I'm not a huge fan of war-themed or military SF, but these "Mammoth" books are usually good value, Whates and Watson have an excellent track record as anthology editors, and I like to keep an open mind, so I thought I'd take a punt on something that falls outside my usual SF radar.
I'm glad I did. It's a solid anthology with enough thud and blunder for those who like that kind of thing, and enough other stuff for readers like me with different tastes. Overall, if it were possible to give a three-and-a-half star review, I'd have done so. And 7/10 is a pretty good pass grade.
Why not four stars, then? Well, because of the hardcore military stuff, which for me was much of a muchness and rather dull. The low point was David Drake's "Caught In The Crossfire", which combined meat and potatoes prose, a plot "twist" I guessed by the end of the first page, and virtually no SF premiss other than it taking part in his "Hammer's Slammers" universe. Given the anthology's theme, and Drake's undeniable prominence in the sub-genre, it makes sense for him to be here, but the story did nothing for this reader. On the other hand, I was very fond of both Fred Saberhagen's "Berserker" story "The Peacemaker" and David Weber's "The Traitor", a continuation of Keith Laumer's "Bolo" series. I wouldn't have normally looked twice at either franchise, given their martial focus, so if a lily-livered, yeller-brickin', gold-bellied pinko milksop like me can be charmed by them, the editors must be doing something right. Point of fact, the two sentient tanks in "The Traitor" are the most engaging characters in the whole book.
The anthology takes a very broad view of "SF wars", to the extent that stories like Cordwainer Smith's "The Game of Rat and Dragon", wonderful as it is, are hard to categorise as "war" at all. In terms of historical scope, the contents range from the 1940s (Fredric Brown's still-great "Arena", inevitably, which is to SF anthologies what "Don't tell him Pike!" is to discussions of Dad's Army) to three stories which were newly-minted in 2012 and make their first appearance here (Resnick & Torgersen, Green and Asaro). Most are comparatively recent. "Time Piece", the first instalment of Joe Haldeman's "Forever War", is present and correct, and as an excerpt from THE great SF war novel it gives the anthology great authority.
It's usually silly to single out high- and low- points in anthologies, but given this one's potential to alienate peaceniks, I'll do it anyway, in order to emphasise the book's diversity. Apart from the stories already mentioned, I liked the satirical approaches of Laura Resnick and William Tenn, Simon Green's brilliant updating of the mythical/sense of wonder aspects of Cordwainer Smith and the early Delany, John Lambshead's steampunk space operatics and the exquisitely measured prose of the Gene Wolfe story. On t'other hand, if Walter Jon Williams' "Solidarity" isn't the longest piece here, it felt like it, as it goes on and on and on without much happening other than the author falling in love with his characters.
Overall, it's a job well done, offering a selection of stories that will provide pleasures to both the sabre-rattlers and the Guardianistas in the SF reader base. It's also notable that political posturing from either the right or the left is conspicuously absent. The one viewpoint that comes through time and again (and which readers from both ends of the political spectrum should share) is compassion for the Poor Blood Infantry - and the civilians who get caught up in all this mess.
The full contents, following the editors' brief introduction, are:
Peacekeeper - Mike Resnick and Brad R. Torgersen
From Out of the Sun, Endlessly Singing - Simon R. Green
All for Love - Algis Budrys
The War Artist - Tony Ballantyne
The War Memorial - Allen Steele
Politics - Elizabeth Moon
Arena - Fredric Brown
Peacekeeping Mission - Laura Resnick
The Peacemaker - Fred Saberhagen
Junked - Andy Remic
The Liberation of Earth - William Tenn
A Clean Escape - John Kessel
Storming Hell - John Lambshead
Solidarity - Walter Jon Williams
The Price - Michael Z. Williamson
The Horars of War - Gene Wolfe
The Traitor - David Weber
The Game of Rat and Dragon - Cordwainer Smith
Caught in the Crossfire - David Drake
The Rhine's World Incident - Neal Asher
Winning Peace - Paul McAuley
Time Piece - Joe Haldeman
The Wake - Dan Abnett
The Pyre of New Day - Catherine Asaro