Review: “Fiction River: Valor,” edited by Lee Allred

Pros: Excellent military science fiction stories
Cons: As always in anthologies, some stories are better than others
Rating: 4 out of 5

I was going to read the next Anatomy & Physiology chapter today. Somehow, Fiction River: Valor (Fiction River: An Original Anthology Magazine Book 14), edited by Lee Allred, got in my way. I read a little bit of it last night, and then today I couldn’t help finishing it. As always when it comes to anthologies, some stories are better than others. A few items were a little confusing, lacked in some additional context that would have been nice, or simply tried a little too hard to save surprises for down the pipe. A couple of stories were a bit slow. But there are some fantastic tales in here that I very much enjoyed reading.

Steven Mohan, Jr.’s “H-Hour” is a nice little thought-piece on why individuals go to war. Steve Perry’s “John Henry” is a good story about a soldier who gets caught out when the aliens come, but it ends a little abruptly. Jamie McNabb’s “The Happy Man” is just an interesting piece about what it takes to make a certain man “happy” in the military. None of these three wowed me, but they’re all solidly good.

Kris Austen Radcliffe’s “Ice Dogs” is an utterly bizarre first contact tale that still kind of leaves me scratching my head. Kara Legend’s “In the Shadow of Pittsburgh” is delightfully creepy, and I don’t want to give away any details; it gave me a chill. J.C. Andrijeski’s “Charlie Company” ended up being one of the more interesting stories, very bloody and dark, but it confused me at first; the necessary context bled in rather slowly. Andrijeski makes up for the confusion with some elegant writing:

There’d been talk about medals already, extended leave, light duties, R&R, however else you wanted to throw bones and confetti at what they’d done.

Louisa Swann’s “Jelly’s Heroes” is a somewhat silly entry in which Staff Sergeant Jillian K. “Jelly the Belly” Wilson has to figure out how to train a bunch of alien blobs as soldiers. It’s more touching than you’d expect, and I liked it more than I thought I would (sometimes humor pieces can break the tone of an anthology; I felt this one didn’t). “Embedded” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch sees a reporter embedded with a military unit on a strange planet. Because no one thought to brief him on one of the more unusual details of the world, terrible things happen.

Paul Genesse’s “Neo Nihon” is a dark story of a Japanese space colony that comes under devastating Chinese attack, and what the colonists are willing to do to survive. Scott R. Parkin’s “Beloved of the Electric Valkyrie” sees oddly enhanced people exploring a planet for the Planetary Assessment Corporation. Things get strange, and while it ultimately made sense to me and tugged at my heart-strings, the going was a little rough.

Lee Allred’s “Milk Run” is my favorite story in the book, so it’s good that it’s also the longest one! A new Second Lieutenant straight out of Officer Training School, Charles “Chick” Martel, seems like he’s going to be your stereotypical overeager, overconfident new officer. I was all set to not like him, but he steadily grew on me as the story progressed. He’s tasked to see two cryogenically frozen people to be part of a peace treaty–supposedly an easy task–but things start going wrong right from the start. Soon it’s going to take all of his unusual background and military training to see the job through.

If you enjoy military science fiction, I recommend giving this collection a shot. Several of these stories are noted as being offshoots of the authors’ pre-existing universes, so you might discover some new series to follow!

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