War Stories: New Military Science Fiction edited by Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak
Genre: Adult science fiction anthology
Publisher: Apex Books
Release date: October 2014
Source: Finished paperback from publisher
The nitty-gritty: A diverse and well-written collection that gets to the heart of what it means to go to war.
I always look forward to reading short story collections from Apex Books, and I’m thrilled to report that I enjoyed this one immensely. I don’t normally seek out books about combat and the military, but I was interested to see how adding a science fiction angle would affect the way I view stories about war. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Although I didn’t love every story, I did enjoy most of them, and flat-out loved four of them. I was also surprised to find that the ones I loved the most were written by unfamiliar-to-me authors.
Editors Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak did an amazing job of pulling together just the right combination of hard military, horror, and more reflective and emotional stories. The collection begins with a Nebula Award-winning short story by Joe Haldeman called Graves, which is eerily gruesome, a story that made me want to look away but compelled me to keep reading. It sets the tone perfectly for the rest of the collection, telling the story of a man who worked in Graves Registration in Vietnam, and the nightmares he suffers twenty years later after seeing a very unusual body.
The anthology is broken into four parts: Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force and Aftermath. There are twenty-three stories in War Stories, and for the sake of time and space, I am going to share with you my top eight favorites. That isn’t to say that the others aren’t good—they are. But sometimes you have to pick you favorites, and this is one of those times!
War Dog by Mike Barretta. This was my very favorite of the bunch! It’s a beautiful and sad story about a retired soldier who falls in love with a Dog, a genetically modified human. Set in a post-war Christian-ruled society, humans are threatened by fungal infected humans called “‘shrooms.” I loved Barretta’s writing, and I loved the way he captured the sadness and inevitability of war.
Suits by James Sutter. Wow, I loved this one too! Two innocent android “techs,” whose job it is to repair the huge suits worn in combat (think Avatar), get a harsh lesson in exactly what happens in war. This story was touching and emotional.
Ghost Girl by Rich Larson. A war vet tries to save a “ghost girl”—an albino—who lives with a robot who she claims is her dead father. It was brutal and sad and brilliantly written.
The Radio by Susan Jane Bigelow. A “synthetic” soldier is stranded after her unit is destroyed by a bomb and the Army appears to have forgotten about her. But some local residents take her in and give her hope for a new life. Sweet and moving.
The Wasp Keepers by Mark Jacobsen. In a post-war society, citizens are watched by mechanical wasps, who take brutal action at the smallest infraction. This story makes you think about the meaning of the word “freedom” and how it means different things to different people.
Invincible by Jay Posey. I wasn’t surprised how much I enjoyed this, since I’m a huge fan of Jay’s novels. In this story, a group of fighters are given new life every time they die. It explores the consequences of never actually dying, and the feelings of despair from a war that feels never-ending.
Light and Shadow by Linda Nagata. I loved this story! In a future war, soldiers wear special skull caps that block emotions in order to make them better in combat. But one soldier decides she doesn’t want to live her life without anger, and so she stops wearing her cap. Like many of these stories, this one explores human rights and how little freedom we really have.
Mission. Suit. Self. by Jake Kerr. I really enjoyed this story about a soldier who learns the hard way the meaning of the word “mission” when he decides to go against orders to keep a village from being destroyed.
Other stories in the collection are: In the Loop by Ken Liu; Contractual Obligation by James L. Cambias; Non-Standard Deviation by Richard Dansky; All You Need by Mike Sizemore; The Valkyrie by Maurice Broaddus; One Million Lira by Thoraiya Dyer; Warhosts by Yoon Ha Lee; In Loco by Carlos Orsi; Coming Home by Janine Spendlove; Where We Would End a War by F. Brett Cox; Black Butterfly by T.C. McCarthy; Always the Stars and the Void Between by Nerine Dorman; Enemy States by Karin Lowachee; and War 3.01 by Keith Brooke.
It’s also worth noting that this book was a crowd-funded project, as all 357 backers’ names are listed at the end!
If you love military fiction, you’ll love this anthology. And even if you don’t, you’ll love this anthology! War is not going away anytime soon (and won’t in the future either, according to these writers), and War Stories is a reminder of that. Each story will entertain you, but will also make you think and reflect about our sometimes tenuous relationships with other nations and races.
Big thanks to Apex Books for supplying a review copy!
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