What do you think of when you hear the word “warriors”? For me, it’s Robert E. Howard creations like King Kull and Conan the Destroyer, maybe the artwork of Frank Frazetta and Heavy Metal magazine. The anthology Warriors (edited by the talented duo of George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois) stretches and expands the definition of what it means to be a warrior, and its twenty tales run the gamut of themes, genres and authors. All of the authors are talented and the stories well-written; I am, however, a bit of a traditionalist as to what I consider to be “warrior” stories - I liked reading the more-or-less straight-forward blood-and-guts types more than the others. Well, those and the SF pieces.
In his introduction, George R.R. Martin tells of the days of his youth, perusing a variety of novels all mixed together in a spinner rack in a store he often went to. It was a big influence on him, exposing him to writing of all sorts he might never otherwise have read. That’s great - I also have such memories - and, I enjoy reading many different types of genres. Many stories in this anthology are not fantasy or science fiction. If sci-fi/fantasy traditionalists are open to new genres, the collection might have some gems in it that will pleasantly surprise.
Martin himself contributes a new Song of Ice and Fire novella called “The Mystery Knight: A Tale of the Seven Kingdoms,” featuring his characters the baseborn “Hedge Knight,” Ser Duncan the Tall, and his squire, Egg. Dunk and Egg take part “in a serious tourney where absolutely nothing is as it seems - including Dunk and Egg.” It’s one of my favorite stories in the anthology, and fans of Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels and his other books might well find that this novella alone is enough to justify buying this anthology. It’s lighthearted and humorous in places, but filled with enough action, torturing and jousting to make it a highly entertaining tale.
Another standout is Diana Gabaldon’s “The Custom of the Army” featuring swashbuckling military adventurer Lord John Grey, who appears in her Outlander series and is a main character in her historical mysteries such as Lord John and the Private Matter, Lord John and the Brotherhood of the Blade and Lord John and the Hand of Devils (a collection of short stories). He encounters electric eels and voyages to the New World, encountering a mystery to solve at the Siege of Quebec. I had never read anything by Diana Gabaldon before, but I really liked this story and plan on reading more of her work in the future.
Cecelia Holland opens up the collection with “The King of Norway.” (SPOILER ALERT) I liked it for the most part, but not that the main warriors die by the end of the story. Joe Haldeman’s fine SF tale “Forever Bound” deals with teams of people linked, or “jacked,” up to each other jointly operating mechanical robots, or “soldierboys.” The first-person narrator of the story finds out how it feels when he gets psychologically and emotionally involved with nine other people on a deeply intense, personal level, and how devastating it is when the woman he’s most romantically involved with on his team dies. This was also one of my favorite stories in the anthology.
I’m a fan of Robert Silverberg’s novels and short stories, and “Soldierin’” is one of the best by him I’ve read in a while. It has a sort of Huck and Tom feel about it, but the two main characters find themselves getting into a lot of trouble. How they get out of it ensures that fans of Silverberg will enjoy the story; hopefully it will gain him some new fans, as well.
Lawrence Block’s short story “Clean Slate” is one of the aforementioned stories which stretch the definition of “warrior.” It’s a story about a woman who was sexually abused by her father as a girl. Her father called her his “little warrior.” As an adult, she seeks revenge on every man she’s ever had sex with, after having killed her mother and her father, making it look like a murder/suicide. She tells some people she’s drinking with at a bar she’s only had sex with five men in her life, but she counts only the ones who are still alive and can tell their story around a campfire. She is systematically locating and hunting down each of them, lowering the count until one day she might “be a virgin all over again..” It’s a quirky story, and probably the one I appreciated most of the non-SFF warrior tales.
Warriors is a good, extremely eclectic anthology of warrior stories and novellas. Not every tale will impress every reader equally, but one of the points of including various types of stories in the anthology is to open up readers’ literary tastes, to let them experience unfamiliar genres. On that score, the anthology works quite well.