Science fiction and fantasy                                            

Further Conflicts

edited by Ian Whates


The subject of this anthology is warfare in all its myriad forms. Ian Whates has gathered together an impressive lineup of contributors for an assault on our senses that takes in aliens, robots, zombie-like flesh hunters and a whole lot of menaces in between. Just as war drives invention, Further Conflicts has inspired its writers to greater and greater feats of invention.

Dan Abnett begins the collection with The Wake, in which cynical soldiers watch over the dead body of a fallen comrade. But in spite of the pressure of war raging around them they take time to drink in memory of the dead. It's a macho story that sets the tone for the rest of the collection with paranoia, weirdness, and boisterous characters with itchy trigger fingers. You can practically smell the blood and cordite.

Gareth L. Powell's The New Ships tackles the theme of the need to sacrifice people in war, particularly young people. It's set in a near-future Britain shaken by the collateral damage from a war that does not even concern mankind, and the story goes to a gruesome extreme. While it's shiny and high-tech, Kim Lakin-Smith's The Harvest portrays a gas-lit future of decaying buildings and a society that has degenerated into near anarchy. Pollution has contaminated Wiltshire and turned some people into monsters. It's up to Bluze Christchurch to defend the children of Ridgeway School from flesh-seeking attackers. I enjoyed this action-packed story due to its creepily atmospheric combination of old and new, with pig iron and mist and creatures that are part cyborg, part Frankenstein's monster.

Tony Ballantyne tackles the issue of propaganda and the flow of information with The War Artist. The artist in question has a tough job to try to convince the fighting forces he's embedded with of his value. The background is countries that have been torn apart by denial of service attacks on their computer infrastructure, with information turning into a weapon of war. It's a story with a clever, satisfying ending.

Colin Harvey's Occupation is a subtle story about compromise and betrayal. A doctor struggles to do his best for himself and a group of Latin American villagers when they're faced with a vastly superior alien invasion force. Traditional science fiction settings and premises turn up again in stories like Eric Brown's space-based The Soul of the Machine and Extraordinary Rendition by Steve Longworth, set in a prison facility on the Moon. Although Extraordinary Rendition has an obvious political parallel with the detentions at Guantanamo Bay, there's nothing at all obvious about its marvellous twist ending.

Andy Remic's Yakker Snak stands apart for its sheer boyish craziness. Anne is a normal woman with a happy working life and a bit of a past until new neighbours move in and drive her to extremes. Its vivid build-up to total insanity is especially memorable:

"My teeth were razors. My eyeballs filled with tepid maggots. My fists clenched napalm. Hate snuggled up to me, with a big warm wet sloppy kiss."

Philip Palmer's The Legend of Sharrock has an appealing exoticism, whilst Adam Roberts' The Ice Submarine mixes crushing claustrophobia with a clash of religious ideologies. The final story, Welcome Home, Janissary, features a woman who belongs to an enslaved people in the far future. Worse than her own enslavement and the uncontrollable manipulation of her feelings is the thought that her child has been so utterly changed by her alien masters that he's no longer even human any more. Tim C. Taylor's story is one of the most bleak, yet it's still a very satisfying read.

There are no weak links in Further Conflicts. Although the anthology varies widely from exuberant battles to disorienting freakishness to deeply pensive tales, the stories are all fiercely brilliant.

23rd May 2011

Book Details

Year: 2011

Categories: Books

  Science fiction

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Review © Ros Jackson