Warriors (Anglais) Broché – 26 février 2013
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Warriors is a resounding success. Martin and Dozois' previous editorial collaboration, Songs of the Dying Earth, was excellent 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.
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 anthology includes 20 stories and almost every single one of them was a strong entry. There was only one that I flat out didn't like and thought was too weak of an offering to be included with all the rest. There were quite a few stories that were about things that don't particularly interest me, but the outstanding writing kept me absorbed anyway.
I did have one major disappointment with this anthology, and it's why I gave it only 4 instead of 5 stars. That is the dearth of of women. Of the 20 stories in Warriors only 4 had a female protagonist and only 5 were written by women. Those are extremely sad statistics for such a mixed anthology in this day and age.
Kindle Note: (I usually do the Kindle Note at the end, but I'll put it here for those who don't want to read through the story listing.) The ebook was excellently designed with an active TOC and markers on the progress bar for the start of each story, enabling the ability to flip between stories using the 5-way. There was one serious oddity, the word "Whatever" was capitalized every time it was used throughout the book. Looks like a search and replace that got out of hand! There were the usual assortment of typos and hyphen problems, but nothing too egregious.
NO-SPOILER Story Listing:
1) The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland
The story is about hairy vikings wearing skins battling each other in boats. Not really my cup of tea, but the excellent writing kept me absorbed. Holland has a really deft touch with vivid imagery and description, while being brief with it so I didn't feel like skimming.
2) Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman
Fascinating look at near future warfare possibilities. The story completely sucked me in.
3) The Triumph by Robin Hobb
Romans vs. Carthagians, battle scenes, and torture of a man in a cage. Normally would be a yawner for me, but throw in some great writing and a fight with a giant river snake and it kept my attention.
4) Clean Slate by Lawrence Block
A dark, twisted tale of incest and murder. Intriguing story and well-written, though it lost something right near the end when it spelled things out, rather than leaving it between the lines for readers when it was easily discerned.
5) And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams
A far future tale of religious extremism and extreme rationalism. Writing seemed a bit jerky in places causing me to reread sentences, but an excellent story, one of my favorites.
6) Soldierin' by Joe R. Lansdale
Historical story about ex-slaves as the buffalo soldiers in the U.S. Cavalry facing an attack by Apaches. Excellent writing, made me feel as if I was there.
7) Dirae by Peter S. Beagle
One of my favorites. The beginning is quite confusing and then as the story goes along it's as if veils of darkness fall to reveal more and more. Beagle manages to work in a lot of emotion for a story that is so vague in other ways.
8) The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon
Long story about Lord John. Starts with an electric eel party in London and ends in Quebec in with the aftermath of battle and small pox. Very engaging story with wonderful historical detail.
9) Seven Years From Home by Naomi Novik
Intriguing story of culture clash, politics, government meddling, and humans imposing on a
planet vs. working with it. The story is 2700 years in future, but narrated in a formal and somewhat old fashioned manner.
10) The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor
The Punic Wars are popular in this anthology. Here's another one about Romans vs. Carthagians, this time right after the fall of Carthage. Once again excellent writing kept me interested in finding out what decision a captured boy on the brink of manhood would make when I otherwise might have been bored.
11) The Pit by James Rollins
This one is a bit of a shock when you come to it because the warrior is unlike any of the others. It was the hardest to read of the bunch, though not because of bad writing. I admit to having to use up a Kleenex to get through it.
12) Out of the Dark by David Weber
This is another long story, which seems like a good old-fashioned alien invasion tale, this time told from the POV of both the humans and the alien invaders. Weber's writing doesn't seem as smooth as the prior stories, but it's a very engaging tale. I have very mixed feelings about this one. I definitely enjoyed it, but the insertion of myth into what had been a straight-up SF story seemed out of place, and then the ending is pretty much a deus ex machina, which cheapened the whole thing.
13) The Girls from Avenger by Carrie Vaughn
Surprising historical fiction from an urban fantasy author about Army WASPs during World War II. It's a touching tale of a pilot trying to uncover the mystery behind her friend's death in a plane crash.
14) Ancient Ways by S. M. Stirling
Delightful story from Stirling's Emberverse, this one taking place 57 years after the Change in Russia. It's fun to get to see how things are going in another part of the world. I thought this one started a bit slow, but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it as it progressed.
15) Ninieslando by Howard Waldrop
The story takes place during World War I in the no man's land between trench lines. This was the only story that I just plain did not like. The characters were flat and uninteresting and the story was weird and didn't go anywhere. (I don't mean weird in a good way.) Additionally, the language Esperanto is used in much of the story, but rather than just stating that and trusting the reader understands, hyphens were used instead of quote marks to indicate it, making reading the dialogue extremely tiresome.
16) Recidivist by Gardner Dozois
Mixed feelings about this one too. Writing not quite as smooth as it could have been. I liked the setting, character, and general theme of AI's taking over the world from humans. But it required a bit too much suspension of disbelief in that the AI's somehow managed to not only conquer humanity, but they became able to reshape the physical world. Such as moving continents around the planet on a whim.
17) My Name is Legion by David Morrell
This story had great potential to be a real snooze as most of it is an American soldier in the
French Foreign Legion during World War II just thinking about stuff, including historical events. But it's written in way that pulls the reader right along and in the end was quite moving.
18) Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg
A bleak tale of a small company of men defending the frontier against an enemy that is no more in a fort that their distant empire has forgotten and abandoned. It's told in first person present tense so it was annoying to read at first but then I got absorbed in the story and it didn't matter anymore.
19) The Scroll by David Ball
A bloody and twisted story about a French engineer in the seventeenth century (if I remember right) who is a captive slave of an emperor in Morocco who plays sadistic psychological games.
20) The Mystery Knight by George R. R. Martin
This story is set in the Song of Fire and Ice world. A hedge knight and his squire attend a wedding tourney and get mixed up in a treasonous plot. Martin's typical cast of thousands sometimes make things difficult to follow, but his skill as a storyteller as usual prevails.
For example, Ceila Hollands "King of Norway" is a tale of a couple of Viking Raiders; Robin Hobb's "The Triumph" is a tale of the Punic Wars between Rome and Carthage; "Forever Bound" by Joe Haldeman is a futuristic tale about cybernetic soldiers; Carrie Vaughn's "The Girls From Avenger" and David Morell's "My Name is Legion" are set during World War II; and, as you'd expect, Texan Joe R. Lansdale serves up a tale of the Old West. Eclectic? Absolutely but highly entertaining.
For those fans of series, you won't be disappointed either. S.M. Stirling's contributes a new story set in his Emberverse setting, Diana Gabaldon contributes a Lord John tale, and of course there is GRRM's entry, a new "Dunk and Egg" adventure. I can't say enough good things about this anthology except...go and buy it!!!
Call it the antidote to the Amazon effect. Modern technology is good at helping us find things similar to the ones we already own or like, but it's completely duff at leading us to new discoveries. Enter the short-fiction anthology. In the foreword to "Warriors", Editor George RR Martin compares anthologies to old-fashioned wire spinner racks, with "all the books jumbled up together". In "Warriors", he and co-editor Gardner Dozois set out to break the walls between genres by mixing up stories from all shades of the literary spectrum.
It's a laudable effort, and one that feels especially timely now, with the rise not only of chain superstores, as lamented by Mr Martin in his foreword, but also of on-line retailers offering sophisticated recommendation engines. It's a pity that much of the material in "Warriors" is not up to the task.
"Warriors, come out and play-a-ay!"
Partly, this is due to the subject matter. Mr Martin and Mr Dozois have made stories about warriors their unifying theme, and this has inevitably limited the range of stories they have collected. The 20 stories gather mainly around the poles of science fiction and historical fiction, with only a few pegs from other genres to support the idea that all fiction can fit under one tent. However, there are one or two exceptions, which not coincidentally turn out to be some of the best in the book.
It is also partly due to the very uneven quality of the stories on offer. While there are a few which are genuinely worthwhile entries, there are far too many which feel merely phoned in or hastily scribbled on the back of an envelope. Surprisingly, Mr Martin himself is one of the culprits here.
Now, let me say I stand in awe of Mr Martin's literary talent. I have encountered few writers in any genre with his gift for instant, vivid, believable characterization and ability to communicate this personality through the character's own voice. I am also staggered and humbled by the man's ability to juggle a best-selling fantasy series, a spin-off TV series, convention appearances, and still find time to edit this collection. So I call automatic BS on anyone who suggests I am insufficiently appreciative of his work.
The fact is, "The Mystery Knight", the latest in his "Dunk and Egg" series of short stories set in the same world as the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels, is just plain no good. Rather than building on our investment in Sir Duncan and his squire, Egg, Mr Martin invents a host of new characters, gives us no reason to care for them, then abruptly resolves the whole situation in an unsatisfying deus ex machina. Considering Mr Martin's name and the prospect of another entry in the Dunk and Egg saga was my main reason for buying the book, this is a terrible letdown.
"We're gonna rain on you, Warriors!"
Mr Martin can perhaps take small comfort in the fact that he has plenty of company. For a bunch of warriors, there are a disappointing number of misfires. Mr Dozois's own entry is not so much a letdown as simply baffling. Some of the big names, including Robin Hobb and Tad Williams, produce only shrug-inducing duds.
There are worse offenders, though. "King of Norway" by Cecelia Holland features a long, tepid battle scene followed by an escape that is pure hokum. David Weber's "Out of the Dark" is a shambling patchwork of Roland Emmerich's "Independence Day", Tom Clancy style military techno-fetishism ("the fifteen-pound round from the M-136 light anti-armor weapon struck the side of his vehicle's turret at a velocity of 360 feet per second") and a truly cringe-worthy Gothic third act. Diana Gabaldon's piece is utterly twee and far too taken with its own preciousness.
"You Warriors are good, real good." "The best."
Fortunately for those of us who already paid full-cover price for the hardback, the collection is not a total loss. In a development that's almost worth a "warriors" story on its own, the day is saved by the veterans of the old guard. Robert Silverberg, 75, turns in a melancholy yet thought-provoking piece on what warriors would do once there is nobody left to fight. Peter S. Beagle, 71, takes the warrior theme in an interesting direction, in a story that unfolds like a dream, which may be appropriate, since the hero may not--if you want to get technical about it--actually exist. S. M. Stirling, 56, gives us a light-hearted, fast-paced romp in a neato retro-future that mixes Napoleonic with post-apocalyptic settings. There are also solid entries from veterinarian James Rollins and closet botanist Naomi Novik.
Five out of 20 hits might be a good average in pro baseball, but makes these warriors look decidedly amateurish. Mr Martin's fumble as the slugger of the team is especially galling for us fans that were rooting hardest for him. We can only hope this shows his entire attention is going into the "Ice and Fire" series. Sadly for Mr Martin's lofty aims, none of the stories here were impressive enough to make me want to read more from the contributors. Though in a weird way, this is also a defeat for the Amazon effect he rails against, since I only got the book because Mr Martin's name was attached to it.
Call it a draw, then.
All quotes from "The Warriors" (1979), by Paramount Pictures.