REVIEW SUMMARY: A diverse and well-balanced anthology that delivers on its promises.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of 24 military science fiction stories.
PROS: Excellent stories with highlights by Karin Lowachee, Linda Nagata, and Yoon Ha lee; beautiful Galen Dara Cover art.
CONS: As always with an anthology, some stories stronger than others; story order imperfect.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential set of stories for readers interested in military science fiction.
Military science fiction is as old as science fiction itself. If we include alternate history under that umbrella of science fiction, there are alternate histories 2000 years old, with Roman writers musing how Alexander the Great might have fared had he lived to turn his attention to Italy. H.G. Wells wrote novels such as The War in the Air and stories like “The Land Ironclads,” the latter a bit of speculative fiction that would precede the invention of the tank by 20 years. In the 1980’s, Jerry Pournelle created nine volumes of war story anthologies, the There Will be War series.
Still, Military SF does not immediate come to everyone’s mind as being their cup of tea, and there are those who have never thought to pick up any Militray SF title. To quote the old sit-in song: “War, what is it good for?” Providing an interesting framework for a particular class of SF, that’s what. In a 21st century of IEDs and drones, of asymmetrical warfare and PTSD concerns, Military SF is as relevant as ever, if not even more so. In an age where the effects of war are very unevenly distributed, understanding war through the lens of SF is important and relevant.
With those ideas in mind, Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak have combined forces to create War Stories, a crowdfunded anthology of Military SF. Liptak has an MA in Military History while Gates has extensive editorial experience. Together they make an excellent team, and together they have brought a fine collection of writers to explore military science fiction for the modern age.
One of the strongest aspects to the anthology is the breadth of topics and authors on display here. A military SF anthology would be easy to fill with the “usual suspects” who write in the subgenre on a regular basis, and some of the names in the anthology certainly fit that profile. However, the editors have taken a lot of care and effort in making this not only a balanced anthology in terms of gender and diversity, but including authors you might not immediately expect to write Military SF, such as Ken Liu, Yoon Ha Lee and Susan Jane Bigelow. This is one of the abiding strengths of the collection and help make the anthology relevant and interesting to a wider audience. The stories in this anthology have a strong focus on the protagonists and the costs and consequences of war. Some of the stories provide a lot of the glossy technological intricacy of war, true, but its the people and their stories that make the stories in War Stories truly excellent.
Some of the story highlights of the collection for me include the folowing:
- Linda Nagata has been carving out a new act in her SF writing career with military SF such as The Red: First Light. In “Light and Shadow” she continues to refine her Military SF credentials and skills. “Light and Shadow” features a conflict between duty and the dangers of a technology that makes you a better soldier, at a cost to one’s own soul.
- In “Warhosts,” Yoon Ha Lee brings us a delightfully unusual and otherwordly perspective to a very formalized sort of war, with alien biology and alien psychology rendered in beautiful and well-crafted miniature.
- T.C McCarthy’s “Black Butterflies” is a bitter, unflinching story about the survivor of an interstellar battle, the guilt that a loser in a conflict carries, and the costs he must bear when the consequences of that battle come home.
- Karin Lowachee’s penultimate story in the collection (“Enemy States”) is all about the social aspect of the war and takes us through a civilian’s relationship with a soldier. The emotional beats as we see the ups, downs, highs and heartbreaks of Jake’s relationship with his soldier lover, Tuvi, moved me to tears. I really think this story should have been the closer to the anthology.
Given the diversity of the collection, and the authors involved, anyone remotely interested in the topic of military science fiction who wasn’t a backer of the project should see about getting themselves a copy.