This novel was my first introduction to the Haldemans. Coauthored by brothers Joe and Jack, it is still one of my favourite works of science fiction.
Carl Bok is a student of Starschool. Because he's from Springworld, a heavy gravity planet with harsh weather and wildlife, he bigger than your average pupil and a lot poorer. All he has is his pride and something to prove.
On the Earth leg of the excursion, he gets involved in prise fighting, unintentionally roping in his roommates. They fight tournament after tournament, but even though he loses in the end, Carl learns a lesson in fealty.
Next, they visit a planet called Hell. This is where sovereign governments go to fight their conventional, regulated wars. Carl and his colleagues, who are now his friends, are kidnapped and forced to serve in a mercenary army.
Then they travel to The Construct, an ancient alien artifact that has become a hub for hundreds of alien species who've set up shop to trade information.
The best aspect of this book is Carl's growing friendship with the other students. They are each funny and charming in there own way, as they band together to face a brave new universe.
This will resonate with fans as much as any other of his work.