Operation Arcana, edited by John Joseph Adams

Operation Arcana Book Cover Operation Arcana
John Joseph Adams
Anthology, fantasy, military, short stories
March 3 2015

How do you make a reader suddenly very interested in anthologies? You make sure that reader gets really into a specific author, and that author is one who contributes to a lot of anthologies. Like, for example, Seanan McGuire. She, gloriously, writes stories for all the things.  And it is turning me into an anthology reader, developing an appreciation for how they can offer delicious samples of authors new and unknown to me. (I do think that's positive - even if I'm simultaneously admitting I require an established favourite to make me start reading.)

Her story is the second-to-last in Operation Arcana, an anthology of military fantasy.    After some debate, I decided to save this story, In skeleton leaves, for nearly-last, and read the stories in the order they were put in.  It was smart. Felt like dessert.  The story deals with a different kind of war, in Never-never-land.  It's dark and creeps up my spine in a tingly kind of way.

John Joseph Adams is the editor of many popular anthologies, as well as the editor/publisher of Lightspeed magazine (to which I subscribe)  and a co-host of the podcast The geek's guide to the galaxy (to which I keep failing to devote my ears, but it's not for lack of interest - just that I have a hard time deciding to listen to other stuff than audiobooks once I have the earphones on).

Because it's hard to talk about an anthology as a whole, I'll instead say some things about some of the stories.  Short stories are unavoidably hit-or-miss; some of them were great, some of them less able to hold my interest.

Myke Cole's Weapons in the Earth is a terribly bleak war prisoner story with goblins and cows, or something very like cows, and enough tangible detail and dirt that I'm suddenly quite interested in reading the author's Shadow-ops books.

Yoon Ha Lee's The graphology of hemorrhage is a little sad, but more than anything it's like an informational brochure about a beautiful handwriting/calligraphy/language-based magic system, with guidelines for use and possible side effects.  I'm interested and would like to see this system featured in longer stories.

Weston Ochse's American golem puts a vengeance-seeking golem into Afghanistan, on a mission to kill a named terrorist.  It's a fresh setting for a kind of Pinocchio-tale, that is, stories about constructed human-like things, and how human they really are. (Think all the episodes about Data or the doctor on Star Trek shows.)

Ari Marmell's Heavy sulfur offers an episode from the first world war, which was largely caused by, and fought by, occultists and demons. I like this setting a lot.  Occultism and the world wars are, obviously, a perfect fit.

Carrie Vaughn's Sealskin is pretty, and readable, though the title describes it in its entirety to anyone familiar with the relevant piece of folklore (which I am thanks to the aforementioned Seanan McGuire, actually).

Jonathan Maberry's The damned one hundred is one of the more memorable stories of this collection, which I didn't even realise until just now, typing things about it.  Like several of the other stories, it adresses the, um, desperate times that call for very desperate measures. Pretty much the core of all things epic, right?

Glen Cook's Bone eaters might be more meaningful to a reader with pre-existing familiarity with the Black Company, but it is actually good enough to make me want to read those books, so - that's a win.

I usually enjoy Linda Nagata's short stories, especially the horror-flavoured ones, and The way home is no exception. A band of soldiers have accidentally ended up in a terrible elsewhere, full of demons. There is a way home, but it's not... it's not that easy.

All in all, I had a good time with this anthology.  I came away with a couple of new author names added to my pay-attention-to list, and re-discovered how good military SFF writing can be, and that it is possibly the subgenre that provides the biggest, craziest, heaviest friendships.

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