This is a collection of twenty-two stories arranged into four parts with an additional story slotted in between the ‘Forward’ and ‘Part 1: Wartime Systems’. It’s a strange place to put a story but there you go. The ‘Forward’ is by Gregory Drobny, who himself has military experience, and it’s an excellent forward for a collection of short stories set in the context of war. Drobny picks up on the fact that war can have far-reaching consequences for the people who actually do the fighting and some of the stories expand on this.
With a compendium of twenty-three stories, I’m not going to be able to discuss them all but will pick out the ones that caught my attention for good or for bad. I’ll start with the maverick story ‘Graves’ by Joe Halderman. When I say maverick, it’s because it immediately follows the ‘Forward’ but isn’t in the collection of ‘Part 1: Wartime Systems’. On reflection, it doesn’t fit in with any of the parts as it’s predominantly a horror story set in the context of war. Still, it’s a good story and worth including. However, we’re now into the main collection or more specifically the six stories that make up ‘Part 1’ and, straight away, I’m in a quandary. I liked all six stories. In fact, I liked them a lot.
‘In The Loop’ by Ken Liu is a thought-provoking tale looking on the effect of war on software developers. These are the people who write the code for increasingly autonomous drones. They may be removed from the action but is their conscience? As can be expected, drones play a significant role in the stories with five of the six stories featuring them. ‘Ghost Girl’ by Rich Larson and ‘The Wasp Keepers’ by Mark Jacobsen are set in the near future, while ‘The Radio’ by Susan Jane Bigelow and ‘Contractual Obligation’ by James L. Cambias are set much further into a future where we are venturing between the worlds. They are all very good reads but I did like ‘Non-Standard Deviation’ by Richard Dansky. In many ways, it harks back to the old stories where the hero is sent in to sort things out. In this case, the thing that needs sorting out is the creation of a team of programmers. Like many of these stories its thought-provoking and I have often surmised about it.
‘Part 2: Combat’ has five stories involving actual combat from an in-your-face perspective. My favourite was ‘Invincible’ by Jay Posey. On the surface, it seems a straight forward tale of a rescue mission on a spaceship. There are, however, important issues being raised as the military uses unorthodox methods to protect its investment in these elite soldiers. ‘Light And Shadow’ by Linda Nagata also deserves an honourable mention for taking existing technologies and extrapolating them just that extra bit in a very well written piece. ‘All You Need’ by Mike Sizemore, ‘The Valkyrie’ by Maurice Broaddus and ‘One Million Lira’ by Thoraiya Dyer complete the collection of stories in this part.
As tradition dictates following on from ‘Part 2’ we have ‘Part 3: Armoured Force’, which comprises of four stories. ‘In Loco’ by Carlos Orsi takes the well-trodden path of putting convicted criminals into the military. In this case, it’s just one convicted murderer who is put on the ground (in loco) while the rest of the troop are safely many miles away. This is an excellent story and I would not be in the least bit surprised if there was an accurate prediction of how things are going. It would be remiss of me not to mention ‘Mission, Suit, Self’ by Jake Kerr as the hero of the story is none other than Corporal Billy Whitaker, a possibly a future family descendant of mine. I’m glad to see he’s keeping up the family tradition of doing the wrong thing. ‘Warhosts’ by Yoon Ha Lee and ‘Suits’ by James Sutter round out this penultimate part of the collection.
In ‘Part 4: Aftermath’, the seven stories either deal with aspects of the aftermath of war or are set in the post-war context. The first story, which I found rather touching, is ‘War Dog’ by Michael Barretta. This is set after a war where extreme measures were taken which continue to haunt the locals. We have two stories that deal with the shock to the system when person comes home from war. ‘Coming Home’ by Janine K. Spendlove and ‘Where We Would End A War’ by F. Brett Cox which is interesting as the travel time between the combat zone and home has been reduced to just mere minutes. This has odd ramifications on the returning soldiers as they try to readjust.
I did enjoy ‘Black Butterflies’ by T. C. McCarthy, which is a shocking thing to say when you realise the story depicts the genocide of a race. There’s an even more gruesome aspect to this tale which I can’t mention here without spoiling the story but it’s well worth the read. ‘Enemy States’ by Karin Lowachee and the very believable ‘War 3.01’ by Keith Brooke complete the collection except for the only story I would go so far as to question its conclusion in this otherwise excellent collection of war stories.
‘Always The Stars And The Void Between’ by Nerine Dorman deals with the separation anxiety from the viewpoint of the partner who stays at home. There’s lots of angst but very little else and that’s the problem I have with the story. Apart from the fact the partner is a soldier going off to combat. there is nothing else to mark this out as a war story.
I’m not going to end this review on a negative note as ‘War Stories: New Military Science Fiction’ contains some real gems. The stories are well written and often thought-provoking. Some of the themes may be as old as the hills but the settings are brand new. I’d recommend this collection to anyone who likes his or her military Science Fiction.
(pub: Apex Publications. 369 page PDF edition. Price: $16.95 (US). ISBN: 978-1-937009-26-7)
check out website: www.apexbookcompany.com