Book Review: War Stories, Jaym Gates editor (Four Stars)

War Stories: New Military Science Fiction, edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak

(Four Stars out of Five)

Don’t read this book.

War is about us all, even though 99% of us don’t realize it. (see below)

Future war will be so different than wars as recent as Vietnam and Southwest Asia that we won’t recognize them. There may not be front lines or safe havens or non-combatants. But they’ll share something with all wars: they will dehumanize their participants at the same time they demand (and get) superhuman sacrifice and heroism.

What War Stories often captures is the bond between soldiers. It’s a kind of love. No, not that kind of love. (Nor that kind either.) It’s stronger than friendship–though that’s what we’re tempted to call it. Closer than mission or mutual deprivation or mutual terror—though those contribute. It’s the shared experience of “I’ve got your back.” It’s the band of brothers who have learned to depend on one another like no one and nothing else. (In this sense, women are brothers.) It’s why soldiers come home from combat changed in positive as well as negative ways. Home—family and friends—pale in comparison. They’re never the same. These men and women have put their lives on the line for their brothers, and their brothers did the same for them. And would do it again.

These stories are all very politically correct: interchangeable genders, sexual preferences, colors, ethnicities. They even glance off an issue which makes war such a society destroyer: only a small percent of the population risk or make the ultimate sacrifice, so the rest don’t have to think about it. Less than one percent of our current population has experienced combat. The rest pretend they know, pretend they understand, pretend they care. But they really don’t. They can’t. (Winston Churchill purportedly said,”Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” I didn’t feel exhilarated, but it is a profound experience.)

Remember, back in the 60s—oh, you don’t. Well, the second wave of the feminist revolution (the first revolution sixty years earlier secured votes for women and outlawed alcohol) fought social and cultural inequalities. Woman will bring sanity to governing, where men screwed up. Still holding your breath? Once upon a time, we saved “women and children first” because men were expendable; now everyone’s expendable. This is progress? These stories detail just how far we’ve gone toward equality. There’s nothing quite as equal as death. Some are dead even though they’re still standing and talking.

My experience with anthologies hasn’t been good. Usually they turn out to be the dumping ground for third-rate material by first-rate authors, or the best of third-rate authors. Don’t be fooled by the way this book dangles Joe Haldeman’s name as if they have no one else any good. There’s meat on these bones.

I told you not to read this book.

I shouldn’t have either, but I’m glad I did.