Friday, January 1, 2016

Operation Arcana, edited by John Joseph Adams

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(Military Fantasy) These sixteen entertaining stories explore the role of warfare in fantasy, with everything from marines fighting trolls, to goblins fighting each other, to angels flying airplanes. (114,007 words; Time: 6h:20m)

Rating: ★★★★☆ 4 RSR-recommended stories + 3 others out of 16

"Operation Arcana," edited by John Joseph Adams, published on by .

A Magical Anthology Worth Fighting For

Combat has turned up in high fantasy at least since the Battle of Pelinnor Fields, and seven of the sixteen stories here are drawn from that tradition. Stories that asked "what if the allies in WWII had had magic?" have been around at least since Captain America fought Hitler, and seven of these stories come from that tradition. The steampunk story involves a more nineteenth-century type of warfare, while the Neverland story is in a class by itself.

What almost all of these stories have in common is that they're uncommonly good. While we only recommended four stories as having the quality and sophistication we expect for potential Hugo Nominees, eleven more are still fun reads. By comparison, from a random set of 16 stories, we'd recommend only 2 or 3, we'd recommend against 6, and half of the remaining 7 or 8 would be "okay, but not much fun."

This anthology rocks.

Specific Recommendations

Although we didn't give five stars to any story, we found four that were worth four stars. These stories do not, in general, pack a heavy emotional punch; don't expect to cry at the end.

Bone Eaters, by Glen Cook
"The Company," an army with magical and ordinary weapons, marches toward an eventual conflict with "The Lady," a powerful, evil witch, but she does things to delay them and to try to gain control of them. This story revolves around one of those delays, but it focuses on a young girl, captured when she and friends unwisely tried to rob the Company. She has some power, although she's not trained, and it's possible that she may be of help--or not.

The Damned One Hundred, by Jonathan Maberry
The Red pass is all that stands between the Hakkian army and the people of the West. Kellur is an old, experienced soldier, and he knows his people stand no chance, but there's an old temple next to the Red Gate, where the "Sisters" worship the old gods. Kellur believes they have the power to save his people (even though they hate them) and he's willing to do anything to get their help. Anything.

The Way Home, by Linda Nagata
US Marines are used to war being Hell, but this squad is stuck there for real. Every hour a new demon materializes, and every hour they have to slay it. There are brief opportunities for people to escape, one at a time, but every soldier who escapes leaves the rest of them more vulnerable.

Weapons in the Earth, by Myke Cole
Young Twig and a group of Black-Horn goblins have been captured by the Gibberer's band. Twig's people are cattle farmers, not really fighters, but they have strong magic to help them. Unfortunately, the only sorcerer in Twig's group is senile, and Twig's own power is useless. But he needs to do something. He and his friends will die from the bitter cold if the Gibberer doesn't kill them first.

Other Reviews: Search Web, GoodReads.com

5- & 4-Star Stories: 4;  Estimated Time: 2h:07m (38K words)
Recommended By Stories: 7;  Estimated Time: 3h:03m (55K words)
Total Stories: 16;  Estimated Time: 6h:20m (114K words)
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Rating: 5 -> Hugo-worthy


Rating: 4 -> Recommended

Bone Eaters by Glen Cook  Time: 30m (9K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) A magical military company acquires some unwilling recruits, who may or may not be reliable when they encounter real danger and real evil.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4
The Damned One Hundred by Jonathan Maberry  Time: 24m (7K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) In desperation, an aging warrior and his son seek help from ancient witches to protect a mountain pass against an enormous invasion force. A damned good read.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4
The Way Home by Linda Nagata  Time: 22m (7K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
A squad of US soldiers is trapped in Hell, and every hour, a demon materializes and tries to kill them.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4 SFRevu:4
Weapons In The Earth by Myke Cole  Time: 50m (15K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(High Fantasy) Twig's small band of goblins has been captured by a larger group. They need to escape, but the winter weather is bad, and Twig's magic is still "soft."
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [4]  Recommended By: RSR:4

Rating: 3 -> Average

American Golem by Weston Ochse  Time: 20m (6K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) When a young soldier dies in Afghanistan, his grieving grandfather creates an unliving assassin and sends it after the man responsible.
Blood, Ash, Braids by Genevieve Valentine  Time: 16m (5K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Alternate History) The Russians in WWII recruit women to fly crop dusters against the Germans, who call them "witches."
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: SFEP
Heavy Sulfur by Ari Marmell  Time: 17m (5K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) Peyton's magic helps the British fight the Germans in World War I, and he's very good at it, but now they need him for a dangerous "Heavy Sulfur" mission. Whatever that means.
In Skeleton Leaves by Seanan Mcguire  Time: 21m (6K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) Neverland's eternal war between the Pan and the pirates has grown unusually nasty of late, and the Wendys are concerned about it.
Mercenary'S Honor by Elizabeth Moon  Time: 24m (7K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) A fun tale wherein an old mercenary captain's retirement plans are interrupted by a young mercenary sent to fight him.
Pathfinder by T. C. Mccarthy  Time: 19m (6K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) In a Korean War fought with spells as well as bombs, Hae Jung works in a hospital camp where she uses her secret ability to guide the dying to Heaven.
Rules Of Enchantment by David Klecha And Tobias S. Buckell  Time: 19m (6K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) A squad of US Marines escorts an Elven princess through enemy territory controlled by goblins and trolls.
Sealskin by Carrie Vaughn  Time: 22m (7K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Urban Fantasy) After a mission gone wrong, Richard, a young Navy SEAL with really great ability in the water, thinks about quitting the Navy. So he takes vacation in Ireland to look for the father he never knew.
Steel Ships by Tanya Huff  Time: 25m (8K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) Fun tale about navy seals (who really do turn into seals in the water) on a mission to destroy potentially deadly steel-hulled ships the enemy has built.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: LTilton
The Graphology of Hemorrhage by Yoon Ha Lee  Time: 15m (5K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) As one of the Empire's masters of graphological magic, Kodai has assisted in many victories, but winning today will require she give up her life--and more.
Other Reviews  RSR Mini-Review [3]  Recommended By: LTilton RHorton
The Guns Of The Wastes by Django Wexler  Time: 26m (8K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) Young recruit Pahlu sails into the Waste on a land ship to join the fight against the robotic sraa.

Rating: 2 -> Not Recommended


Rating: 1 -> Needs Improvement

Bomber's Moon by Simon R. Green  Time: 25m (8K words)  IssueOperation Arcana 
(Military Fantasy) In 1944, Hitler has sold his soul to the devil for demonic assistance to win the war. The allies are receiving help from angels, although they're not quite what everyone expected.

Rating: Not Rated

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