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Operation Arcana
Edited by John Joseph Adams
Cover Artist: Dominic Harman
Review by Wes Breazeale
Baen Mass Market Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476781990
Date: 27 September 2016 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

[NOTE: This review originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.]

There's a certain thrill and excitement in reading a short story. You know that things are going to have to move quickly and get resolved in a relatively short period, and that lets you get the "reading thrill" pretty early on. The downside is that for some stories you'll want to know more, and wish it would indeed continue on as a full length novel. But that's the price you pay for a great short story collection, and Operation Arcana provides that thrill in spades!

Operation Arcana is a collection of fantasy stories with a military bent. Many have an urban fantasy or contemporary fantasy feel to them, but there are others that read as "straight-up" fantasy stories. Editor John Joseph Adams has brought together a highly accomplished group of authors, many well known in the field, to provide an astounding collection of new stories. Each story in some way has a militaristic component while utilizing the fantasy aspect in varying degrees.

There are stories that take place within well-established authorial universes, like Glen Cook's Black Company story and Elizabeth Moon's Paksenarrion story, but Adams wisely includes a wide range of takes on the idea of military fantasy, and the reader is handsomely rewarded by his selections. Several are more contemplative, offering a glimpse of something greater or letting the reader fill in between the lines.

There are stories set in World War I ("Heavy Sulfur" by Ari Marmeland), World War II (Genevieve Valentine's "The Night Witches"), the Korean War ("Pathfinder", a touching story from T.C. McCarthy), and the war in Afghanistan ("Weston Ochse's "American Golem"). There are tales of modern soldiers fighting in fantastical worlds, and of fantastical creatures invading our present.

Not all of the stories focus directly on the conflict of war, instead addressing those impacted by war. Yoon Ha Lee's story "The Graphology of Hemorrhage" is almost poetic in nature, offering a rather unique version of magic. And "Sealskin", by Carrie Vaughn, deals with a soldier contemplating what to do as his service time comes to an end, but his PTSD doesn't. Myke Cole's "Weapons in the Earth" deals with dilemmas faced by prisoners of war.

There is nary a disappointing story in this lot, and like many great collections, you may find yourself exposed to authors you have never heard of before. Fans of high fantasy, urban fantasy, or even just contemporary story telling will enjoy this collection, which is well worth the read.

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