Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Warriors, edited by George RR Martin & Gardner Dozois

Warriors is a multiple-author, genre-swapping anthology. The only thing these twenty stories have in common is that a warrior of some kind - a soldier, a mercenary, a religious fanatic, a cowboy, even a serial killer who considers themselves on an important mission - is involved. The stories move between genres, with SF stories followed by crime thrillers followed by fantasy tales followed by historical fiction, the mainstream and the speculative brought together in a manner I haven't really seen before.

It's an interesting move. As Martin says in his introduction, modern bookstores segregate the genres apart from one another and seem to encourage people - readers and writers alike - to stick to only one genre. He relates his own problems moving from SF to horror and later to fantasy, and how modern publishers are filled with fear whenever a bestselling writer moves from one genre to another, fearing they are about to crash and burn. Of course, what is really important is not so much the genre as if the piece is well-written, if the characters are compelling and if the story is worth reading.

On these points, Warriors is a resounding success. Martin and Dozois' previous editorial collaboration, Songs of the Dying Earth, was extremely strong but a few stories fell short of the high quality elsewhere. Warriors is notable for not featuring any weak links at all. Some stories are stronger than others, but there is no story that I'd suggest skipping or not bothering with.

Things get off to a good start with The King of Norway by Celia Holland, which follows two Viking warriors on an epic raiding mission. A strong, combat-oriented story that moves very quickly. Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman is an SF story featuring a team of scientists learning to fight together by teleoperating cybernetic soldiers, and is another good story with an unusually moving finale. The Triumph by Robin Hobb is set during the Punic Wars, and concentrates on the friendship of two neighbouring Roman farmers, one of whom became a soldier and the other a general. An excellent short story from an author not known for her brevity.

Clean Slate by Lawrence Block is a pretty savage, contemporary thriller featuring a mentally-damaged protagonist engaging in heinous acts to avenge her destroyed childhood. Powerful and at times disturbing stuff. And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams is a planet-hopping SF story focusing on a badass cybernetic warrior and is pretty ruthless, with Williams unexpectedly channelling Richard Morgan and doing it very well. Solderin' by Joe R. Lansdale is a funny and entertaining Western with two black men joining the 'buffalo soldiers' and getting into a tough battle. Dirae by Peter S. Beagle is one of the best stories in the collection, being written in an original and different way to some of the rest with a lot more going on under the surface of its apparently obvious revenge fantasy.

The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon takes her established protagonist Lord John Grey on a mission to Canada to assist in the capture of Quebec, and is another fast-paced and action-focused story, although perhaps assuming a little too much foreknowledge of the Lord John novels. Seven Years from Home by Naomi Novik is an excellent SF story about a visitor to a planet getting involved in a local war and going native, in a manner that is reminiscent of (but much better than) Avatar. I'm not a huge fan of her Temeraire books, but this short story was a revelation, and one of the best stories in the collection. The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor is a sort-of follow-up to Hobb's story, shifting the perspective to a Carthaginian soldier in Roman captivity (the reverse to Hobb's story) and is just as good. The Pit by James Rollins is a tougher proposition, as the main character isn't human but Rollins assigns some fairly human traits to him. If you can buy the premise this is a well-written, dark tale, but I suspect will be divisive. I liked it.

Out of the Dark by David Weber packs an epic story into is 80-odd pages, with Earth falling to an alien invasion and a mixed force of American and Romanian soldiers fighting back in the Balkans. A fast-paced, well-written story up until the last two pages, when it goes completely bonkers with an ending that explodes the corn-o-meter. If you can swallow the premise of the finale, this is a fun story. The Girls from Avenger by Carrie Vaugh is a more restrained and intelligent story about the Women Airforce Service Pilots in WWII and the sexism faced by female pilots from their male colleagues. Ancient Ways by SM Stirling, set in his Emberverse setting, sees a Cossack and a Kalmyk warrior join forces to rescue a princess from the city of Astrakhan. Great fun, with plenty of rousing action and enjoyable banter between the two soldiers.

Ninieslando by Howard Waldrop is very oddball, a story about an English soldier in WWI who finds himself in another world. The premise is intriguing, perhaps a little under-developed, but the story ticks along nicely. Recidivist by Gardner Dozois channels elements of the New Weird and hard SF in a very dark story that is somewhat reminiscent of China Mieville's work, with a memorable ending. My Name is Legion by David Morrell is about the French Foreign Legion fighting in Syria during WWII, and is both entertaining as a solid war story and also informative about the Foreign Legion and its history.

Defenders of the Frontier
by Robert Silverberg is about a group of soldiers holding a remote fortress with no word or reinforcements from HQ for years. At what point should they get up and head home? A clever story with some interesting questions and no easy answers. The Scroll by David Ball is one of the strongest stories in the anthology, featuring a French siege engineer who is captured by a Moroccan king and forced to endure tremendous hardship as the king tries to break him. A brutal, dark and compelling story with a killer final line. The last story is GRRM's The Mystery Knight, his third story of Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire Egg as they get embroiled in intrigue and battle some ninety years before the events of A Game of Thrones.

Overall, this is one of the strongest collections I have read. No duff stories, no weak links and no filler, with each author bringing their A-game. Having read Warriors (*****), I now have a list of new authors I'm going to have to check out at some point.

The book is available now in the USA and in the UK via Amazon and other online sellers, as well as certain branches of Forbidden Planet.


Anonymous said...

Silverberg and Beagle's stories in particular sound very interesting. And GRRM's new story of course. Can't wait to pick this one up.

Kaki said...

I am a regular reader of your blog (I follow the RSS feed via my Google Reader) and I am writing to ask you to consider adding a link to IndieBound.com to your books reviews. (I’m sending this message to every book blogger that I follow.) I have always found the links to Amazon very helpful for purposes of adding books you review that intrigue me to my wishlist. However, I’ve decided to stop using Amazon.

Back when I started buying from Amazon it was new and a bit of an upstart. Internet shopping in general was new. It felt like a good thing to support back then. Now Amazon is the biggest bookseller in the country. It does things like remove the GLBT tag from books, remove MacMillan’s books over e-book pricing disputes and now it is demanding that publishers lock into three-year contracts and guarantee that no other competitor will get lower prices or better terms on e-books. It all just leaves a bad taste in my mouth and makes me more determined than ever to support local bookstores or buy directly from authors whenever I can.

Including a link to the books on IndieBound.com in your reviews would give your US readers an alternative to Amazon and would help support local booksellers across the country. Because the world needs more local bookstores employing friendly, knowledgeable booklovers and Amazon needs less power. Monopolies aren’t good for anyone.

Please note, I'm not asking you to remove the Amazon links. I know that Amazon has great deals, good referral programs for you and that many of your readers will still choose to shop there. All I'm asking is that you include an alternative link as well so that readers who choose to support local booksellers instead of Amazon can have the same convenient link for buying, wishlisting, etc.

ssgorik said...

I just read the David Weber story... I'm still laughing. Yes, corny and some people will probably hate it. But I love that he had the balls to do it. I do think he set it up well and made it not as WTF?! as it could have been. I loved it, but I can't help laughing at the same time. I'm trying to get my fiancee to read it because I think she'll love it too... >_>