What usually happens throughout the year is I find books that look interesting through suvudu.com, tor.com, and io9.com, and if they are something that I need to read right now I’ll buy them, otherwise they go in the Amazon wishlist for Christmas when I get Amazon gift cards. I can’t remember where I heard about Armored, Part Human, Part Machine, All Soldier, it was probably io9.com as it was put out by Baen and I don’t normally follow Baen’s titles, but it was sometime last year, I picked it up for Christmas, and I’m very glad that I did.
Armored is an anthology of short stories focusing on mecha or power suits (this, not this ) and the soldiers who wear them. When I heard about it I was sure I was going to get the usual smattering of hit-or-miss short stories that I always encounter when reading an anthology, even among the best anthologies like Creatures) but what I received was a very tight, smart collection of short stories that delivers exactly what it promises and, while none of the stories impacted me as much as the ones I mention in my Creatures review, this may have become one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read as I pretty much enjoyed all of the short stories in it.
Filled with stories by recognizable names like Ian Douglas, Jack Campbell, Tobias S. Buckell, Dan Abnett (and, after writing Warhammer 40k fiction for so long I’d argue that there’s few people in the military sci-fi genre who know power armor better than Abnett), Simon R. Green, Michael A. Stackpole, Alastair Reynolds, and Carrie Vaughn, there were also names whom I didn’t recognize like Daniel H. Wilson and David D. Levine but whose stories I thoroughly enjoyed.
When one thinks of power armor (ok, when I think of power armor), I think of great machines of war shaking the ground with their foot steps, bringing vast destruction to the enemy and the world around them. Lasers, rockets, rail guns and other fantastic weapons are all used to great and ill effect and we certainly get that in this anthology. Despite the stories focusing, primarily, around soldiers and their weapons of war, we get a nice variety on the takes of that theme. A few stories involve people using power armor in hostile environments, such as deep under the sea or in forests where the flora really wants to eat them, but we also get some interesting ideas that take these stories beyond men and women in mecha blowing stuff up. Stories about sentient mecha who fall in love with their riders or who take their personalities and gain autonomy (including the creepy story “Trauma Pod” by Alastair Reynolds). Stories of sacrifice, both noble and horrific, some with humor but most without, it’s hard to say anything negative about this anthology.
I think the closest I can come to a criticism is that there were a few stories that didn’t really fit the theme so much as others, such as “The Green” by Lauren Beukes. A story about harvesters working on a far distant and mostly uncharted alien planet for The Evil Corporation, the story is more about how the company manipulates and screws over the workers (who aren’t soldiers), eventually enslaving them in suits filled with a parasitic slime from the planet, than it is about the power armor they wear. It meets the overall theme of the anthology by having power armor in it, but the power armor doesn’t really have any real impact on the story in my opinion. There were a few like this but, regardless, the stories were still good and I enjoyed reading them despite this criticism.
Now, all of this shouldn’t come as a surprise to me because John Joseph Adams is known to me from previous anthologies like Wastelands and The Living Dead 1 & 2. Each of these were pretty good anthologies but were much more hit or miss in my opinion, Armor is a lot better as far as story composition and relevancy is concerned. His latest anthology, The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, is out now (and on my Amazon wishlist).
I would say that if you are into military science fiction, especially military sci-fi that features giant suits of armor doing incredible things, I would very much recommend this anthology for you.