Friday, April 29, 2011

Warriors 1

In 2010 a massive anthology called Warriors was released. It was a grab bag of stories loosely themed by being about warriors. The line up of writers was 5 star stuff from Tad Williams to one of the books editors George R.R Martin. I never bought the book at the time, because I find hard covers overpriced and not particularly travel friendly (I do most of my reading on the train to and from work), and I was really only in it for Martin’s contribution.

A couple of weeks ago a paperback of this anthology (note: the stories will be released in 3 separate paperbacks, the collection is simply too large to be released as one single paperback and the publishers will probably wind up making more money by releasing it as 3 books) appeared on the new releases at my local SFF shop, so I snapped it up.

I’m not really a fan of short stories or anthologies, but I am a bit of a fanboy when it comes to George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, and there was an Ice and Fire related story in the first volume of Warriors.

The book begins with an introduction by the man himself; George R.R Martin. He reminisces about growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, and how his love of reading and writing was kindled by browsing through the local corner store’s selection of paperbacks. The paperbacks lived on something called a ‘spinner rack’, and you never quite knew what you were going to get. George likens the selection of stories contained between the covers of Warriors to the selection of books on that spinner rack.

Forever BoundJoe Haldeman. I’ve never read anything by Joe Haldeman. He’s largely a military SF writer and that’s simply not my thing. This story was set in his Forever World universe and concerned a student drafted into the army due to his aptitude for being able to operate a huge battle machine called a Soldierboy. The story covers some of his basic training and his relationship with a fellow draftee. It lost focus after he met the girl. The story from that point on concerned itself more with the interesting sorts of sex they could have utilising their cerebral implants than anything else. It may have helped if I’d read any of the Forever World books, the story didn’t inspire me to try them, though.

The Eagle and The RabbitSteven Saylor. Steven Saylor is a historical novelist whose area of interest is the Roman empire. This story is about the sack of Carthage and the psychological and physical battle between a captured Cartharginian slave and the cruel, brutal Roman slaver that takes him prisoner. A fairly entertaining piece of historical fiction.

And Ministers of GraceTad Williams. I like Tad Williams writing. I always have. This is pure space opera about a cybernetically enhanced assassin in a religiously dominated future. It’s very bleak and suffers a little from brevity. Williams is at his best when he can build elaborate, intricate worlds and the constraints of the short story format don’t allow him to do that. I did like the name of the assassin though, Lamentation Kane. He reminded me a little of Jubal Early from the Firefly movie; Serenity.

The King of NorwayCecelia Holland. I’ve heard and seen the name, but never read her. According to the brief bio at the start of her story she’s a highly respected historical novelist. You wouldn’t know it judging from The King of Norway. It’s a story of Viking raiders, it’s largely one confusing blood soaked battle scene. Boring and not one character connected with me. Henry Treece did this sort of thing far better back in the ‘60’s and he wrote for a pre teen audience.

Defenders of the FrontierRobert Silverberg. By far the most decorated author in the anthology. In fact I think it was Silverberg’s own anthologies; Legends I and II, that inspired George R.R Martin (who was a contributor to both) to get this project off the ground. The story concerns a group of warriors defending an endless frontier with the distinct feeling that the war is over and they’ve been forgotten by their Empire. What made it hard to connect or develop sympathy with the characters was a very clever trick that Silverberg employed, the characters were only known by their position within the unit (eg: Captain, Engineer, Surveyor, etc…). I found myself wondering at the end what the point of the whole thing was. Nice use of language, though.

The Mystery KnightGeorge R.R Martin. Largely the reason I purchased the anthology. The Mystery Knight is the 3rd ‘Dunk and Egg’ story. These tales about a hedge knight in a Westeros roughly 90 years before the events in A Song of Ice and Fire, first appeared in Legends I, and that was called The Hedge Knight, Legends II had the follow up The Sworn Sword. I believe Martin originally wrote The Mystery Knight for a 3rd Legends collection that never eventuated and he dusted it off and polished it up for Warriors. Of the 3 my favourite is still The Hedge Knight, however like George R.R Martin, I relish any excuse to visit Westeros and that’s what The Mystery Knight is. I suspect George likes going back into Westeros history and playing around there, which is what the Dunk and Egg stories allow him to do. This one is a fun romp with Dunk trying and failing to win glory for himself, but instead enveloping himself in a deadly murder mystery that could have ramifications for the holder of the Iron Throne itself. It was definitely the standout story of this collection. You don’t have to have read any of A Song of Ice and Fire or the previous 2 Dunk and Egg stories to get a kick out of this, but afficionadoes are privy to a few in jokes and get some more context being aware of events before and after.

I’m undecided as to whether I’ll pick up the next two Warriors collections in paperback, it will depend on the roster of writers. I will say that given the calibre of writers for this collection I came away a little disappointed.

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