This collection of short stories focuses on a war theme, but they aren’t all about battles. They also cover the alternatives to war—peace and those striving for peace. I don’t review the poetry (I don’t understand it well enough to judge) or the one-pagers. I also skipped my story in this collection.
With “The Gelding” by Jim Wright, the anthology starts with a bang. In the far distant future, machines have destroyed Earth and almost all but the three hundred humans in cryo-sleep in a damaged spaceship. The ship’s Guardian, a loyal robot, awakens the captain when it detects a strange asteroid radiating heat when it shouldn’t be. A rich man’s disguised space station, it may be humanity’s last hope. Or something far more nefarious.
C.B. Claywell’s “No Man’s Land” is a clever and incredibly descriptive tale of a young soldier caught in a VR loop of the Great War.
I admit I had tears in my eyes when I finished Anthea Sharp’s “The Tree of Fate and Wishes” about a young girl’s sacrifice to the Tree of Fate and Wishes to prevent a bloody battle between two clans and the death of her father.
“A Stranger’s Absolution” by Al Margrave is an expected tale of a young man encountering a soldier who served with his dead father and learning he wasn’t the man he’d hated.
The results of war are depicted in all its pain and suffering in Liam Hogan’s “Remembrance Day” when a veteran joins his fellows once a year to relive the war experiences that they’ve been chemically forced to forget. In this society, a soldier’s memories from their entrance in the military until their return home is suppressed, but once a year they need expression or they go mad. A clever concept.
Shawn Kobb’s humorous “Welcome to HomeDrone” is a satire of competitive drones delivering goods to consumers and escalating to armed attacks between drones. Funny and timely.
David Gerrold, the writer of the Trouble with Tribbles classic Star Trek episode, penned “War Zone,” an intelligent exercise in the president preventing a world war. She does a great job, but it may be a bit of a Kobiashi Maru because she’s set up to fail.
Children used as slave labor during wartime is the subject of Rob Francis’ “The Mirror Fields” and very well told by the children enslaved to run a suntree farm of solar panels.
“The High Road” by Gustavo Bondoni is a clever tale of a programmer trapped in a mountaintop village in Peru with dwindling insulin and how she and her friend use drones to rig cables above the automated valley defenses to connect the villages. Desperate, she realizes the combined drones can carry her weight to the nearest large city. Exciting. I wish we could have seen the drones carrying her and not flashed forward to the end.
One of my favorites is “Burden of Command” by Karl El-Koura. Earth has opened portals to other Earths and stationed a handful of troops on a swampy version to prevent anything from the swamp world entering Earth Prime. However, opening all these doors has its dangers, and a young commander must sacrifice everything when he and his troops discover Earth Prime has been invaded. His only hope of saving his troops is to close the gate from Earth Prime’s side and let them survive as best they can on swamp world, and he refuses to delegate the suicide mission.
“Portraits from the Shadow” by D. Thomas Minton is a compelling and original idea of a young Vietnamese man who sees ghosts and helps them find their way home. What makes this different from the “I see dead people” trope is that he’s unable to find his father’s spirit because it’s been caught by an American photojournalist. When he visits the retired photographer, he learns that the photographer took a series of portraits of people killed execution style by the North Vietnamese, one of them his father. With photos in hand, the young man sets off to bring the spirits home.
I didn’t understand “Lanterne Rouge” by Jeremy Thackray, but I enjoyed it. In a bicycle race in war-torn France after the Great War, he is always the last cyclist. As he struggles hundreds of kilometers, various manifestations of France ask him why he is killing himself for no purpose. We never get an answer, but I like reading about the underdog.
An interesting collection on a theme and some exciting and thought-provoking stories.