Dan Abnett. The Wake.
Abnett’s opener is a darkly humorous report on a wake for a fallen colleague on a waystation, the combat troop heading for some R&R after an engagement with aliens simply referred to as Scaries.
The soldier relating the turn of unexpected events, and his colleagues, are far from noble warriors, simply guys worried about staying alive and not cacking themselves (I do like to see the British vernacular of my youth being used in fiction). It’s a shortish story, as many in the volume, so doesn’t go beyond the bleagh of finding out just how insiduous their alien enemies are.
Lauren Beukes. Unaccounted.
Science Fiction gives you the opportunity to explore the limits of humanity, and what it is to be human in the face of the alien. Where Beukes’ story fails to take this opportunity is in essentially presenting a story that is Abu Ghraib set in space – a besieged human army in ‘enemy’ territory, doing unspeakable thinks to their alien captives. We know that war is hell, and dehumanising – it’s been covered in fiction and films for decades – and the author misses a chance to give the fuller rein that SF offers to go further in exploring these issues. But I spose, that’s asking a lot for a story of only a half-dozen pages.
Gareth L. Powell. The New Ships.
In the earlier ‘Conflicts’ volume, I noted of Gareth L. Powell’s ‘Fallout’ that it was ‘an intriguing setting for a short story, and one that you could see being worth the investment of more time from the author’.
And he’s returned to that setting, with another short, tight drama featuring Ann Szkatula. The background to the story sequence is that a large alien spaceship has crashed near Bristol, irradiating a large area of the SW of England. There’s lots of alien tech to be harvested and turned to our advantage, which could well be quite necessary, if the interstellar war that evidently led to the crash-landing leads to a threat to our planet. Unfortunately, the national powers aren’t exactly working together shoulder-to-shoulder, and Ann’s task is to rescue a hacker from the forces of other nations, so that he can help in protecting humanity from the forces of other planets. It starts atmospherically in Paddington, and ends up with a shoot-out on the M40 in Oxfordshire, with a tantalising glimpse of where the story arc is headed.
Kim Lakin-Smith. The Harvest.
A bit of quick set-up, then a school comes under attack from … The Harvesters, described in loving forensic detail.
Tony Ballantyne. The War Artist.
A clever take on what the role of the war artist might (has?) become in the 21st century. We follow a war artist, using modern technology but still trying to capture the emotion and the feeling rather than just an image, as he is embedded in a crack team of troops being ‘coptered in to protect the community from rioters.
Except that it’s not quite as simple as that, and the hi-tech nature of the attack on the infrastructure of the country (Denial of Service) is a neat angle. Nice to see a story from Ballantyne after somewhat of a gap.
Stephen Palmer. Brwydr Am Ryddid.
An inventive story, short, but nicely constructed with a narrative voice responding to comments on the narrative throughout. The story is set in Shrewsbury, a town on the Welsh/English border. There are changes in society, and man’s best friend is anything but that, as we heave told the tale of an inn beseiged by dogs.
Colin Harvey. Occupation.
Post-invasion Earth – when an alien aircraft crashes into the bay, the local doctor finds his hippocratic oath is stronger (just) than his hatred for the colonising forces, to pull the pilot out of the sea and onto the beach. Against the wishes of the locals he tends to the alien.
A story told many times before, but handled well, and the ending is chilling, when an opportunity presents itself, and a decision has to be made as to just how high a price might be paid to come to terms with the alien.
Eric Brown. The Soul of the Machine.
Brown picks up the story of the spacer and the AI construct embodied in a foxy Venezualan body from the first Conflicts volume. As with that story it’s fast paced, with Ed, Ella (the AI), and Karrie (Ed’s female co-pilot) finding themselves being followed by the space spider bots that were chasing Ella in the previous story. There’s a dramatic shootout in the wreckage of a colossal space hulk, wherein something is found that aids the trio, and which highlights an issue suggested in the title.
Steve Longworth. Extraordinary Rendition.
A political prisoner is rendered extraordinarily unto a secret base on the moon. The story is through the perspective of the expert interrogator whose task is to break a man who has yet to be broken. However, his techniques are quite different – can he find a way into the prisoner without resort to brute force? There are a couple of twists in the end – one a little unfair, as the POV character reveals to the reader some fairly crucial information that he has withheld, information that I think would have been better revealed from the outset, and his internal conflicts made the focus of the story.
Andy Remick. Yakker Snak.
If you’re looking for a story of subtlety, nuance and emotion, multi-layered and complex, then look further.
Remick holds little back in a politically incorrect story that’s not for the faint-hearted or prudish, but which I found to be ultimately, to my surprise, a blackly entertaining story. The title refers to the yappy sounds made by the pet dogs belonging to the couple moved in next door, which, allied to their noisy lovemaking, drives our protagonist to distraction. Unfortunately for the new neighbours, she is a woman who you do not, repeat, do not, want to upset. She makes Charles Bronson in the vigilante movie ‘Death Wish’ look like a member of the Salvation Army.
Philip Palmer. The Legend of Sharrock.
In which Sharrock relates the events that led to his legendary status – ranging from star-spanning conflict, to hand-to-hand patricidal combat. Some interesting combat tech is described briefly, but the story tells rather than shows, due to its narrative structure, so doesn’t really make the most of the work that has gone into creating the universe in which it is set.
Adam Roberts. The Ice Submarine.
A tense science thriller, with an interesting background – a West/East conflict is underway, but the protagonist is the commander of a Muslim nuclear submarine which is able to travel through ice. He has internal issues to address whilst avoiding detection and defeat, but they some across something quite out of the ordinary.
Tim C. Taylor. Welcome Home, Janissary.
Humanity is under threat, and Escandala is a human born to fight, and as a combat solider she excels. She is also a mother to children who have been similar born and bred to fight, and her relationship with there third child forces a conflict, as his adaptations for combat have stretched the mother-child bond, and the definition of what it is to be human.
There’s hand to hand combat, deep space combat, and human issues on a micro and macro level, which Taylor for the most part handles well.
A stronger volume than its predecessor, with more stories of a higher standard. Lots of fast-paced action, with a variety of settings, to make for an adrenaline-rush of a read. amazon.co.uk hb | amazon.co.uk kindle