George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois – Warriors
Length: 736 pages
Genre: Short Story Anthology, Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction
Started: 15 June 2014
Finished: 29 June 2014
Where did it come from? Bought it from Amazon.
Why do I have it? I loved Songs of Love & Death, and I also knew this collection had the third Dunk and Egg story.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 06 September 2013.
Different places and
times, but all are fighting the
good fight… or are they?
Overall Summary and Review: I bought this collection for two reasons: 1) New Lord John and Dunk & Egg stories, and 2) I absolutely loved Martin & Dozois’s previous anthology, Songs of Love & Death. (Actually, looking at the publication dates, Warriors came out first, but I didn’t know about it until after I’d read and loved Songs of Love & Death.) So I was hoping Warriors would be just as good of an anthology… it certainly had an equally impressive line-up of authors. And while I didn’t wind up loving this one quite as much as SoL&D, I think that was more down to the subject matter rather than anything having to do with the quality of the stories or the anthology itself. (I clearly prefer star-crossed lovers to warriors, which I probably could have told you before I started.) The theme carries through the anthology nicely, with the different authors each taking a different perspective on what it means to be a warrior – some were war stories, some were after-the-war-is-over stories, some protagonists were soldiers, some were fighting very personal wars of their own, some were men, some were women, some were not even human. There’s also a nice blend of genres here – contemporary and historical fiction of different eras bump up against fantasy and science fiction, and some stories contain a mix of multiple genres. Overall, it’s a really solid collection – some stories I liked more than others, of course, but like SoL&D, I don’t think there was a single weak story in the bunch. 4 out of 5 stars.
“The King of Norway” by Cecelia Holland is a Viking story, about a man who makes an ill-timed and ill-judged boast, and must then follow through. This story put an emphasis on the fighting, which was well-written, but it could have used some development of the rest of the story. I never understood the protagonist’s antagonism towards his former king, for example.
“Forever Bound” by Joe Haldeman involves a man who is recruited to be part of a specialist army unit – one where ten people link together, sharing each other’s minds to control fighting robots from afar. I think this is technically part of the Forever War series, but I liked this story better than I did the book, since it doesn’t really focus on the fighting hardly at all, but much more on the interpersonal relations between the soldiers who were mind-linked.
In “The Triumph” by Robin Hobb, a Roman general who has been caged, and left to die by the Carthaginians, refuses to give his captors what they want… after all, he’d survived in the face of much worse enemies. I liked this story – Hobb’s a good writer and I really should read some of her longer fiction – but it took too long to get to the dragon.
“Clean Slate” by Lawrence Block is the story of a damaged woman, and just how far she’s willing to go to set her past to rights. It’s debatable how well this story and this protagonist fits the definition of “Warriors”, but taken on its own merits, it’s really effective. Really dark and sharp-edged and bitter, but effective.
“And Ministers of Grace” by Tad Williams involves a religious warrior, bioengineered to be an avenging angel, sent to infiltrate the secular world of his enemies and assassinate their leader. I thought this story had a really good blend between character development and worldbuilding and action sequences, although the ending felt a little too pat for my tastes.
“Soldierin'” by Joe R. Lansdale is historical, rather than SF/F, and features buffalo soldiers – freed slaves who joined the US Army fighting the Native Americans – in a scouting expedition gone disastrously wrong. I enjoyed this story mostly for its perspective – I’d known of the existence of the buffalo soldiers, but not much about them – and also for its touches of humor, which was needed in between some pretty bleak stories.
“Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle is a fractured piece involving a warrior who emerges from darkness in order to right wrongs and protect the helpless, only to fade back into forgetfulness once her task is through. I’d read it before, in Sleight of Hand, but it was even more rewarding the second time through, once I had an idea of how the pieces fit together.
“The Custom of the Army” by Diana Gabaldon is a Lord John Grey story, in which Lord John is sent to Canada to serve as a character witness but winds up involved in the siege of Quebec. I like Gabaldon’s writing, obviously, and I like Lord John as a character, but this story didn’t quite come together for me – too many pieces, and the character pieces didn’t blend smoothly into the action pieces the way I would have wanted.
“Seven Years from Home” by Naomi Novik involves a diplomat/spy who is sent to live among the people who are forming one half of a nascent civil war, between a people who have genetically engineered themselves to live in peace with their surroundings, and a more technological people who covet their resources. This was a cool world, and a cool story, although it occasionally veered smidge too close to preachiness, even though I agreed with the message.
“The Eagle and the Rabbit” by Steven Saylor is another Carthage/Rome story, except in this case it’s the Romans who are taking the Carthagenians as slaves, and the torments they inflict upon them – not only physical, but mental as well. This story was well told, and I liked the writing style, but it was fairly predictable, and it didn’t really break any new ground in the “how far can a captor push a captive, and by what means” field.
In “The Pit” by James Rollins, the warrior in question is not human, but canine, a pit bull who was stolen as a puppy and brought up in the dog fighting ring. This was a hard one to read, although just as effective and poignant as many of the others, which makes me wonder: why am I okay reading about brutal battles between humans, but not dogs?
“Out of the Dark” by David Weber is one of the longer stories in the collection, about an invading alien fleet that attempts to conquer Earth, and is surprised by the resistance it meets. I really liked the idea for this story, and the way Weber told it in switching back-and-forth viewpoints from the humans’ vs. the aliens’ perspective. (And although the description of the aliens is essentially feline, I couldn’t stop picturing them as the rhino-headed Judoon from Doctor Who, which made me giggle.) But there was a lot of military-speak, lots of acronyms and descriptions of tanks and guns, that turned me off a little. And the ending, while effectively surprising, felt too much like a Deus ex Machina cop-out to be entirely satisfying.
“The Girls from Avenger” by Carrie Vaughn is a story about female WASP pilots during World War II, and the investigations undertaken by one into the hushed-up death of another. I really enjoyed this one, although the resolution was maybe a little predictable. I like Vaughn’s writing in general, although I wonder how much was the writing, and how much was the fact that Code Name Verity has predisposed me to like anything involving female WW II pilots?
“Ancient Ways” by S. M. Stirling involves a young Russian man who comes across a foreign warrior being chased by Tartars. They become unlikely allies, and then set off on an even more unlikely quest. A fun story of warriors on horseback, armed with bows and arrows and swords, and a rescue attempt of an unusual princess. I’m glad I’d read Stirling’s Dies the Fire previously – the story contains enough clues to piece together what the Change was without having read the novels, and the main plot doesn’t depend on that element of the worldbuilding at all, but it was nice to have the background.
“Ninieslando” by Howard Waldrop takes place during World War I, where a soldier trapped in No Man’s Land is given the chance to envision a better world rising from the ashes of the war. This story was well told, but its central conceit (a group of Esperanto-speaking idealists living underground beneath the Maginot Line) struck me as too improbable for me to take the rest of the story entirely seriously.
“Recidivist” by Gardner Dozois is a story of a last band of humans fighting back against the AI machines that have taken over and begun to play, god-like, with reality. This story had a lot of cool pieces (like “what would happen if continental drift were sped up to a matter of days instead of eons?”, and the capricious nature of the gods when dealing with mortals), and I liked the ending, but it didn’t all quite gel together for me.
“My Name is Legion” by David Morrell is the story of the French Foreign Legion during World War II, when some Legionnaires were fighting alongside the British, and others were helping the German-occupied French government. I didn’t know much about the French Foreign Legion, so that part was interesting, but I felt like some of the time devoted to the history of the group could have been used to beef up the characters and the story itself.
“Defenders of the Frontier” by Robert Silverberg involves a group of soldiers in a far-flung fort, reduced in number and with no encounters with the enemy and no communication from their own side, who must decide whether to stay or go. I thought this one was interesting; I particularly liked the ambiguity of the setting – it could be another planet, or a fantasy world, or some far-future Earth, and the protagonist could be human or alien – and the fact that it didn’t really matter to the story he wanted to tell.
“The Scroll” by David Ball involves an engineer who is taken prisoner by a mad emperor of Morocco, and is subject to his murderous whims. Like “The Eagle and the Rabbit”, this is more of a captor/captive story, a story of how far you can push a man before he breaks, than a warrior story proper, although the idea held by the protagonist that the builder of weapons is not responsible for the deaths they cause does seat it neatly with the theme of the collection.
“The Mystery Knight” by George R. R. Martin is a Dunk and Egg story, set in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire roughly ninety years before A Game of Thrones. Dunk, a hedge knight, and Egg, his squire (and also Aegon Targaryen, nephew to the king), find themselves at a wedding, where they hope nothing more than to partake of the feasting before they continue their journey northwards towards the wall. But at the jousting to celebrate the wedding, it becomes clear that there is more to this tourney that might be apparent on the surface, and Dunk and Egg have found themselves squarely in the middle of it once again. I always like the Dunk and Egg stories, and this one was no exception, although they’re always a little heavily focused on heraldry and family ties and who fought for whom during the First Blackfyre Rebellion… and even though I’m a big fan of the series, they always send me running to the ASoIaF wiki. But Dunk and Egg are such great characters, and the worldbuilding is quite compelling despite all the time spent on heraldry, that I bought this book primarily for this story, and it was absolutely worth it.
First Line: There were no bookstores in Bayonne, New Jersey, when I was a kid.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 31: “Near the shore on either side, the waves broke white on barren skerries.” – A small rocky reef or island.
- p. 38: ““I think that damned toothed thing tore one of the strakes loose.”” – A single continuous line of planking or metal plating extending on a vessel’s hull from stem to stern.
- p. 92: “But every year when he presented himself for the dilectus, Marcus contrived that Flavius was chosen to serve in his legion.” – an ad hoc draft conducted by the Roman Army to recruit men.
- p. 98: “Marcus stood scowling, while the two velites reporting to him looked at the ground and shifted sheepishly.” – light-armed troops in ancient Rome, drawn from the poorer classes.
- p. 194: “Way I had it figured, them Indians would eventually surround us and we’d end up with our hair hangin’ on their wickiups by mornin’.” – A frame hut covered with matting, as of bark or brush, used by nomadic Native Americans of North America.
- p. 226: “Lucinda Joffrey had the most expressive eyes. Her one claim to beauty, they were almond-shaped, amber in color, and capable of sending remarkably minatory messages across a crowded return.” – Of a menacing or threatening nature.
- p. 229: “In the split second when he grasped the slimy thing, he expected something like the snap one got from touching a Leiden jar and making it spark.” – a device that “stores” static electricity between two electrodes on the inside and outside of a glass jar.
- p. 231: “Frigging poet, he thought. I’ll delope and have done.” – the practice of throwing away one’s first fire in a duel, in an attempt to abort the conflict.
- p. 247: “Probably he had ejected some subaltern, but Grey wasn’t inclined to object.” – A subordinate or lower-ranking officer.
- p. 273: “A sudden rumble and crashing came from above, and the shore-party scattered in panic as several sharpened logs plunged out of the dark above, dislodged from an abatis.” – A defensive obstacle made by laying felled trees on top of each other with branches, sometimes sharpened, facing the enemy.
- p. 493: ““They were nine when they start after me,” he added, with a smile that exposed teeth that were very even and white, and patted the hilt of his yataghan.” – A Turkish sword or scimitar having a double-curved blade and an eared pommel, but lacking a handle guard.
- p. 494: ““Hey, dog-brother, there’s an old well in that ruined kolkhoz over there,” he said thoughtfully.” – A Soviet collective farm.
- p. 498: “His bow was gone, but he had his curved shamshir out almost instantly.” – a type of sabre with a curve that is considered radical for a sword: 5 to 15 degrees from tip to tip.
- p. 498: “His shapska was longer than the nomad’s weapon, a guardless shallow curve with an eagle’s-head pommel, and while the Tartars were fearsome fighters on horseback, most of them were as awkward on foot as a pig on ice.” – a special kind of sabre; a very sharp, single-edged, single-handed, and guardless sword. In appearance, the shashka was midway between a full sabre and a straight sword. It had a slightly curved blade, and could be effective for both slashing and thrusting.
- p. 499: “He’d noted the quality of Dorzha’s boots, and the silver inlay on his yataghan and kinjal-dagger, and the tooling on his belt, whose buckle was a blue-enameled wolf’s-head. ” – the Caucasian dagger that was used by the ranks of the Russian Army until the middle of the 20th century.
- p. 501: “The militiaman snatched it out of the air, bit the silver dihrem and looked at it with respect – it bore the stamp of the Christopol mint.” – any of various silver coins minted in North African countries at different periods.
- p. 621: “He was captain of a company of engineers, transporting siege equipment in two galliots from the arsenal at Toulon to Marseilles.” – A light, swift galley formerly used in the Mediterranean.
- p. 621: ““You will find death in your Christian Hades preferable to life in that realm,” cackled the raïs.” – a title used by the rulers of Arab states in the Middle East
- p. 693: “Streamers of green and grey silk flowed from his rounded bascinet, and his green shield bore a silver snail.” – A light helmet, at first open, but later made with a visor.
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