Saturday, 27 September 2014

Book Review: Wars to End all Wars

Wars to End All WarsWars to End All Wars by G.L. Lathian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm a student of World War One and love good historical speculative fiction, so I was eager to read this. Also, in the interests of full disclosure, I'm a friend of one of the contributors. I make it a policy not to review friends' work so I won't be mentioning Andrew Leon Hudson's story "The Foundation" in this review. There's enough other material to make an overall assessment.
Things start badly with a poor introduction by editor N.E. White, who informs us "In the summer of 1914, war was declared between Germany and Russia, between Belgium and Italy, and between the Ottoman Empire and England." Not only does this statement leave out some of the major players (France? Austria-Hungary? Hello?) but it contains two historical errors. Italy did not join the war until 1915 and when it did, it was on the side of the Allies, not the Central Powers. Also, it should be "British Empire", not England.
Another editorial gaffe was White's decision to link each story to a related Wikipedia article. Even the most casual search on the Internet will find better source material, the Imperial War Museum's website or Trenches on the Web, for example.
Luckily, the stories are better than the introduction. Things get off to a strong start with an alternate history tale by Igor Ljubuncic called "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair." What if Gavrilo Princip chickened out at the last minute? We follow his life after pulling back from the fateful moment.
Lee Swift's "Wormhole" gives us simpler fare with a simple monster hunt that's good fun and captures the misery of trench life.
Wilson Geiger's "Jawohl" studies the life of a WWI veteran but appears to be set in WWII. I found it a bit disappointing with more than one cliche (like the protagonist's rage being reflected by a thunderstorm) but it was a decent effort nonetheless.
Elizabeth Moon's "Tradition" is the strongest piece in the collection, a straight-up naval adventure that tweaks history without resorting to any paranormal or futuristic elements.
"On the Cheap" by Dan Bieger has famous writers turned fairies turned WWI veterans reminiscing in an Irish pub. I found this to be an uneven effort that failed to live up to its puckish aspirations.
"One Man's War" by G.L. Lathian is a historical switcheroo between a common man and a famous historical figure that is predictable and fails to deliver any real impact.
In sum, this anthology is an uneven offering as most anthologies are. There's enough here to be worth the cover price but too many shots miss the mark for my liking.

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