John Joseph Adams is quickly becoming my editor du jour, with numerous anthologies on different themes sitting on my bookshelf (or in my "I want this book" database). I love short stories anyway, which makes the anthologies even more attractive. Armored is an anthology about powered armor in all its forms, mostly set in distant science fiction settings. As with many anthologies, it's not a perfect mix of stories, with some being more of a chore to read. Overall, though, it's an excellent collection that will keep you wanting to read just one story before putting it down for the night.
You might think stories all based around armor of some kind wouldn't contain much variety. You would be wrong. One of the best stories in the collection, "The Cat's Pajamas" by Jack McDevitt, is simply a story about rescuing a cat from an isolated station that has been exposed to space. Armor doesn't serve to protect from firearms here, as in most of the other stories. Instead, it's just a spacesuit used to get from the rescuer's ship to the station and get the cat back. McDevitt fills even such a simple-sounding story with tension and excellent characterization.
Another interesting tale, Karin Lowachee’s "Nomad," is about a futuristic society where armor with artificial intelligence is bonded with children at an early age. This story follows the relationship that develops between an AI and the man "she" has been bonded with, and what happens when that man is killed. It's almost a society of intelligent armor, quite a fascinating concept.
The stories don't all take place in the future. "The Last Days of the Kelly Gang" actually takes place in 1880s Australia and involves the notorious Australian criminal Ned Kelly and an old man named Ike who is forced to create a suit of steam-powered armor so that Kelly can fight off the law closing its noose around him. A brilliant inventor, Ike self-exiled after the mishap of one of his greatest inventions. It's a nice character piece about the man and his regrets, as well as his relationship with the gang as he races against time to build the armor, hoping that Ned won't kill him in the process.
That's the common theme throughout most of these stories: character. Despite all of the stories being about armor of some sort, most of the authors manage to create vivid characters that make the stories interesting even as we marvel at the creativity behind just how the armor works.
Not all of the stories work as well. Carrie Vaughn's "Don Quixote" takes place during the Spanish Civil War. Two Republican soldiers have built some powered armor that could reverse the tide of the war against Franco's Nationalists. A photographer and reporter happen upon them and stay with them for a bit, until one of them realizes that something as dangerous as this armor should not exist. I didn't find myself caring about the characters that much, and the ending seems a bit clichéd.
Armored is an impressive collection of stories with few that I didn't at least enjoy a little bit, even if they didn't quite work for me (even "Don Quixote" was an entertaining read). With 23 stories filling out the anthology, it's well worth your time to check out.