The Triumph by Robin Hobb. Marcus is a Roman general captured by the Carthagians. Flavius is soldier who served in the
legions under Marcus, but he was taken as a captive and made into a slave. Now Flavius has escaped his slavery and wanders toward Carthage. He sees that his former
commander has been manacled into a cage above the gate of the city, and he thinks back to a time when Marcus and Flavius and their legions fought a giant river serpent.
Clean Slate by Lawrence Block. This is supposed to be a collection of stories about warriors, but apparently Block's definition of
warrior includes a psychopathic killer. I was disappointed by this story.
And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams. The only book by Tad Williams that I had previously read was War of the Flowers, which I did not particularly enjoy. But after reading this impressive story about a ruthless assassin named Lamentation Kane, I may have to put Tad Williams back onto my long list of books-to-be-read-some-day. Lamentation Kane has been sent by a religious culture to murder the leader of a secular society. The violent, but seemingly-plausible details of Kane on the attack are well told. Kane is an unstoppable killer assassin, but not in the sense of an invincible comic-book style hero; Kane tremendous prowess is explained as a combination of training/genetics/technology.
Soldierin' by Joe R. Lansdale. This is a story about some soldiers in the Wild West, going on a dangerous patrol in Indian country. The story, the prose,
the characters and the language they use, the plot - all are nicely told.
Dirae by Peter S. Beagle. I liked this story - its has a confusing beginning, but things quickly come into focus. Beagle is an exceptional writer, I don't know why I still haven't gotten around to reading his famous novels (Last Unicorn, A Fine and Private Place). In this short story, a nameless heroine keeps showing up in the nick of time at various crime scenes around the city. Violence ensues, and the bad guys get the worst of it. Who is this mysterious figure that seems to materialize when villainy threatens?
The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon. Gabaldon has written a huge, popular series called Outlander, which I have not read but I wondered if I should give it a try. Based upon this story, I will avoid her books. This story starts in England describing an encounter with an electric eel which leads to a duel. The second half describes the British attack on Quebec. This should be exciting reading, but I was bored by Gabaldon's telling of the cliff climb and the subsequent battle on the Plains of Abraham. The principal character in this story is Grey, whom I did not like. I thought Grey's relationship with Manoke completely implausible. I have the impression that Gabaldon is filling in a back-story using established characters of the Outlander series, but to a first time reader like myself they were not especially memorable or likable.
Seven Years from Home by Naomi Novik. This a story about an operative of the Confederacy who is sent to the planet Melida, where two cultures were edging toward war. One culture is a industrial society, utilizing resources and manipulating the environment to meet their needs. The other culture has a philosophy of adapting to the land, leaving no footprint, and living in seemingly primitive conditions. The industrial society is expanding onto the continent where the green culture lives, and friction is escalating. It turns out that the Confederacy agent has a purpose beyond just observation
The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor. Another story about Romans and Carthaginians. In this story, the conqueroring Romans have captured Lino and Hanso, who are destined
for brutal life of slavery. The Romans use psychological tricks to break the morale of their captives, including a scheme called the Eagle and the Rabbit.
The Pit by James Rollins. An unlikely story about a fighting dog that gets revenge and redemption.
Out of the Dark by David Weber. This story was unbelievably bad. Weber tells an absurd story about an invasion by extra-terrestrials who act like idiots. The E.T.s have technology to cross space, yet they build huge crude drones that can be shot down by S.A.M.s? They send infantry soldiers out in vehicles with out robot scouts to clear the area? Where is the advanced technology that could intercept crude ballistic fire of the primitive humans? Where are the sensors that could easily detect hidden explosives? Unfortunately, Weber's real enthusiasm is not for story telling but for weapons. Actual quotes: "Company Commander Barmit's ruminations were terminated abruptly by the arrival of a nineteen-kilogram 3BK29 HEAT round capable of penetrating three hundred millimeters of armor at a range of two kilometers" and "The PKMS' 185-grain bullet developed three thousand foot-pounds of muzzle energy; the KPV's bullet weighed almost a thousand grains... and developed twenty-four thousand foot-pounds of muzzle energy." The ending is even worse, it is stomach-churning awful. Where were the editors (Martin/Dozois?)? This is the first thing by Weber that I have read, and it is definitely the last!
The Girls from Avenger by Carrie Vaughn. A plotless story, devoid of suspense or mystery, that informs us that during World War II some women flew planes behind the front lines. Apparently
we needed to be reminded of this.
Ancient Ways by S.M Stirling. Previously, I had only read the novel Conquistador by S.M. Stirling, and I was disappointed by that. I liked this story better, especially the first half. Stirling tells the story of a young Cossack warrior named Sergey who encounters Dorzha as he flees across the steppe. Dorzha is being pursued by seven Tartar warriors, so Sergey joins forces with him and they try to ambush the pursuers. This part of the tale is well told, and Stirling has clearly put a ton of research into his writing. The second half, involving the quest for a captured princess, is less believable, but overall it is still an enjoyable story.
Ninieslando by Howard Waldrop. Waldrop is famous for writing bizarre stories, and this one, if not bizarre, at least falls into unusual territory. It is the story of a World War I infantryman
named Tommy who is wounded when fighting in the trenches, only to awaken and find himself in a strange civilization.
Recidivist by Gardner Dozois. Perhaps my favorite story in the whole book. In a future world, after artificial intelligence has advanced to godlike power, the few remaining humans struggle to
survive the unpredictable behavior of the AI's. I really liked how many unique ideas appear in this short story - Dozios has enough creative ideas to fill a novel.
My Name is Legion by David Morrell. Perhaps this is based upon a true incident in World War II, when the French Foreign Legion serving the Vichy government battled against other Foreign Legion
troops serving under de Gaulle and the Free French forces?
Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg. Certainly one of my favorite stories of this collection. Eleven soldier are all that remain of a garrison in a massive fort that stands between two empires. Vast and trackless wasteland stretches in all directions. The enemy has not been spotted for a long time, and orders/provisions have not come from the home front for an even longer period of time. Does the war continue? Have the soldiers been forgotten, or does their guard duty still serve a purpose? I liked the desolate environment that Silverberg describes, and the reactions of the men to the uncertainty of their war efforts.
The Scroll by David Ball. Baptiste, a French military engineer is captured by a cruel Moroccan emperor who forces him to build mighty fortifications, killing other captives if Baptiste does not
comply. The emperor has a scroll that can apparently predict all of Baptiste's reactions, but is it real? Previously I have read David Ball's novel Ironfire and recommended it highly. Also his novel Empires of Sand is pretty good too.
The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin. A story of Sir Duncan and Egg. Sir Duncan is a hedge knight wandering the lands set in Martin's Fire and Ice novels. Egg is his squire, but he is actually
Prince Aegon, the youngest son of the king. Martin tells a story where Duncan enters into a tournament at a wedding feast and finds he has stumbled into a larger story. Martin writes some entertaining stuff, but I got confused by
the lengthy list of characters and all their heraldic symbols. (I haven't read the Fire and Ice series yet, I am waiting for Martin to finish writing before I start reading).