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!