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Future War
edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois
Ace Books, 272 pages

Art: Chris Moore
Future War
Jack Dann
Jack Dann was born in Johnson City, New York, in 1945. He received his BA from Binghamton University in 1967. He has taught at Cornell University and Broome Community College, and has run an advertising agency. He still retains big business links as a director of a New York insurance company. Perhaps best known for his short fiction, which has appeared in Omni, Playboy, Asimov's SF and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jack Dann is also a consulting editor for Tor Books. His work has resulted in him being a finalist for the Nebula Award 11 times and a World Fantasy Award finalist 3 times.

Jack Dann Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's SF Magazine. He is an editor of the multi-volume Magic Tales fantasy series with Jack Dann and the Isaac Asimov's... series with Sheila Williams, both from Ace Books.

Asimov's SF Magazine Website
ISFDB Bibliography

SF Site Review: Nanotech

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas Myer

I'm not an expert or anything, but it seems to me that a cursory glance of history reveals one central fact: that the primary motivator behind building great civilizations is to centrally accumulate as many bodies together so as to form a fighting cadre of such power that the only rational step is to go out and vaporize or enslave all your neighbors.

War is in our systems. We love the carnage. Or at least, we find the pain and misery it inflicts okay as long as we have a "reason to fight." Whether we're making the world safe for democracy, stopping dictators from taking over the world, or halting the bone-chilling machinations of genocide, humans are there, in the mix, hurling ordnance at each other.

This was true back in the good old days when high-tech warfare meant someone with a sling and pouch full of perfectly smooth stones, and it will be true even as we colonize the rest of this solar system and beyond.

I have to admit, after my run-in with war -- albeit short, thankfully -- in Panama in December of 1989 (I was a civilian there, had been born in the country, had lived through all the horseshit that a pseudo-fascist junta can throw at a people, et cetera), that war is not very thrilling. You sit around wondering if artillery will flatten your neighborhood, or if that GI with the M-60 is bored enough to rock and roll up and down your street, or whether this or that group of hoodlums out looting stores will turn up at your house. You learn to not sleep a lot. You go from quiet and reserved to pumped and ready. You're scared most of the time.

So although I have some pretty mixed emotions about war, I enjoy a good war story. The good ones not only tell of ultimate sacrifice and courage, but illuminate other aspects of everyday life: what soldiers eat, when and where they bathe or find entertainment, where they hailed from and what they did back home. These are the details that keep us reading, even when we feel we can't take any more vividly captured scenes in which faces get shot off or legs get blown away.

The stories in the Future War anthology seek, in their own ways, to get a grip on the shifting modality of what war may be like in the future. Two of the stories are set in a Cold War or Post-Cold War environment ("Second Variety" by Philip K. Dick and "Rovik's War" by Geoffrey A. Landis), and although they seem a little dated (Dick's story was first published in 1953!) the feverish intensity of human emotion blazes throughout the narratives in question. These are not just fine specimens of speculative fiction -- no, they capture the essence of nauseating fear and hope and hate and anger and detachment that is life at the edge of imminent death.

Or as Lucius Shepard, in his masterful "Salvador" puts it:

He would have liked very much to drive home and forget about his promise to Phil; however, he felt a responsibility to explain about the war. More than a responsibility, an evangelistic urge. He would tell them about the kid falling out of the chopper, the white-haired girl in Tecolutla, the emptiness. God, yes! How you went down chock-full of ordinary American thoughts and dreams, memories of smoking weed and chasing tail and hanging out and freeway flying with a case of something cold, and how you smuggled back a human-shaped container of pure Salvadorian emptiness.
"Floating Dogs" by Ian McDonald is interesting not only in its pyrotechnic effects (I don't think he uses a single ordinary verb in the entire piece) but also because all the characters are enhanced animals. The narrator is a raccoon, and he leads his faithful squad on a certain suicide mission to destroy an enemy stronghold. Along the way, they pass through the wreckage of an immense battlefield, where other enhanced animals and smashed machinery lay strewn about. The vision is maddening (and not for the weak of heart): here is the limit of human madness, to enlist members of the animal kingdom to kill and die when we no longer have the numbers to do it ourselves.

"Spirey and the Queen" by Alastair Reynolds is quite likely the most inventive story of the anthology, with super-charged language and a plot revolving around the threat/promise inherent in the sudden sentience of the robotic warships employed by two human factions to wage war.

My second favorite story was "A Dry, Quiet War" by Tony Daniel, in which we meet a tired soldier returning from the front to his home world. We learn that he has been fighting in a war at the very end of time, and that the battles fought were on multiple universes and time lines at once. Daniel captures and concretizes these ideas in such a fashion that you have no doubt of their reality. During the course of the story, the narrator must make a choice: do nothing to save his long-time love from a pack of deserting soldiers, or reveal the full extent of his identity, thereby erasing all the work he has done in the future... and creating a need for him to fight the war all over again at the end of time.

No future war anthology would be complete without an entry from Joe Haldeman, that great grand-daddy of military SF writers. The Haldeman story that Dann and Dozois chose for the anthology, "The Private War of Private Jakob" is in my opinion not the best story that he ever wrote, but its theme of a computerized overmind cynically controlling the lives and thoughts of human beings, who only rarely come to full cognizance of their role as meat puppets, fits in nicely with several of the other stories in the anthology.

My only complaint about this solid collection of stories is that it only contained 10 stories. Surely another 100 pages could have been thrown in and other stories included, say Greg Bear's "HardFought". But I shan't complain too loudly, and neither will you.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas Myer

Thomas Myer is a technical writer for Cisco Systems, Inc. Besides writing, he fills his time with jeet kune do, eating vegan goodies, and generally being sassy.

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