain Tidwell, but his ability to punt a knife into a charging samurai is pretty damn cool, and certainly kept me reading.
The book concludes with a bizarrely improbable resolution that neatly ties everything together while still managing to leave the reader slightly dissatisfied. The first half of The Cold Cash War is far superior - mercenaries blundering around in an adult version of Ender's Game is much more interesting than the vaguely apocalyptic preachings of the inevitable corporate-government/capitalist-communist conflict.
(Also, this cover - the UK printing - is hilarious. I certainly hadn't pictured everyone dressed as Attuma of Atlantis).