"War Stories reveals the truth. War is what we are."
With this statement, War Stories launches us into a dizzying, kaleidoscopic universe in which we see combat and killing, and soldiers and civilians, in uncanny new ways. The twenty-three stories in this anthology imagine scenarios ranging from drone attacks in Syria to interplanetary conflicts involving technology that is years ahead of our time; and it is this juxtaposition of the near- and far-future that clarifies how much war changes while staying the same.
Grouped into four sections ("Wartime Systems," "Combat," "Armored Force," and "Aftermath"), these stories consider war from a variety of possible angles and points of view. There are clones and uploaded consciousnesses, PTSD sufferers and drone operators, mothers and lovers. Many of the authors focus on what the future holds for soldiers' bodies- how they'll react to biological "upgrades," high-tech prosthetics, brain implants, and even teleportation. Others consider the role of militarized suits, advanced drones, and virtual reality.
I found several stories particularly compelling in this collection: "The Radio" by Susan Jane Bigelow, "Non-Standard Deviation" by Richard Dansky, "In Loco" by Carlos Orsi, and "Enemy State" by Karin Lowachee.
The first imagines a world in which "patriotic citizens" pledge to donate their bodies to the war effort when they die, and those bodies are then processed into a synthetic being that can re-enter the combat zone. in "The Radio," a "synthetic" nicknamed "Kay" is abandoned on the enemy planet after her convoy is destroyed. With no more orders from headquarters and no further purpose to fulfill, she falls in with a group of renegade humans who have rejected the war completely.
In "Non-Standard Deviation," we learn about a project that was meant to "create a bleeding-edge virtual reality space that could be reprogrammed to represent any battlefield scenario down to the granularities of terrain weather conditions, OPFOR tactics and gear, and just about anything else you could think of." Trouble is, the simulated fighters have become self-aware and when faced with the man sent in to talk to them, declare that they refuse to fight any longer. Thus, the virtual reality meant to help prepare soldiers for "real war" has become a battleground in its own right.
I found "In Loco" particularly interesting because it envisions a kind of warfare that doesn't seem very far off: while most of the killing is done by drones, humans with criminal records are drafted to work specific, delicate missions, where they help guide and orient their accompanying drones. When the loco at the center of this story encounters men and women who are fighting one another face-to-face, he realizes just how deeply he scorns remote-controlled war and acts accordingly.
Finally, "Enemy State" is unlike all the others because it is basically one long love-letter. Told from the perspective of a man who's in love with a soldier on active duty, it asks us to consider what war does to the families and friends left behind. There's the soldier who keeps leaving for "the front," returning each time with less of his former human self; and then there's the soldier's lover, Jake, who fights his own inner war over whether or not to wait for the soldier to return. The narrative voice is at once hopeful, desperate, despairing, and triumphant. The inner life of an emotionally-wounded noncombatant is exquisitely captured here.
So let me put it this way: if you love anthologies that bring together talented authors who all imagine the same topic in diverse, unique ways, then go get yourself a copy of War Stories right now. GO.