Armored: Part Human. Part Machine. All Soldier.
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Cover Artist: Kurt Miller
Review by Ernest Lilley
Baen Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781451638172
Date: 27 March 2012 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Editor's Website / Show Official Info /
At its core, science fiction has always been about putting a layer of technology between yourself and a hostile world, adding augmentations that gives you the strength of ten or that is raised exponentially. Considering the places that science fictional adventurers go to, that's a good idea, whether you're facing the vacuum of deep space, the frigid wastes of Mars, or, as with the humans in this fulsome collection of 23 stories, the place you go is to war.
Powered armor has come a long way since Kimbal Kinnison donned it to face down Helmuth in 'Doc' Smith's Galactic Patrol (serialized in 1939), or two decades later when Johhnie Rico dropped from orbit in Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers (1959). Today's best known armored hero is undoubtedly Stan Lee's Iron Man, who stepped off the pages of Tales of Suspense #39 (March 1963), though he didn't get his own mag until 1968, having been pushed off the pages of Tales of Suspense by none other than Captain America.
The powered armor in today's fiction still has all the attributes of its forerunners, strength, speed, near-invulnerability, and the occasional ability to fly--or at least jump a fair ways. But what sets it apart from the old stuff is that it comes with the thing the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz wanted most. Modern Armor comes complete with its own brain. In fact, it's really the marriage of AI and Powered Exoskeleton technology, and the question you wind up having to ask is whether or not this new combination is an update of medieval armor, a robot with a passenger, or something more.
Which is where John Joesph Adams' Armored anthology comes in.
Adams has brought together an impressive collection of writers, some of whom, like Ian Douglas ("The Johnson Maneuver") I readily associate with armored combat, but others like Simon R. Green ("Find Heaven and Hell in the Smallest Things"), comes to this genre with a fresh perspective. The rules of the game are well known by now though, so even writers that are putting on their powered suits for the first time know the drill. Though there's nary a single story that doesn't include its share of combat, most of the stories are about the relationship between soldier and suit, which isn't merely a second impervious skin, but more often a second self, and more than once the line between man and machine gets blurred, or erased completely.
Early on you get as close to a hard boiled combat story as any, with Jack Campbell's "Hel's Half-Acre", in which we see the grunts eye view of things when the brass seem to have lost its humanity somewhere inside its own armor.
Alistair Reynold's "Trauma Pod" is as darkly disturbing as anything he's written, reminding me a bit of his short story "Diamond Dogs", where an explorer has to decide how much of himself to give up to solve a puzzle. Let's just say I’d rather not find myself in one of Reynold's stories.
It's not all slugfests on the battlefield. David Barr Kirtley's "Power Armor: A Love Story" takes place in a more Tony Stark like setting, but rather than the overpowered super-villains Iron Man fights off, his protagonist has more of a lady or the tiger problem to solve. He makes the point that the price of safety is to insulate yourself from the world, as does the last story in the collection, "The N-Body Solution" by Sean Williams. It's something I wish more of the authors had delved into. The majority of stories are about soldiers who seem content to disappear into their armored flesh, and in several, putting on armor is a one way trip no matter how the battle goes.
Some stories don't actually need the suit in the middle, like "The Cat's Pajamas" by Jack McDevitt, which features a story about his starship pilot, Pricilla Hutchins, in her early days. Good story though, and I'm a fan of Hutch, so no complaints.
I would have liked to get a story in from John Ringo, who's done a nice job with armor in his stories, though I'm sure there are lots of others you might include, and I'd have enjoyed a snippet from Starship Troopers to offer a frame of reference, but this is Adam's book, and he's done a very good job gathering different viewpoints.
Overall the quality of writing is quite good, though the different takes and tones may put you off if you don't hit an author with just the edge you're looking for at first, but whether you're taking a break from virtual combat in Halo 4 or looking to uncover the workings of the military mind, Armored is more than just a collection of shoot-em-up stories.