With three short story collections in my grasp I decided to spend the last week binging on them. May have hit a bit of a short story overload here, but it was worth it because I read some damn fine stuff.
Top of the pack for me was War Stories from Apex Publications. This truly was a collection after my heart, full of stories about futuristic war and all of its ramifications. Broken into four parts; Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force, and Aftermath with each hosting a group of stories loosely fitting the specification. Of course there is a bit of crossover effect between each, but the theory is sound here.
War Stories started off with a bang, I am not sure there is a story I didn’t enjoy in the first section. Graves starts us off, closer to horror than any other book within the collection. Halderman sets us up with a story dealing with coroner types in the Vietnam war; no doubt the more observant among us can see where this is going. Ken Liu and Mark Jacobsen both give stories about how war can be avoided; and the tragic cost that their measures would hold.
Things were a bit more hit and miss during the ‘Combat’ section. One Million Lira was the standout here, a tale of snipers and hard choices. Of course I am going to point out Linda Nagata has a story here, and of course it was excellent. Set in the same universe and dealing with the linked suit technology as her novel The Red: First Light, a person needs no outside knowledge for the story to work on its own (a plus to the whole collection, no stories required previous knowledge of the authors’ works).
‘Armored Force’ dealt with power armor and mech suits. No clunkers in this group, though none would stand out all that much.
Last came the ‘Aftermath.’ It was this group that hit hard and tried it’s best to give everyone a good, thorough mindfuck. War Dog was easily my favorite as it was a short story that built enough to give me a since of wonder about the post war world it described. Believe me people, you want to know what a ‘shroom’ is in this context. As would be expected other stories in this section deal with PDSD symptoms, dealing with atrocities of war, and the realization that life will never be the same. Believe it or not there was a happy ending hidden in one of these, but most dealt with the darker side of a war’s end.
A second collection from Apex didn’t excite me as much as I had hoped but still held a few gems. The Apex Book of World: Volume 3 does just what its title suggests, which is bring us readers a group of stories from outside the U.S./U.K. comfort zone we are used to. It falls into what I would consider a more traditional structure for multi-author collections; more diverse in style and theme with its mix of horror, sci-fi and fantasy.
My problem probably came from that lack of structure and falls on me more than the collection. It is rare for me to binge on short stories and a few of the tales in Book of World reminded me why; lack of resolution is often done by purpose. At the end of a long book this is at times a way to surprise a reader and leave them thinking about the various possible endings. A short story is no different in this respect, but after multiple stories use this tactic it grows tiresome. I wonder if I had read some of these months apart would my enjoyment go up?
But if you have a higher tolerance for short story binges than me I doubt you would be disappointed for there is some high quality work in here. The first story in the collection was perhaps its best; Courtship in the Country of Machine Gods needs to be turned into a full length novel. Or perhaps a movie. I also highly recommend skipping around until you find Act of Faith and The City of Silence; the latter being one of the best 1984 type dystopias I have read in a while. And while I struggled through the middle the collection ends with another great tale, Dancing on the Red Planet. Mixing music with sci-fi is always a plus for me.
The last collection was not what I hoped for when I grabbed it and I therefore only read two stories out of it. Shattered Shields is the fantasy version of War Stories. But what I didn’t realize as I picked it up was that almost half of the stories take place in existing fantasy worlds; only one of which I have any background in. After skipping these I struggled with the first two standalone books I tried and ended up just reading Glen Cook and Cat Rambo’s stories and walked away.
I am not saying it isn’t a worthwhile collection, but I had hit my limit for short stories this month.
Copies for review of War Stories and Apex Book of World were provided by Apex Publishing. Review copy of Shattered Shields received through NetGalley.