Top critical review
Military SciFi Without Much of Either
Reviewed in the United States on December 14, 2017
I haven't written a review in a while--2011--okay, in a long while, so bear with me. The literary landscape has changed in a lot of ways in those six years, I feel, and this short story collection is a fair example of a few of them.
I read this book on Kindle, which isn't exatly new, but what is new is that it's become pretty much my only means of consuming literature these days. Another change: It's published by Apex Publications, which near as I can make out, ran a Kickstarter to get financial backing before publishing it. Another one: It seems to have been inspired by a discussion on SF site io9.com. Tired yet? One more: It's focus is military SF from the perspective of female and LGBTQ characters.
Have those changes resulted in anything good?
Well. It's a short story anthology, so let me be the first reviewer ever in the history of reviewing to ever say that, ahem, Some Stories Are Good But Others Are Not.
Which perhaps in itself represents a small triumph for alternative modes of publication, in that the quality of output isn't much different from what you'd get from more traditional publishers.
On the other hand, it's not a breakthrough. There are some absolute duds here. Mike Barretta's "War Dogs" is the worst of the bunch, just cringe-inducingly badly written with its cast including a sexy telepathic wolf-woman and the cast of Deliverance. Every author featured in the collection is a previously-published author, near as I can tell, so it's not like we're even getting any new voices in the bargain.
So, we're not getting better quality, nor are we getting new names.
Well, what is new then? In a word, the perspectives.
There are 23 short stories in the anthology, divided into four parts: Wartime Systems, Combat, Armored Force and Aftermath, which sound pretty forced as far as categorizations go. (Despite getting top billing, Joe Haldeman's contribution, "Graves," a slightly surreal tale set in Vietnam, feels oddly tacked on to the front of the collection, as though the editors wanted Haldeman for name recognition and little else.)
The real standout is "Enemy States" by Karin Lowachee, a positively lyrical love story about the longing and loneliness of those left behind when soldiers go to war. That it's a gay couple at the center is completely irrelevant--if the intent was to show there is no difference between the feelings of hetero- and homosexual couples, then mission accomplished.
At the same time though, this lovely, wonderfully-written, poetic story also highlights my biggest gripe with the collection: In many of the stories, the sci-fi elements are beside the point. You could set a lot of them in the modern world with little or no change. These tales of long-suffering lovers or oppressed Arabs would work just as well set in modern-day Iraq or Afghanistan.
So there's a new social conscience, expressed in the desire to have stories about women or gay couples that aren't just or only about women or gay couples, where the heroes just happen to be women or gay facing challenges and issues that any hero in other sci-fi stories face. Which is great, but the sci-fi often seems to get left by the wayside, and we're left with stories that describe modern issues without adding anything new to the dialogue.
I'm left with the feeling of an opportunity missed, as though a lot of effort was spent normalizing alternative heroes, and not enough spent giving them something interesting to do.