Book Review: War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, Jaym Gates & Andrew Liptak, eds. (2014)

November 3rd, 2014 12:37 pm by Kelly Garbato

Buy it for “War Dog.” (Seriously!)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic copy for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewers program.)

War Stories is pretty hefty military SF anthology that boasts a wonderfully diverse group of authors, including veterans and active duty military personnel. The twenty-three stories in this timely collection tackle contemporary issues (drones and robotization of war; privacy rights; colonialism; PTSD) with an eye to the future. The result is a rather imaginative glimpse into the future of warfare, and the impact these changes (and sometimes, lack thereof) have on all those involved: soldiers, civilians, robots, clones, and, yes, even aliens.

As is usually the case with anthologies, the stories were rather hit and miss for me. Michael Barretta’s “War Dog” is easily my favorite of the bunch. It’s difficult to boil this masterpiece down into a pithy little sound bite, but let’s just say that it’s not what I expected. In the future Christian States of America, some veterans are welcomed back into the fold (assuming they’re not atheists, heathens, or homosexuals), while others – those having undergone more extreme genetic modifications – are put down like the dogs they’re widely assumed to be. “War Dog” is a weird, bittersweet, ill-fated romance between two veterans on different sides of the human/animal divide. It’s lovely and heartfelt and will hit you right in the feels. (Trigger warning for rape.)

I also quite enjoyed:

“Ghost Girl” (Rich Larson) – An ex-soldier currently employed by the government as a social worker of sorts tries to help save an albino scavenger girl named Belize from being kidnapped and sold for parts by muti hunters. Instead, he finds the consciousness of a vanished rebel fighter (“the Razor”) hiding in her protector, and old imfizi drone.

“The Wasp Keepers” (Mark Jacobsen) – A future Syria, laboring under U.S. occupation, in which peace is enforced at the tip of a poisonous drone wasp. Freedom, traded for harmony. Against this landscape, a former revolutionary rediscovers herself after the death of her father and son.

“Suits” (James L. Sutter) – This one reminded me of the various CSI episodes where the techs, finally allowed out in the field, return somewhat disillusioned by what they observe beyond the cozy confines of their labs. Just swap out David Hodges for a clone and his mobile lab for a Lockheed Martin IGA Combat Exoskeleton.

“In Loco” (Carlos Orsi) – The narrator, a felon who’s shaving a few years off his prison sentence by serving as the single “in loco” soldier in a troop otherwise comprised entirely of robots, is on a peacekeeping mission in Scandinavia when his convoy is disabled and robbed. Guilt-stricken over the loss of essential medical supplies, he challenges the leader of the raiding barbarian group to a fight to the death – and, through compassion and mercy, unexpectedly finds strength and a new purpose in life.

“Black Butterflies” (T.C. McCarthy) – Haunted by acts of genocide he committed as one of the human controllers of the Black Butterfly drones in the war against the Siphs, Nick returns home to help his ailing father save what’s left of his farm. But his Siph overlords, no matter how temporary their reign may be, are tracking down the Listman war criminals one by one – and Nick is at the top of their list.

“Always the Stars and the Void Between” (Nerine Dorman) – Having served half her 34 years with the African Federation, fighting interplanetary wars in space to keep humans safe on Earth, Rachel comes home only to find her own formerly happy family in shambles.

“Enemy State” (Karin Lowachee) – In a kind of stream-of-consciousness narrative, Jake remembers his nearly one-year relationship with Tuvi, a soldier who’s now MIA in space (“You’ve been gone for longer than we were together.”). Beautiful, lyrical, and heart-wrenching, the story is brimming with memorable lines that are as relatable as they are extraordinary.

Most of the rest of the stories okay, with just two that fell completely flat for me, and one that elicited strong feelings of dislike (“Mission. Suit. Self.”). Actually, “dislike” is a bit of an understatement; I found it downright offensive, actually. Are we really meant to root for the soldier who mows down dozens of “hostile natives” to rescue a group of five hippies who had no business being in an unsanctioned satellite village, let alone on a planet whose residents don’t want them there anyway? (Colonialism, yay?)

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: “War Dog” deals with male-on-male rape. “The Wasp Keepers” is set in a future Syria, struggling under US occupation. The star-crossed lovers in “Enemy State” are gay. The narrator of “Always the Stars and the Void Between” is a WOC serving in the African Federation.

Animal-friendly elements: “War Dog” explores the boundaries between “human” and “nonhuman.”


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