[Book Review] Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Hi there…

Short story collections are tricky to sum up sometimes. In the case of fantasy, science fiction, or horror collections, often I find that an anthology feels more like it was rounded up like cattle to slaughter than a carefully selected group of stories about a particular theme. Warriors from Tor was thankfully in the latter category.

Warriors was put together and edited by George R. R. Martin (author of the bestselling Song of Ice and Fire series that began in 1996 with A Game of Thrones), and Gardner Dozois (acclaimed editor and novelist who has won fifteen Hugo Awards for his editorial work in science fiction and fantasy). I’ve read many of GRRM’s works, including some of his Wild Cards anthologies and have been waiting to see who lives and dies in the next book of his Song of Ice and Fire series for 5 years along with everyone else. And I really enjoyed Wizards: Magical Tales from the Masters of Modern Fantasy a few years ago, which was edited by Dozois. So I suspected that Warriors would be just as good.

Man was I wrong. Warriors was an amazing collection of stories from all eras and genres, from ancient Rome and Carthage to a future where soldiers jack into giant robots on a battlefield far away and everything between. These stories impressed me with their depth, their eloquence, and the ability to surprise me from time to time. I loved Wizards, but Warriors beats it hands down. It helps that the 735 page book could be used as a weapon to bludgeon a poor, unsuspecting wizard while they were trying to remember or cast a spell…

When I first saw this behemoth, I wondered if they’d sent me a dictionary by mistake. Its size alone presented a daunting challenge of carrying it around. That said, I think I added a bit of muscle as I lugged it around.

It would be impossible to cover all of the great stories in this collection in a single review. Instead, I’ll focus on a few that really captured my attention.

Robin Hobb is an author who I had often heard about, but never read until recently. I read Dragon Keeper and just finished Dragon Haven a few days ago, both of which were excellent. So when I read her short story “The Triumph” I already knew she was an excellent writer. But it’s one thing to write about a fictional world of your own making and quite another to write accurately enough about a historical period that you can enjoy the story without getting mired in historical details or inaccuracies.

“The Triumph” is about an Roman soldier named Regulus imprisoned by the Carthaginians and his childhood friend and soldiering companion Flavius, recently escaped from Carthaginian slavers. In the story, Hobb describes the love, respect, and admiration soldiers often have for one another that leads them again and again into and out of impossible situations. Regulus was a natural leader and Flavius a follower intent on keeping his friend alive through battle after battle. But in the end, there was only one kindness Flavius could give his friend. Beautifully written and told with just enough detail to be believable, but not so much as to become lost.

Joe R. Lansdale, I’m sorry to say I’d never heard of prior to reading his story “Soldierin’.” However, from the blurb before his story I now know he was involved with novelizing the awesome and quirky movie Bubba Ho-Tep. Now I may have to look for some of his other works!

“Solderin'” has nothing to do with Elvis, a mummy, and nursing homes, but instead deals with a story from the wild west of 1870 about two Black men looking for a better life. The pair get involved with the Ninth Cavalry from Fort McKavett “between the Colorady and the Pecos rivers” as Nat Wiliferd and Cullen find themselves in Indian country.

Did they find their better life? Perhaps. But what captured my interest was the way in which the story was told, from Nat’s point of view. I laughed my way through the story enjoying his view of the world and the way everyone spoke in a particularly direct, yet drawly English. It reminded me a bit of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. with Bruce Campbell. The language, storytelling, and the touches of history kept me amused from beginning to end.

The story that surprised me the most was “Dirae” by Peter S. Beagle, the author of The Last Unicorn, one of the great novels of an earlier era of fantasy and science fiction. Beagle has written much since then, including other novels, short fiction, and scripts for such great series as Star Trek: The Next Generation at the height of its run. “Dirae” starts with two pages of dream-like text and leads you on an adventure that transcends the frailty of the human spirit to help those in need. As you read and learn more about the character at the center of the action, you and she piece things together to the very end. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was beautifully paced and emotionally charged.

Another story that surprised me, and the last one I’ll talk about here, is “The Pit” from James Rollins. This one moved me to tears in the end and is not about a human warrior at all, but a canine one. Brutus is a dog trained to fight in the pit, stolen from his happy puppy days by a thief intent on perpetuating the “sport” of dog fighting. As anyone familiar with the Michael Vick dog fighting saga knows, it’s not a sport. It’s illegal and immoral. And this story should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants a glimpse into that world.

There are many other stories in the anthology from authors I knew and a few I didn’t – Joe Haldeman, Tad Williams, Diana Gabaldon, Naomi Novik, David Weber, S.M. Stirling, David Morrell, and the editors Dozois and Martin were among the ones I knew. And all the stories – whether I knew the authors or not – were well written, diverse, and told amazingly well.

If you need some summer reading material, Warriors works well on vacation as you can enjoy the collection a story at a time. The editors and Tor outdid themselves this time. Great work!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this collection and others at Barnes & Noble!

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Book Review: The New Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

Hi there…

Zombies. Even if you don’t like thinking about them, you’ve probably encountered them somewhere in the media. Perhaps you’ve seen one of the many different films from George A. Romero, something like I Am Legend or 28 Days Later, or even the dancing mob of undead in Michael Jackson‘s Thriller? There’s even a new television series coming to AMC in October 2010 called The Walking Dead. And then there’s the hordes of undead that can be found in comic books, short stories, and novels.

These days there even seems to be a new wave of zombies invading the fiction racks at local bookstores. From the almost plausible zombie terrorist plot of Jonathan Maberry‘s Patient Zero, to the Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z from Max Brooks, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth grahame-Smith, and the upcoming books FEED by Mira Grant and Zombie Britannica byThomas Emson… It’s a veritable zombie invasion! And I for one am extremely pleased.

Yes, I like zombies. There, I’ve said it. So when I saw that Max Brooks, Jonathan Maberry, Tad Williams, and other big authors had stories in the new short story collection – The New Dead, I knew I had to check it out. What I found was an uneven mix of stories… some of which I couldn’t read more than a few pages and some that touched an emotional place I didn’t realize zombie fiction could even come close to. Is it worth checking out? I think so, but be aware that there are some very odd stories in these pages along with some great work.

First, I’m going to focus on a story I found repulsive, but couldn’t stop reading for some reason. “What Maisie Knew” by David Liss is extremely well constructed, with a beginning, middle, and end that bring things to a satisfying ending that could also be the beginning to a new story. But along the way, you encounter the concept of zombie strip clubs, people who pay to have sex with zombies, and a protagonist who really deserves the karmic revenge he gets served. The story is unbelievably disturbing, and yet I felt like a rubber necker on the highway slowing down to see if I could spot any blood or guts in an accident. So if you’re squeamish about such things, I’d skip it.

A few stories later in the book, you find “Family Business” by Jonathan Maberry. Yes, I’m a Maberry fan. He has a tight, powerful style of writing that grabs me and won’t let me go. This story is about the Imura brothers – Benny and Tom – living in a world where people have constructed fortress towns to keep out the walking dead who plague the world. Tom is a zombie killer – someone who’s been trained and given permission to go outside the walls to take care of certain tasks. Benny is young and doesn’t understand what his brother actually does, so he’s forced to try and find work in another profession. He doesn’t have much luck or skill and eventually turns to Tom to join the “family business…”

I’m not ashamed to say this story moved me to tears by the end, and other than Mira Grant’s FEED due out in May 2010, I’ve never read a story about zombies that ever moved me emotionally in that way. Maberry has a gift. And I’m happy to say the first novel in his new Benny Imura series – Rot & RUIN – will be released in hardback from Simon & Schuster on October 5, 2010. And I’m already reserving my copy.

A couple of other stories grabbed me with their unique spin – “Weaponized” by David Wellington, and Joe Hill’s “Twittering from the Circus of the Dead”. Wellington poses a question – what if the military found a way to reuse dead soldiers? And Joe Hill’s series of “tweets” from the perspective of a high school girl who finds herself in a horrific situation far from civilization was simply inspired storytelling.

Does everything in the anthology work for me? Heck no, but that’s the beauty of anthologies. You get exposed to a variety of tales from authors you may not have read anything from before and you might just find something you like along the way. If you like zombies, check out The New Dead on bookstore shelves now. It’s definitely worth a read.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up this book and others below!

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