Monday, August 22, 2016

The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF 2015 - David Afsharirad, ed.

I had pretty much given up contemporary science fiction as a lost cause, but over the past few years I’ve discovered there’s still plenty of stuff out there I like to read. I just didn’t know where to look for it. If you’re in the same boat, a good starting place is THE YEAR’S BEST MILITARY & ADVENTURE SF 2015, a fine collection edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen. The authors are a mixture of veteran writers such as David Drake, David Brin, David Weber (honest, there are people involved in this book who aren’t named David), Hank Davis (well, that’s still close), and Brad R. Torgersen (completely David-free), as well as newer writers like Eric Leif Davin, Claudine Griggs, and Seth Dickinson. Then there’s Brendan DuBois, hardly a new writer but fairly new to SF, and Joe R. Lansdale, who, of course, is a genre unto his own self.

Those two contribute my favorite two stories in the book. DuBois’s “The Siege of Denver” is an absolute knockout, a fine piece of MilSF that ties in with his novel DARK VICTORY (which I have and hope to be reading soon). Lansdale’s “The Wizard of the Trees” is pure fun, an Edgar Rice Burroughs-inspired adventure on Venus the way long-time readers like me wish it was.

Not all the stories quite worked for me, which is not surprising. I never expect to like all the stories in an anthology, but you might enjoy some of the ones that weren’t to my taste. The others from this volume I particularly liked are “Save What You Can”, the first Hammer’s Slammers story by David Drake in quite a while; Brad R. Torgersen’s “Gyre”, part of a multi-author series called The Sargasso Containment that’s been running in the magazine Galaxy’s Edge; “Helping Hand” by Claudine Griggs and “Twilight on Olympus”, two problem stories in the classic SF tradition that end very differently; and David Brin’s “The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss”, a hard SF tale set on a far future Venus, or rather, at the bottom of one of Venus’s oceans.

David Afsharirad has assembled a very good collection here, and I hope he continues putting together these annual volumes for a while. I’ll certainly be a regular reader if he does. Recommended.


Ben Boulden said...
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Richard Robinson said...

First question, James, is why did you give up, or just about give up, on contemporary SF as a "lost cause"? Seems to me there's lots to like in the stories and novels coming out these days. Is it because a lot of it is character driven instead of plot-centric, or isn't it "hard" enough? I can understand that, but surely Scalzi, James S. A. Corey, Brin and many others would work?

Second question is why military SF appeals.

Then a comment. A couple of the authors you name, particularly Torgerson, are members of the Sad Puppy slate which have tried to game the Hugo Awards the last few years. That's enough to for me to not read them, though I did try his work and, before I knew anything of his activities and opinions, thought the stories were very weak indeed.

There are some authors I do like there, those Davids and a few others, but overall, I'll pass.

James Reasoner said...

Well, let's tackle this backwards. I'm not going to fight the Hugo Wars here, so I'll just say that having read extensively on the issue and being fairly well acquainted with people on both sides of it, we'll have to agree to disagree about the intent and the character of the Sad Puppies. Say what you want about Vox Day and the Rabid Puppies and we'd probably agree about that part of it. As for the work itself, I really enjoyed what I've read by Torgersen, his novel (which is actually a fix-up/expansion of two novellas) and one of his short story collections. His story "Ray of Light" is one of the best SF stories I've read in recent years. But that's purely a matter of taste and I'm fine with everybody liking or disliking whatever.

David Weber addresses the question of military SF's appeal in his introduction to this volume. I like it, despite not having any military background myself, because it generally has a bigger scope and more action and is more plot-driven. That's what I grew up reading. However, I realize I'm not like many SF readers because SF has never been the bulk of my reading. It's nearly always been behind Westerns and mysteries as far as the sheer number of books I read, although I read enough that I might still go through 30 or 40 SF novels or collections in a year, which is a fairly significant number, I think.

Of the authors you mention, I like Brin's work, what I've read of it. Corey is one of the authors I want to try but haven't gotten around to. I have his (their) first book on my Kindle. I have trouble finding the time to read long books. Scalzi . . . well, I read OLD MAN'S WAR and liked it okay, started the second book in that series and didn't finish it, and haven't felt compelled to pick up anything else, despite the fact that one of my daughters is a big fan of his work. Also, he's made some comments in the past couple of years that have made me much less likely to read anything by him, as you feel about Torgersen. I figure in both cases they'll get by without us just fine. Most of my problem with many authors of current SF is that they're not good storytellers, in my opinion. I tried to read Jemisin's book that just won the Hugo and made it only a few pages. Didn't grab me. Not to my taste. I'm a lot quicker on the trigger when it comes to putting books aside than I used to be.

But here's my biggest gripe with current SF on both sides of the Puppy/Anti-Puppy split: The books are too damn long. I touched on that above, and it's a real problem for me. I just can't wade through 800 page books anymore. I can barely make it through one that's 400 pages. More than anything else that's why I've started reading more self-published and small press books. They're usually not as long.

I'm a pulp guy. Blow up some spaceships. Meet some strange creatures. Save the universe. And do it in 60,000 words or less. Then you've got a book. Everyone else's mileage may vary, but that's what mine is.

Keith West said...

I've read about 1/3 of this anthology and am liking it so far.

And I'm with you on the pulp stuff and shorter books.

Richard Robinson said...

You make good points, and aside from not liking the story collection by that one author I think we're pretty much on the same page. The Scalzi struck me as very Heinlein-like, which is the stuff I grew up on. The Jemisin is dark fantasy, if I read it right, and that's not my cuppa. I certainly agree with you on long books, and the Corey is that, but the first two (all I've read so far) kept me turning the pages.

I read only SF/F from about age 10 to 25, when I came across some hard-boiled stuff by a fellow named Chandler. I love pulp stuff too. I think we're in the same patch here, James, and I'd pick up military SF in a minute by Weber; have done, read all the Honor Harrington stories and novels.

Maybe I was just a little grumpy about the whole slate thing this morning. I might even try the book, if the library has a copy. Peace.

James Reasoner said...

The library is always a good solution, and if they've got a copy you ought to read Weber's intro, anyway, plus the DuBois, Lansdale, Drake, and Brin stories. All good solid stuff. I liked the one by Eric Leif Davin a lot, too.

You mention the Honor Harrington series, and that's one I really want to read. I have the first couple of books, plus a collection that has a story about the character as a midshipman. Weber calls it a novella. Hey, it's 170 pages of fairly small print. That's a novel, in my book! (No pun intended.)

Ben Boulden said...
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S. Craig Zahler said...

I savor the pulps, but science fiction and crime are two genres that I think got much, much better after the initial wave of 10 cent fiction.

Fighting in space/aliens that speak english types of sci-fi lack the most important aspect of science fiction for me: A sense of wonder. Scientific extrapolations and developments are at the core of all of my favorites in this genre. Overall, they are more concerned with these extrapolations than fun adventuring and excitement, and when I want adventuring and excitement, I read Adventure pulps and Spider novels.

Of the modern sci-fi guys, Greg Egan is the master--his book Diaspora is one of my five favorites ever of any genre. A staggering work that feels like 2001 to the tenth power. But his stuff is hard science fiction, very, very, very hard, which people are either interested in figuring out or not. His short story book Axiomatic and his novella collection Dark Integers are superb, and his book Quarantine is responsible for me learning more about quantum mechanics. His works as well as those of Stephen Baxter (Raft & Manifold: Time) and Ted Chiang are real high points...but this is in the style that started with personal elder statesman favorites like Stanley G. Weinbaum (Martian Odyssey & Lotus Eaters), Arthur C. Clarke, and Hal Clement (Mission of Gravity) more than Heinlein, whose redundant and pedantic work I don't care for at all.

None of these new authors may be for Reasoner and crew, but to me, their works are the furthest evolution of science fiction as its own unique genre that encourages new, different thinking, chills, awe, and wonderment.

James Reasoner said...

What I've read by Stephen Baxter I've liked quite a bit. Greg Egan is one of the writers I want to try but haven't gotten around to yet, although I've heard that his work is hard enough that it sort of scares me. Ted Chiang is a sort of familiar name, but that's all. I'll check him out. When I first started reading SF in the mid-Sixties, I was pretty influenced by my sister's boyfriend, who was the first SF fan I knew. His favorites were Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, ERB, and Doc Smith. Stylistically, a pretty wide range there! As I went along I read Weinbaum and liked his work. Clement is one of the old-timers I never read much by.

Chiang is a fairly new writer, or at least I get the sense he is, but surely Baxter and Egan are considered old pros by now. I've seen their books around for 20 years, at least.

I'll give just about any author a try, new or old, but these days, they'd better hook me fast. Too many books still out there to read to force myself to stay with something if I'm not enjoying it.