Year's Best Military and Adventure SF #3
Edited by David Afsharirad
Cover Artist: Greg Bobrowski
Review by Wes Breazeale
Baen Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781481482684
Date: 06 June 2017 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
For the last two years, Baen has published a lovely collection of military and adventure science fiction stories, and this year is no different. The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Volume 3 continues the tradition of pulling together a diverse collection of stories for our reading enjoyment. This year includes a great introduction by David Weber, with his take on "What is Military Science Fiction". If you are one who tends to skip prefaces and introductions, this is definitely not one to do that with.
The collection itself features several stories that are set in already existing literary universes. In some cases, I felt like this worked well as an introduction for new readers, but in others, I think it missed the mark. Fans of those authors/series will likely be pleased, however. "Cadet Cruise" by David Drake leads off the book. Set in his Royal Cinnabar Navy world, it focuses on an adventure early in the career of mainstay Daniel Leary. Not being familiar with this series, I found myself somewhat disinterested in this particular tale. "Starhome", from Michael Z. Willamson's Freehold series is solid but somewhat unremarkable. Perhaps holding more appeal for those familiar with the conflict alluded to but not directly dealt with in the story.
However, two other stories from established universes were completely engaging. Both "Wise Child" by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and David Adams' "The Immortals: Anchorage" deliver thrills and action that are enjoyable by a newcomer unfamiliar with their series. Additionally, Kacey Ezell's story "Not in Vain" is part of a shared universe created by John Ringo and reads much like a Ringo story would. If it is not a preface for a larger story or the plot of a video game, it should be!
The remaining stories are varied and unique, providing both humor and chills. "Tethers" by William Ledbetter is a blue-collar space adventure that could be set in the day after tomorrow. "Unlinkage" from Eric Del Carlo is an exceptionally well crafted short story, with incredible world building in a short period of time. Jack Schouten provides a complex and layered story with "Sephine and the Leviathan" and "The Last Tank Commander" from Allen Stroud has shades of Old Man's War in its tale of a retired soldier on a colony ship.
"Between Nine and Eleven" is a brilliant, thought provoking story. Adam Roberts provides a highlight for this collection, and for first contact war stories in general. Jay Werkheiser's "One Giant Leap" is a touching tale of family drama, with a small slice of hard science to boot, a la The Martian--though on Venus rather than Mars.
If "The Good Food" by Michael Ezell is the Twilight Zone story of the collection, then Robert Dawson's "The Art of Failure" is its Outer Limits. And "If I Could Give this Time Machine Zero Stars, I Would" is the humorous highlight of the book. In it, Toni Weisskipf provides both a quirky SF story as well as a bit of social commentary, all in a compact little story.
It feels almost sacrilegious to criticize anything from Paul Di Filippo, but his closing story, "Backup Man", felt like it missed the mark. Overly stuffed with ideas simply for the sake of having them in there and a poorly fleshed out background, created for me what was one of the weaker stories of the bunch.
However, as Weber points out in his introduction, military (and adventure) SF is not a homogonous thing. A story about a procurement officer would have just as much validity in the field as that of a front line, battle hardened warrior. This collection underscores that truism, with stories ranging the gamut. Though not without its weaker moments, this year's volume does justice to the field and is a great read for those looking for new authors to enjoy or for those looking to explore the genre.