Tuesday 6 May 2014

Tales of Blood and Glory: Warriors

"Warriors" is one of eight recent anthologies of short fiction edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. The twenty or so stories contained within are a mixed bag, both in terms of their quality and in terms of their content. With a title like "Warriors" I thought this was going to be like reading The Best of Robert E. Howard: muti-genre stories that celebrate Humanity's best qualities as embodied in the warrior spirit. For the most part, it's not, and in fact a few of the stories really aren't about warriors at all, except in the most tangential of ways. Perhaps more effort should have been made on the part of the editors to collect a cohesive group of stories. Instead it seems like more of an effort for many of these authors to promote their latest novels, which are conveniently listed in the introduction to each story. (Remember when short stories were a literary genre in their own right, rather than a marketing scheme for the related novel?)

Also, maybe it's hard to do that these days, celebrate warriors for being warriors. It seems like many of today's authors can't write about soldiers in a truly positive way. I suppose that's a good thing, that we've lost our taste for war, but it's also regrettable that we've lost our appreciation for traits like grit, honor, and self-sacrifice. Anyway, let's talk about the stories that I liked and a few that I didn't.

1. The Good

The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland

An unapologetic Viking yarn. Pure awesome, though they really should have made it to the island and fought Cthulhu or something...

Soldierin' by Joe R. Lansdale

A humorous Picaresque about a couple Buffalo Soldiers. A fun read.

The Pit by James Rollins

Don't tell anyone, but this tale of a dog-fighting champion brought a tear to my eye. The modern descendant of Sailor Steve Costigan's bulldog Mike...

Out of the Dark by David Weber

It took me a while to decide if the twist-ending of this Genre-Bending tale was "cheating" on the part of the author. I decided it isn't. It's sort of like Ellison's "A Boy and his Dog" in that you reach the twist and you realize the Author's been setting up this elaborate joke the whole time and said joke is on you, Dear Reader. BUT you forgive him because it was a hell of a ride getting there. That said, this is a novel tie-in...

Ancient Ways by S. M. Stirling

Neo-Cossacks, Mongols, and Tatars adventuring in the Post-Apocalype Caucasus, having Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser-eque adventures you say? Count me in! Ties in to his Emberverse series, apparently...

Recidivist by Gardner Dozois

An amazing Post-Cyberpunk tale. Less gritty than classic Cyberpunk, but in some ways grimmer nonetheless. Think hundreds of years after Neuromancer. The AI's have become autonomous and the technology that Humanity so loved has superseded us entirely. If I had to pick a favorite from "Warriors" this would be it, even if it doesn't really fit in this collection.

Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg

There wasn't much action in this Silverberg yarn, but the atmosphere was so powerful I really liked this one. It's like the old folks home for Warhammer 40K characters or something...

2. The Bad

Clean Slate by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block was apparently working on another Serial Killer story when Dozois asked him for a submission for this collection. He slipped in some little line about "Daddy's Little Warrior" and hoped no one would notice that this story does not belong in this collection.

Another novel tie-in

The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon

This one started-off sounding like a Steampunk Fanfic, but I overcame my misgivings and decided to give it a chance. When the protagonist started describing his experiencing shagging his fellow Officers I decided this one wasn't for me...

3. The Forgettable

Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman

An interesting Post-Cyberpunk premise, but ultimately just an excuse for some light erotica.

Dirae by Peter S. Beagle

A well written supernatural superhero tale but didn't really go anywhere so interesting and didn't really belong in a collection about warriors, quite frankly.

Seven Years from Home by Naomi Novik

This was the second Novik story I've read, the first being His Majesty's Dragon. Novik's writing is immanently readable and she has these interesting ideas, but she doesn't really take them so far. This Ecopunk story is a great example. A super-technological society based around living in symbiosis with nature and... all we get in the end is a simplistic tale of "Environment Good, Industry Bad". Plus the warriors aspect was rather tangential. Maybe Novik should collect submissions for an Ecopunk Anthology--that might be interesting.

The Mystery Knight by George R. R. Martin

How to describe this one? It's like a couple of Shakespearean Fools as a Hedge Knight and his Squire. And they're living in the Game of Thrones universe, so when they happen upon a provincial jousting tournament they end-up embroiled in a high-stakes game of rival conspirators. An entertaining-enough read, but it really is more of a teaser for The Hedge Knight than a stand-alone short story.

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