FORMAT/INFO: Warriors is 736 pages long divided over twenty short stories and an Introduction by George R.R. Martin. Each short story is preceded by biographical information about the author and a short description of their contribution to the anthology. March 16, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Warriors via Tor.
- “The King of Norway” by Cecelia Holland. I’ve never read anything by Cecelia Holland before, but the author is described as “one of the world’s most highly acclaimed and respected historical novelists.” Not surprisingly, her contribution finds the author doing what she knows best: historical fiction — specifically a tale of bloodthirsty Vikings, reckless vows, and violent sea battles. Unfortunately, I’m not a very big fan of either historical fiction or Vikings — apart from Norse mythology — and found “The King of Norway” boring and unremarkable. In short, a disappointing start to the anthology.
- “Forever Bound” by Joe Haldeman. I haven’t read Forever Peace (1998) — Joe Haldeman’s Hugo, Nebula and John W. Campbell award-winning science fiction novel — but I believe “Forever Bound” is like a prequel to that book since it features the first-person narrative of Julian Class (the protagonist of Forever Peace), while also covering such concepts as soldierboys (heavily armored robots telepathically operated by ‘mechanics’), cybernetic cranial implants (jacks) and platoon relationships (ten soldiers operating as a single group mind) found in the novel. What I do know for sure though is this: “Forever Bound” is superbly written, thought-provoking, and moving. Definitely one of the better entries in Warriors.
- “The Triumph” by Robin Hobb. One of my favorite authors, Robin Hobb’s talents — intimate characterization, elegant prose, convincing world-building — are on full display in “The Triumph,” a tale about the last days of the historical figure Marcus Atilius Regulus, a Roman general and consul who was said to have died during Carthaginian captivity in 250 BC. Even though historical fiction is not my cup of tea, I was fascinated by Regulus’ story, although I did appreciate the speculative elements added to the mix. A very strong offering by Robin Hobb.
- “Clean Slate” by Lawrence Block. When I first started reading “Clean Slate”, I thought the editors had made a mistake. After all, what does a woman reconnecting with a past lover after eight years have anything to do with warriors. Pretty soon though, the connection becomes evident in Lawrence Block’s dark and disturbing offering about a woman trying to regain her lost innocence…
- “And Ministers of Grace” by Tad Williams. Some of the ideas in “And Ministers of Grace” are familiar like colonized planets, implants that transmit messages/advertisements directly to a person’s brain, a “nanobiote”-enhanced soldier who reminded me some of Alex Mercer from the Prototype videogame, and religious themes, but as a whole I was blown away by Tad Williams’ futuristic tale of a Covenant Guardian named Lamentation Kane sent on a mission to assassinate the Prime Minister of Archimedes, and the ensuing chaos that follows. Would love to see the short story expanded into a full-length novel or series.
- “Soldierin’” by Joe R. Lansdale. I haven’t read very much of Joe R. Lansdale’s work, but what I have read has been disappointingly hit or miss. So I wasn’t sure what to expect from “Soldierin’”, but thankfully Joe R. Lansdale’s comical Western about a group of ‘buffalo soldiers’ crossing paths with Apache Indians was easily the best thing I’ve read by the author, and one of the most entertaining stories in the entire anthology.
- “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle. Preceding each short story is biographical information about the author and a short description of their contribution to Warriors. For “Dirae”, the editors wrote the following: “You may find the opening pages of this story a bit confusing, but stick with it, and we promise you that you’ll be rewarded with a compelling study of the price of compassion — and introduced to perhaps the strangest and most unlikely warrior in this whole anthology.” Which pretty much sums up what I thought of Peter S. Beagle’s poetic tale about a mysterious guardian angel.
- “The Custom of the Army” by Diana Gabaldon. The Custom of the Army” is the second Lord John story that I’ve read after “Lord John and the Succubus” found in the Legends II anthology. In this one, Major Lord John Grey — a recurring secondary character from Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling OUTLANDER series and the star of his own series — finds an innocent night at an electric eel party turn into a wild and entertaining adventure involving a duel, a marriage proposal, being charged for murder, dealing with infidelity, summoned to a court-martial hearing, and participating in the Siege of Quebec. To be honest, I can’t remember much of “Lord John and the Succubus”, but I enjoyed reading “The Custom of the Army” enough that I wouldn’t mind checking out the author’s OUTLANDER and Lord John novels.
- “Seven Years From Home” by Naomi Novik. Naomi Novik has made a name for herself with the alternate history fantasy series, TEMERAIRE, but in “Seven Years From Home”, the award-winning author delivers an intelligent science fiction tale about a researcher/biographer and the role she plays in a manufactured war between the Melidans and the Esperigans which ends badly. Creatively, “Seven Years From Home” features some nice ideas like living cloth, parasitic wings, the Melidans’ funeral customs and so on, but I thought the narrative voice was dry, and ultimately cared little for the story.
- “The Eagle and the Rabbit” by Steven Saylor. Like “The Triumph”, “The Eagle and the Rabbit” is a historical fiction story featuring Romans and Carthaginians. “The Eagle and the Rabbit” though is set after the destruction of Carthage, with the rest of the Carthaginian population being put to death or enslaved. In particular, this story follows a group of fugitives captured by Roman slave traders and the terrible games they are forced to participate in, specifically the temptatio: a trial that turns free men into slaves. One of the more engrossing entries in the anthology.
- “The Pit” by James Rollins. Another favorite author of mine, James Rollins — also known as James Clemens — delivers a winner in “The Pit”, a visceral and heartwarming tale of the horrors of dogfighting and the power of love, as seen through the eyes of Brutus. It’s kind of like The Call of the Wild/White Fang meets Fight Club.
- “Out of the Dark” by David Weber. I’ve heard nothing but praise for David Weber’s work, but it wasn’t until now that I experienced firsthand why the New York Times bestselling author is so highly regarded. Well-rounded characters — both human and alien, gifted storytelling, realistic military action, cool surprises… David Weber’s thrilling science fiction tale about the Shongairi — doglike aliens — invading present-day Earth despite the Hegemony Constitution has it all, not to mention being smart and hugely entertaining. Easily one of the highlights of the anthology.
- “The Girls From Avenger” by Carrie Vaughn. I’m most familiar with Carrie Vaughn because of her KITTY NORVILLE urban fantasy series and her contributions to George R. R. Martin’s WILD CARDS universe, but the author is also a prolific and talented short fiction writer, which is demonstrated in “The Girls From Avenger”: a well-written historical fiction story set in 1943 and starring Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), in particular one pilot and her quest to solve the mystery surrounding her friend’s tragic death.
- “Ancient Ways” by S.M. Stirling. “Ancient Ways” is an EMBERVERSE story set sometime after the Change — a vividly rendered alternate history, post-apocalyptic milieu where electricity, guns, explosives, internal combustion engines, steam power, et cetera have stopped working. While the world-building in “Ancient Ways” was impressive, the story itself about two unlikely warriors joining forces on an “even more unlikely mission” — in this case saving a princess — was predictable. Still, I enjoyed the action and humor found in S.M. Stirling’s offering, although I believe I would have liked the story even more if I had been more familiar with the EMBERVERSE series…
- “Ninieslando” by Howard Waldrop. “Ninieslando” is one of those stories that starts off in one direction before suddenly veering off onto another. In this case, “Ninieslando” begins as what appears to be more historical fiction, particularly a realistic glimpse at trench warfare during World War I. But then the protagonist discovers a secret society based on the principles of the real life artificial language Esperanto and their plan to start a “New World of brotherhood”, and things start to get weird, but in a good way.
- “Recidivist” by Gardner Dozois. Gardner Dozois may be best known for his work as an award-winning editor, but he is also an award-winning writer and I’ve been impressed by what I’ve read by him, namely Hunter’s Run (reviewed by Bill above). “Recidivist”, a science fiction tale about a future Earth drastically changed by AIs and one person’s attempt to strike back at the oppressors is a bit on the short side, but is still a creative and welcome addition to the anthology.
- “My Name Is Legion” by David Morell. From the creator of Rambo comes a compelling tale about the French Foreign Legion set in 1941. “My Name Is Legion” specifically gives readers a taste of legionnaire ideas — “Living by Chance”, “The Legion Is Our Country”, “Honor and Nobility” — and history (the Battle of Camarón, Captain Danjou), and examines what happens when legionnaires are forced to battle against one another…
- “Defenders of the Frontier” by Robert Silverberg. Surveyor is only one of eleven survivors — Captain, Seeker, Sergeant, Weaponsmaster, Armorer, et cetera are some of the others — still stationed at a remote desert fort that once housed ten thousand soldiers. For over two decades, these men have performed the duty that they were tasked with, but their Empire seems to have forgotten about them, while the enemy is no more. Having known nothing but their lives as soldiers, with no enemies to fight, and no knowledge of the outside world, what are such men to do? That is the scenario explored in “Defenders of the Frontier”, one of my favorite stories in the anthology thanks to speculative fiction elements (Seeker’s ability, Fisherfolk), Surveyor’s evocative first-person narrative, and Robert Silverberg’s poignant examinations.
- “The Scroll” by David Ball. Never having heard of David Ball, I had no expectations about the author’s contribution and was consequently blown away by “The Scroll”: a bleak, but highly entertaining tale about a French engineer named Baptiste whose life — and the lives of his fellow slaves — hang in the balance during the construction of the city Meknes, based on the whims of historical figure Moulay Ismaïl, sultan of Morocco, and a scroll prophesizing what the engineer will do next. Another favorite of mine.
- “The Mystery Knight” by George R.R. Martin. Being completely honest with myself, the main reason I wanted to read Warriors was because of the new Dunk & Egg novella — the third such one after “The Hedge Knight” and “The Sworn Sword” — which takes place in the world of George R. R. Martin’s wildly popular A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE series. Fittingly, “The Mystery Knight” is saved for last because Dunk & Egg’s latest adventure about jousting, a dragon’s egg, honor, and conspiracy is easily the longest — and in my opinion — best story in the whole anthology.
CONCLUSION: In his Introduction, George R. R. Martin describes Warriors as a ‘spinner rack’, which is an apt description for an anthology that includes stories of every ilk from historical fiction, fantasy and sci-fi to a Western, mysteries, “some mainstream”, and “a couple of pieces that I won’t even begin to try and label.” Besides diversity, Warriors is also rich in quality, with every story in the anthology well-written and deserving of inclusion, even if I enjoyed certain pieces more than others. For me, George R. R. Martin’s “The Mystery Knight” was easily the highlight of the anthology, but there were several other stories that I loved, including contributions by Tad Williams, Robert Silverberg, David Weber, Joe Haldeman, James Rollins, David Ball, and Steven Saylor, while there were only a few pieces that I felt were forgettable. Negatively, for all of its variety, the anthology is nevertheless dominated by historical fiction pieces and stories on soldiers and war, and if there is ever a second Warriors anthology, I hope the editors will shoot for even greater diversity. Despite this one complaint, Warriors lived up to expectations delivering a diverse, entertaining and rewarding reading experience that I will not soon forget.