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REVIEW: Future War edited by by Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann

REVIEW SUMMARY: Stories ranging from boring to excellent


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Collection of ten war-themed short stories.

PROS: Some stories were hugely entertaining.
CONS: Some stories weren?t.
BOTTOM LINE: A good selection of future war stories

Having recently re-discovered the military flavor of science fiction, I looked forward to this collection of future war stories. Additionally, I was anxious to get a taste of the writing styles for some highly-regarded authors whose books I’ve yet to read.

Although I was expecting lots of space warfare and macho space armor combat, I was pleasantly surprised to see a wide range of different settings. There were some real gems here by Philip K. Dick (Sreamers) and Alastair Reynolds (Spirey and the Queen) but there were some lackluster stories as well (Second Skin by Paul J. McAuley and Rorvik?s War by Geoffrey A. Landis). Overall, the good outweighed the bad.

Individual story synopses/reviews follow?


  1. Second Variety by Philip K. Dick [1954] (Rating: 4.5/5)
    • American and Russian survivors of a post-war Earth must deal with a variety of intelligent machines bent on killing humans.
    • Excellent story. It had PKD?s signature paranoia and was well told. It reminded me of Who Goes There? – The John W, Campbell short story that was the basis for the movie The Thing. The ending was somewhat predictable, but the story was still fun to read.
    • Second Variety was the basis for the movie Screamers.
  2. Salvador by Lucius Shepard [1984] (Rating: 3/5)
    • A special forces platoon fights in Salvador while high on drugs meant to make them better soldiers. Throw in a bit of magic when the spirit world exacts its revenge?or is it the hallucinogenic drugs?
    • A so-so story. A few memorable scenes, but just not enough action for my tastes.
  3. Floating Dogs by Ian McDonald [1991] (Rating: 4/5)
    • Augmented animal soldiers fight a war against automated weapons for some unknown creator and without knowing the reason why.
    • This tale does not read as corny as the premise might lead one to believe. The tale is told from the point of view of an augmented raccoon, who eventually figures out what is going on. The reader learns along with him. The creators (presumably humans) are perceived as infallible ?angels? by the animals and follow their mission to the letter, even though they are aware that they do not hold all the information about what is going on. Fortunately, the mystery is unveiled at the perfect pace; fast enough to keep the reader?s attention, and not so slow as to annoy.
  4. The Private War of Private Jacob by Joe Haldeman [1974] (Rating: 4/5)
    • Private Jacob watches everyone in his platoon get killed one by one. All except for Sergeant Melford.
    • Just a few pages long, this enjoyable story successfully conveys some of the horrors of war while also throwing in the requisite futuristic weapons. Haldeman is most famous for his Vietnam SF story The Forever War. Not having read the novel, I can only hope that this short story is a fair taste of Haldeman?s writing style, which I found to be extremely likable.
  5. Spirey and the Queen by Alastair Reynolds [1996] (Rating: 5/5)
    • Warring factions of humans are lead to believe that a war is still being fought by their automated ?wasp? creations.
    • When reading this, I thought it got off to a slow start. Then I realized that I was being fed background and clues as the story quickly shifted into high gear, interspersing the action with interesting plot twists. There are lots of ideas stuffed into this story. In a short space, Reynolds manages to build a fully-fleshed universe enriched with cool ideas. I want more.
    • Story online @ Infinity Plus.
    • Neat story art here.
  6. A Dry, Quiet War by Tony Daniel [1995] (Rating: 4/5)
    • On a remote planet, a space soldier returns home from the future (the end of all time, actually) expecting a quiet retirement but finding another fight. The augmented soldier restrains himself for fear of upsetting the outcome of the future battle. But when alien baddies make it personal, it?s go time.
    • Another good story that slowly builds up to its graphic finish, but keeps you interested along the way.
    • Story online @ Infinity Plus.
  7. Rorvik?s War by Geoffrey A. Landis [1997] (Rating: 2.5/5)
    • A soldier is drafted in the war to fight Russians invading America?or is it a series of virtual reality experiments?
    • A mediocre story. Some of the episodes were good, others boring. Questionable use of Russians as the enemy in a 1995 story. That?s so ?80s.
  8. Second Skin by Paul J. McAuley [1995] (Rating: 2/5)
    • A thrice-rejuvenated spy attempts to rescue a scientist from Proteus, one of Neptune?s moons.
    • Frankly, I was bored with this story. To be fair, I read it when I was tired and probably did not devote the attention it deserved, but so be it. There were some interesting ideas here around rejuvenation. For example, memories of the spy are infused with memories from his former lives. The highlight for me, though, was the description of the habitat carved out of Neptune?s moon.
  9. The War Memorial by Allen Steele [1971] (Rating: 5/5)
    • A platoon undergoes an attack in a battle of Earth?s Moon War. One solider survives an initial blast, but the impact renders his combat armor useless, forcing him to watch the decimation and wonder if he will suffocate or be rescued.
    • Excellent story! And short! It lasts only four and a half pages but is engorged with action and drama, and yes, a little bit of poignancy. Nicely done.
  10. A Special kind of Morning by Gardner Dozois [1971] (Rating: 3.5/5)
    • A war veteran tells a stranger about what it was like being a soldier in the war.
    • A tough read because the entire 40-page story is written in the first person?and without any dialogue (Can you say “Galt Speech from Atlas Srugged“?). There was plenty of action (and some badass weapons), but the conversational style of the writing lost its novelty fairly quickly.
    • Particular lines in stories don?t usually grab my attention, but the first page of this story had one I though was worthy to note: ?Pessimism?s just the common sense knowledge that there?s more ways for something to go wrong than for it to go right??
About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.
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