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Epic space opera (in bite sized pieces),
This review is from: Conflicts (Paperback)
As Mr. Whates says in his introduction, Conflicts is "defiantly SF... with a space ship on the front" and everything. Although that's the ostensible limit to the book's rebellion, the selection of stories showcases well-written science fiction's power to encapsulate big ideas in small spaces.
Conflicts does begin with a fairly traditional war story, that is, if anything by Andy Remic could be called traditional. "Psi.Copath" is one of Mr. Remic's Combat K adventures, following a group of hard-shooting, hard-swearing hard men (and women) as they explode things across the universe. There's wise-cracking, general skullduggery and some inventive cursing.
Michael Cobley's "The Marker's Mark" has all the hallmarks of Golden Age SF - silly alien names, warring one-note villains, ill-defined omnipotent technology and a fortune cookie ending. That said, it is also a strong examination of the potency of monopoly and the power of greed.
Keith Brooke's "Sussed" follows Chan, a far future coder who works for a notorious crime lord, Geno. At the start of the story, he's fleeing his employer. Chan's been caught in flagrante with his boss' sister and knows he's in serious trouble. Even as Chan gets further and further away from Earth (and develops many new and interesting problems), his focus is always on his homeland.
Neal Asher's "The Cuisinart Effect" sees a hard-nosed officer leads a group of soldiers into the distant past in order to foil their enemy's plot to kidnap dinosaurs and use them as weapons of mass destruction. I'm not familiar with Mr. Asher's other work, but got the impression that this was linked into an existing world. I'm sure I missed a few nuances because of that, but, whatever. Dinosaurs.
Set on the morning of 7 July 2005, Rosanne Rabinowitz's "Harmony in My Head" features a young, love-struck mathematician. She's pondering the nature of infinity and reminiscing about her past when the bombs start to go off. The tale is themed around the idea of possibility - moments passed by, opportunities missed and, ultimately, the anger and frustration of having the infinite potential of the future taken away.
"Our Land", by Chris Beckett, is a powerful, if somewhat raw, story about an alternate England - one divided by political tension and foreign occupation. The English bargain with the Brythons for a limited independence as the country is overwhelmed by roadblocks, barricades and suicide bombers.
Gareth Powell's "Fallout" is another contemporary tale. This time, Britain has been devastated by an exploding alien craft and the ensuing nuclear meltdown as the ship crashed on top of reactors. The story follows an American boy band and their savvy handler, Ann, as they tour the ruined landscape for publicity and photo ops. They soon run into trouble in the form of a nasty scavenger, looting the ruins in search of a valuable alien weapon.
Martin McGrath's "Proper Little Soldiers" follows a young woman and her friends as they prowl a post-invasion landscape, fleeing their alien hunters. Mr. McGrath's succinct prose leaves the horrors of the recent past to the imagination and instead focuses on the current predicament. The aliens hunt by echolocation and the scene where they've pinned down the protagonist is one of the most harrowing in the entire collection.
Una McCormack's "War Without End" features Mark Shard, an elderly military officer, and former commander of a massive war almost four decades in the past. Shard, furious with his political overseers and worried that his legacy will be rendered meaningless, consents to an interview with an archivist. As he tells his side of the story, the truth begins to out...
"Dissimulation Procedure", by Eric Brown, is more of a romp. A vaguely roguish space captain is lured (not unwillingly) into helping a beautiful young woman escape from her family and the drones they've sent after her. There's not a huge amount of substance to the story, but that doesn't prevent it from being a good old-fashioned pulp tale of dodging evil robots in the Scottish Highlands.
David L. Clements' "The Long Run" is a (very) hard SF tale of the last survivors of the human race, hurtling through the universe in cryogenic sleep. The ship's guardians are abruptly roused in "codespace", the craft's virtual world. The ship is under attack and, worse yet, most of its mission parameters are gone. The code itself is corrupt, meaning that the guardians themselves are unreliable.
Jim Mortimore's "Last Orders" is completely crazy - and easily my favorite story in the anthology. A group of power-suited uber-commandos are drinking in an off-world bar when tragedy strikes. A bar brawl ensues, one that goes spiralling further and further out of control.
Finally, Martin Sketchley's "Songbirds" is another ambitious, contemporary tale of alien invasion. The reader follows Kate, the young protagonist, as her world rapidly expands from social media follies to alien gas attacks.
Ian Whates has repeatedly shown himself to be the UK's finest editor of science fiction and Conflicts is no exception. The theme is undoubtedly broad and many of these stories merely revel in the joy of being unabashedly SF. However, the collection showcases how genre fiction can identify and extrapolate on key ideas; examinations of greed, guilt and madness among them. There's nothing wrong with a spaceship or two, but the best stories in the collection are focused less on the symptoms of the future than the psychology of people living in it.