Martin H. Greenberg &
Larry Segriff, editors,
Future Wars
(DAW, 2003)

War is hell if you're a soldier, heaven if you're a writer. Where else can you so readily see epic events, life and death situations, and the full gamut of the strongest human emotions? Future Wars demonstrates again that war is a particularly fruitful subject for science fiction. There isn't a single disappointment in this collection of 10 original stories. Clever lethal and defensive technologies are a given. The machine-augmented soldiers, killing machines and sophisticated space conflicts are all here, but it's the believable characters and intriguing situations that make the collection exceptional. The editors have tapped some of the most experienced and reliable authors in the business, and even the least effective of these short stories is above average.

"Faith on Ice" by James H. Cobb is the best of the high-tech tales. It describes a battle in Antarctica between the forces of an expansionist dictator and allied countries trying to contain her. The narrator pilots a hot military aircraft for the alliance as an orbital war rages overhead. Tom Clancy comes to mind as Cobb describes the electronics and machinery of future conflict, but for all the slam-bang effects the key to the story turns out to be the relationship between humans and machines with AI capabilities. Will AI's participate in esprit de corps?

The two strongest tales have more to do with people than technology. Unlike most of the others, neither is set in an actual shooting war. The hero of "Sparks in a Cold War" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a man who organizes hunting expeditions on alien worlds. Too late to avoid trouble, he discovers his latest customers are terrorists out to use the hunt as a catalyst to spark war with an alien race. The action is tense until he finally is forced to decide between saving his own skin or avoiding a war that will kill millions. Rusch does a fine job of creating tension around the outcome as the well-drawn, selfish hero ponders altruism.

In "The Vacation" by Ron Collins, the setting is again an alien world, this time many years after a terrible interplanetary conflict. Two friends, older women who often travel together, are touring some of the sites where the war took place. We learn one of the women still grieves for a son lost in battle. We also find that their personal native tourguide has his own sad memories, not entirely unrelated. This quiet story does a beautiful job of showing how war affects the lives of people caught up in events over which they have no control. It also reminds us that we need heroes willing to give their lives while fighting for a just cause.

I've mentioned the best of the group, but all 10 stories are worth reading. Well done, Messrs. Greenberg and Segriff!

- Rambles
written by Ron Bierman
published 30 August 2003