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Operation Arcana (BAEN) by John Joseph Adams
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Operation Arcana (BAEN) (2015)

by John Joseph Adams (Editor)

Other authors: Tobias S. Buckell (Contributor), Myke Cole (Contributor), Glen Cook (Contributor), Simon R. Green (Contributor), Tanya Huff (Contributor)12 more, David Klecha (Contributor), Yoon Ha Lee (Contributor), Jonathan Maberry (Contributor), Ari Marmell (Contributor), T.C. McCarthy (Contributor), Seanan McGuire (Contributor), Elizabeth Moon (Contributor), Linda Nagata (Contributor), Weston Ochse (Contributor), Genevieve Valentine (Contributor), Carrie Vaughn (Contributor), Django Wexler (Contributor)

Series: Chronicles of the Black Company (short story "Bone Eaters")

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» See also 2 mentions

Showing 4 of 4
Read this via NetGalley and found it a very solid anthology with some surprising twists and different takes on the typical fantasy tropes. Highly recommended as even the weaker stories have some great moments in them. ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
** RULES OF ENCHANTMENT—David Klecha & Tobias S. Buckell
Tolkien's world and our own have had a portal open between them. It's taking both modern military technology and strategic alliances to fight off threats such as trolls and dragons. Unfortunately, I didn't really like the second-person voice, and the tongue-in-cheek style with geeky references to D&D and the LoTR movies didn't do it for me either.

**** THE DAMNED ONE HUNDRED—Jonathan Maberry
Classic sword-and-sorcery, plus vampires, plus a situation reminiscent of the Battle of Thermopylae. I really enjoyed this one.

**** BLOOD, ASH, BRAIDS—Genevieve Valentine
Historically interesting, AND a rousing good tale. A group of Russian WWII fighter pilots, all women, are assigned horribly dangerous missions. A bit of witchcraft may help them stay alive...

**** MERCENARY’S HONOR—Elizabeth Moon
I'm sure a lot of people will buy this anthology just for this story - a 'Paksworld' tale - and I don't believe they'll be disappointed. Familiar characters (including Kieri Phelan and Halveric) make their appearance, but this is a fully stand-alone, and cleverly entertaining tale of two mercenary commanders and how they work out a situation which initially seems untenable for both of them.

*** THE GUNS OF THE WASTES—Django Wexler
Bonus points for being what I personally feel that steampunk ought to be (weird sci-fi, not faux-Victorian romance). However, this is really a fun action scene with quirky characters, rather than a fully-developed story. It feels like (and I hope it might be) an excerpt from a forthcoming novel.

**** THE GRAPHOLOGY OF HEMORRHAGE—Yoon Ha Lee
I really enjoy Yoon Ha Lee's takes on the ideas of lexical magic. I found echoes here of some of her other work: 'Effigy Nights' and 'Iseul's Lexicon' - but this is a piece that works on its own.
A brilliant magician has been forced into a dangerous military position in official retribution for the groundbreaking - but status-quo-threatening - ideas she came up with in university. Now, her mission will require her to explore even more radical ideas - and may demand the ultimate self-sacrifice.

*** AMERICAN GOLEM—Weston Ochse
The main character goes AWOL in Afghanistan to pursue his true mission: to kill the Osama-bin-Laden-like terrorist who was responsible for his brother's death. The twist is: the 'brother' is actually a golem, created just for this purpose. The author has clearly drawn on his own experiences in Afghanistan to inform this story.

*** WEAPONS IN THE EARTH—Myke Cole
A long and rather harrowing story of a group of goblins from a nomadic tribe who have been taken prisoner by their enemies. It's a quite bleak and agonizing experience.

*** HEAVY SULFUR—Ari Marmell
Alternate-history WWI, with trench warfare and mages on both sides summoning spirits and demons. A dangerous mission behind enemy lines, with a magical element thrown into the mix.

*** STEEL SHIPS—Tanya Huff
A quick, action-oriented episode. Selkie-type shapeshifters in the midst of a war come up with a dangerous mission to protect their side from the threat of the enemy's new ironclad riverboats. Feels like an excerpt from a longer tale.

*** SEALSKIN—Carrie Vaughn
A burnt-out American military man goes to Ireland, like so many tourists, in search of his 'roots' - and faces a dramatic decision about which part of his heritage to choose to follow.

*** PATHFINDER—T.C. McCarthy
In an underground military hospital complex in Korea, a young nurse fulfills her traditional/supernatural role of escorting the souls of the dead to the afterlife. However, both her jobs are full of more than the usual hazards, both paranormal and mundane.

**** BONE EATERS—Glen Cook
The Black Company is back! And in classic form! This is another one where fans of the series may very well find this one story alone worth the price of admission.
I'll defer to those who are more detail-oriented if I'm wrong, but the events here seem to take place around the time of the events in 'The White Rose.' Croaker is the annalist and narrator, and Darling is the leader of the Company. The group is magically led to a village of Hungry Ghosts, and must use ingenuity to escape and/or nullify the threat.
Will Cook's long-promised further entries into this series be finally forthcoming soon? We can only hope...

** MOON—Simon R. Green
This is an example of exactly what I don't like alternate history to do. It takes a morally and politically complex real-life situation (the bombing of Dresden) and attempts to remove any ambiguity from it by adding in a compelling reason for the attack which never existed, and quite literally making it a battle between the forces of Good and Evil, complete with a misguided, traitorous opponent to the action. I'm sure some will see this as nothing more than an action story, but I see it as a misguided attempt to assuage historical guilt through rewriting.

**** IN SKELETON LEAVES—Seanan McGuire
Recommended for those who enjoyed Lisa Jensen's 'Alias Hook' and/or who are interested in darker explorations of the Peter Pan story. What happened in Neverland after the stories of Peter that we're all familiar with? Is the otherworld as stable as it seemed, or might it change, gradually and depending on the children that are brought to it? Children can be not just heartless, but vicious, and there's always a disturbing aspect to not growing up.

*** THE WAY HOME—Linda Nagata
A military team has somehow been caught in a hostile otherworld populated my attacking demons. By trial and error, they've learned that each death opens a temporary portal home - for only one soldier. Can the commander manage to get every member of his team home safely?

Many thanks to NetGalley and Baen books for the opportunity to read this anthology of quality military fantasy! As always, my opinion is solely my own. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
I don.'t read anthologies often. By often I mean never. I've some in the past but only select stories by select authors. It was one of those things where I read what I thought would be interesting. Or had heard was adapted into another medium like a movie. So this was the first anthology I read every story, beginning to end. It was a 40/60% split for me. The 40% that I liked was good. The other 60% didn't work for me. They were good but the other stories I felt were better. The cover hints at this being a modern military versus fantasy creatures. That happens but not in every story. Some stories start with a modern day or World War 1 or 2 setting and go from there. By the end the setting doesn't matter because by the next story I had forgotten the previous one. The order of the stories has something to do with that. I think it should stay the way it is. Just because it didn't work for me doesn't mean it's not a good order for someone else. Overall a good experience and good intro to writer I've never read. I look forward to reading older and newer anthologies now.

I read this book as an ARC from Net Galley. I thank them and the publisher for this book. ( )
  Kurt.Rocourt | May 22, 2015 |
Rules of Enchantment by David Klecha & Tobias S Buckell
The Damned One Hundred by Jonathan Maberry
Blood, Ash, Braids by Genevieve Valentine
Mercenary’s Honour by Elizabeth Moon
The Guns of the Waste by Django Wexler
The Graphology of Hemorrhage by Yoon Ha Lee
American Golem by Weston Ochse
Weapons in the Earth by Myke Cole
Heavy Sulfer by Ari Marmell
Steel Ships by Tanya Huff
Seal Skin by Carrie Vaughn
Pathfinder by T.C McCarthy
Bomber’s Moon by Simon R Green
In Skeleton Leaves by Seanan McGuire
Bone Eaters by Glen Cook
The Way Home by Linda Nagata

This anthology is connected by 2 things: soldiers and speculative fiction. Which is a pretty broad remit which I think is probably the main flaw of this book. It isn’t a major flaw because there is a lot of overlap in the speculative fiction fandom, but the bringing of high fantasy, sci-fi and urban fantasy together with such little connection doesn’t make it that coherent but I don’t think that’s especially needed; though some of the stories seem a bit out of place. I think it also helped that there are only 16 stories in this anthology – I’ve read a few lately that have a truly immense number of stories that tend to leave me thoroughly sick of the book before I’m half way through (and the fact I say “only” with 16 tells you how long they’ve been).

I’ll be honest, I kind of expected lots of action scenes and little in the way of plot – short stories and big epic fights don’t leave much room for anything else. Yes, I had low expectations (and a little semi-guilty expectation of shameless epicy action which, yes, I like, I admit it) and they were countered – a lot of these stories are surprisingly deep with either very original settings or fascinating conflicts.

In terms of original setting, I’m most impressed by In Skeleton Leaves by Seanan McGuire. A truly dark and downright disturbing retelling of Peter Pan and the Lost Boys war against the pirates. It’s dark, draws on some excellent elements of the Fisher King and is wonderfully thematic and dark and just plain eerie and slightly horrifying. It also has a fascinating retake on Wendy and Pan, turning them into titles – with male Wendys and female Pan being possible. It’s creepy and wonderful and shuddery-awesome

The Graphology of Hemorrhage by Yoon Ha Lee isn’t exactly an original setting per se – but the magic style of calligraphy presented is the most original concept in the book and related to, but utterly unlike anything I’ve read before. The art of written magic, of literature and culture and writing all underpinning magic which, in turn, comes at a terrible price for the caster is eerie and original and beautiful and, ultimately, tragic. The ending is desperately sad and bleak in its power. The wizard is a woman as well – and the characters are all East Asian.

I think Rules of Enchantment by David Klecha & Tobias S Buckell is probably the story I’d most want to see develop into a full novel and full series. Earth with portals opening up to a High Fantasy world with trolls and orcs invading Earth and human soldiers having to make alliances with elves and battle against the invaders. What I really like about it is the interesting way magic and technology meet – from helicopter gunships shooting trolls to using magic to give a military squad a more unified viewpoint and almost a hive mind. What I absolutely hate about this story, though, is it is written in the second person. This never ever ever ever works – I’ve never liked it. We follow one squad which includes a female soldier (who uses her mind bond to keep wandering-eyed men to focus) and it has a latino character as well.

There were several stories in this book which drew on real world conflicts. We’ve said before repeatedly how bad this could go with lots of appropriation but in general it didn’t go there. These taking of real world wars didn’t assert that magic caused the war or the atrocities within it – it’s just taking our world, adding magic and seeing how the mechanics of war would differ by adding woo-woo while not actually have it change the personalities involved

The Guns of the Waste by Django Wexler is a close competitor – the setting is steampunk alternate world with a racially diverse cast (including a protagonist and most of the cast) with several capable female characters holding military rank and a range of religions and cultures being developed in a very wide world that is nicely touched upon in very elegant, sparse writing. We get a powerful sense of the different cultures without having to go into too much detail and bogging down the story. We have a dire threat which has a wonderful sinister sense and some of that lovely epic conflict I was looking for.

Mercenary’s Honour by Elizabeth Moon is a high fantasy story centring around mercenaries. It’s not my favourite but it has interesting musing on loyalty, honour and contracts – conflicting loyalties and, interesting, the idea of how much a commander actually owes their soldiers. It’s an interesting take on honour which often looks at honour towards your enemies or loyalty to your lord – but what about the men under your command? It also has an aspect of looking at what an elderly mercenary – and one with a disability – does as he ages.

Blood, Ash and Braids by Genevieve Valentine is a World War 2 story following a squad of Russian female pilots. The Night Witches – actually drawing on the history of the real Night Witches and mentioning several of these actual women including Marina Raskova, Yevdokia Bershanskaya and Nadezhda Popova. This works without being too dubious because there is very little woo-woo in the story. The woo-woo comes from one of the pilots being an actual witch – but the way it is written it could equally be a superstition as much as actual magic (it’s also a really fascinating magic system) making it more of a reality based tale of these women’s heroism than “how they did it because woo-woo”

Heavy Sulfer by Ari Marmell is a World War 1 story – the British forces on the western front only now we have wizards among the machine guns controlling clouds of mustard gas and demons summoned in the trenches. It’s a fascinatingly well done and it’s an amazing combination I really just revelled in.

The characterisation isn’t bad… but kind of nothing new even with a nice twist at the end. They do include a female officer, her magic making her valuable and it’s clear that women are welcome in the arm because woo-woo isn’t limited to gender

Pathfinder by T.C McCarthy takes on the Korean war and, again, sensibly keeps the supernatural somewhat away from the conflict. War, with its brutality, its loss and the devastating pain as well as complex loyalties is all there in its human horror. The woo-woo is peripheral, there is a supernatural conflict using the war as a setting, covered by the war but not actually causing, affecting or being affected by the war; it’s one of the ways you can use these settings without appropriating it or lessening the scope of them and it’s well done. Our protagonist is a Korean woman, most of the cast is Korean and it seems to draw heavily from Korean beliefs. Her role as comfort and guide for the dying makes for a tragic yet bittersweet story and one where woo-woo doesn’t cure everything, but does make everything more bearable and understood.

Read More ( )
  FangsfortheFantasy | Apr 25, 2015 |
Showing 4 of 4
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Adams, John JosephEditorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Buckell, Tobias S.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cole, MykeContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cook, GlenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Green, Simon R.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Huff, TanyaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Klecha, DavidContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, Yoon HaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Maberry, JonathanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Marmell, AriContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McCarthy, T.C.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McGuire, SeananContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moon, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Nagata, LindaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ochse, WestonContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valentine, GenevieveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vaughn, CarrieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wexler, DjangoContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Tolkien's epic battle of good versus evil, to The Battle of the Blackwater, George R.R. Martin's grim portrait of the horror and futility of war, these fantastical conflicts reflect our highest hopes and darkest fears, bringing us mesmerizing visions of silver spears shining in the sun and vast hordes of savage beasts who threaten to destroy all that we hold dear. Now acclaimed editor John Joseph Adams is sounding the battle cry and sixteen of today's top authors are reporting for duty, spinning never-before-published, spellbinding tales of military fantasy, including a Black Company story from Glen Cook, a Paksenarrion story from Elizabeth Moon, and a Shadow Ops story by Myke Cole. Within these pages you'll also find World War I trenches cloaked in poison gas and sorcery, modern day elite special forces battling hosts of the damned, and steampunk soldiers fighting for their lives in a world torn apart by powers that defy imagination.… (more)

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