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When Diplomacy Fails: An Anthology of Military Science Fiction
Edited by Eirc Flint & Mike Resnick
Cover Artist: David Mattingly
Review by Ernest Lilley
IsFic Press Trade  ISBN/ITEM#: 0975915665
Date: 10 October 2008 / Show Official Info /

Editors Eric Flint and Mike Resnick point out that there will probably be war as long as there are humans, and while they may or may not be right...betting against them would be foolish. Betting against the talent of the assembled horde of authors here would be equally poor tactical thinking, with the likes of John Ringo and Victor Mitchell, Davids - Drake and Weber, Harry Turtledove, Tanya Huff, Stephen Leigh, Gene Wolfe, and both editors contributing. This is firepower I'd hate to go up against, but fortunately they're all on the side of the reader, so we can sit back and let our heroes, antiheroes and just plain Joes, sweat it out in the cold, inhospitable spaces where everyone's out to kill you for one reason or another, and all because diplomacy didn't get the job done.

Some anthologies have themes, some don't. Military SF by itself doesn't qualify as a theme, but there's no question about the stories in When Diplomacy Fails. There's definitely a tie that binds the stories together, though it's not pulled all that tight. Oddly enough, the tie has nothing to do with the title of the book, which I found annoying. Instead of a collection about warfare as the alternative to statecraft, which could be interesting in it own right, this collection focuses on the moments when soldiers look beyond the fever pitch of battle to face the pain they've caused, or felt. There aren't any heroes here, just soldiers indulging in a few moments of introspection, sympathy for the fallen, and a few seconds of weariness from the fray. A moment taken from the tempo of war...before slinging their weapon back over their shoulder and getting back to business.

Table of Contents:

  • "The Day of Glory" by David Drake
  • "Not That Kind of a War" by Tanya Huff
  • "In the Navy" by David Weber
  • "The Burning Spear at Twilight" by Mike Resnick
  • "Straw" by Gene Wolfe
  • "Encounter" by Stephen Leigh
  • "Black Tulip" by Harry Turtledove
  • "Fanatic" by Eric Flint
"A Ship Named Francis," by John Ringo and Victor Mitchell belongs to a fine tradition of stories about bright young officers who find themselves on a ship that's going nowhere fast, and a Captain that's clearly off his nut. Sean Tyler isn't a warrior per se, but a medic, and when he transfers to the Francis Mueller, he thinks he's making a clever career move by broadening his service experience. If it doesn't kill his career, he might be right, but in the meantime it will take all his skill not to kill off the crew, which it happens, is the XO's idea of an object lesson in good order and discipline.
"That's an ugly word," Doc said. "Mutiny"
"Yeah, but it's better than explosive decompression."
Point taken.

"Day of glory" -- They serve, fight, defend, and take recruits in, we learn from David Drake as Hammers Slammers prepare for battle on yet another godforsaken armpit of a world by inducting some raw, local talent. Very raw. But for now they're eager (mostly) to join in the glorious defense of their homeland. Later they'll discover that there's no glory in being on the wrong end of professionals guns, if any survive to learn from the experience.

Tanya Huff, in "Not That Kind of a War", does a very nice job showing the contrasts between old soldiers and bold soldiers, not to mention old weapons and new ones. Huff's writing shines here.

David Weber's "In the Navy" takes us to the his 1632 Ring of Fire story line where a the out of time settlers decide to build something like a Civil War ironclad to protect their river traffic. The only man president Mike Stearns knows who can do he job is his political enemy and father-in-law, John Chandler Simpson.

Mike Resnick's offering in this collection ironically reverses the title's of the collection to show how means other than warfare can be used to defeat an more powerful enemy. It doesn't quite qualify as SF, being based on the battle for independence that Kenyans waged against the British but it offers some very intriguing insights into how the battle for hearts and minds can turn the tide of war. As in India, the British troops were unable to counter a rearguard action: public opinion carefully manipulated by their adversaries.

Truth remains the first casualty of war.

Gene Wolfe's "Straw" was actually written back in 1975, but it's pretty durable technologically speaking, as it follows a group of mercenaries as they travel across the landscape by hot air balloon, feed it fuel as described in the title. It shouldn't surprise you that Wolfe's story, short though it is, is one of the strongest in the collection, and like Resnick's tale, illuminates the savvy that makes a soldier truly effective. Ponder this: when is a soldier welcome?

"Encounter" is a nice piece that considers the consequences of becoming a weapon, rather than picking one up. In truth, anyone who has ever been a soldier has been transformed by the experience, and whether or not you can undo super-solder augmentation or not doesn't speak to the issue as much as this story implies. Or perhaps that's its point.

So, on the whole, it's a good collection, but I'm still bothered by the misnaming. I'm used to the cover scenes in SF depicting events not in the book, and I think that may be the case here as well, but this title was wasted on this collection; When Diplomacy Fails should have been a group of stories in which warfare was the means by which diplomacy was continued when statecraft had broken down, as Clauswitz famously pointed out.

Fictional warfare wallows in the fun of battle and the reductionist notion that diplomats are all incompetent and what messy political situations need is a nice clean military solution. In truth, as the conflicts of the last fifty years have so aptly demonstrated, it takes both diplomats and warriors to achieve anything. There are no permanent solutions, only balancing acts that require rough men on the walls and savvy statesmen in embassies.

Diplomacy isn't as satisfying as shooting, but the goal of warfare should never be to enjoy the flexing of muscles, but to create a situation where diplomacy can reengage.

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