Armored is an anthology of various stories centered around armored suits of one kind or another. The stories vary widely from the 1850′s to far off futures. For Star Wars fans, there are some familiar themes: aliens, science fiction, and space ships. Some of the armor is a lot like what a Mandalorian might wear or some similarly equipped bounty hunter. There’s also some familiar authors including Sean Williams, Michael Stackpole, and John Jackson Miller. Interestingly enough, their stories were some of my favorites and they truly stood out from the rest.
With twenty three different stories, the collection was a good mix of different themes. While I did not like all of the stories, there were enough of them that I did like to warrant reading the anthology. It also opened my eyes to a couple new authors I might try out. If you enjoyed the Iron Man movies, the mech suits and marines in Aliens, and generally like sci-fi stories, then Armored is a book you’ll probably enjoy. Below you’ll find a brief look at each story.
The Johnson Maneuver
by Ian Douglas and William H. Keith
A marine is stuck in the middle of an alien uprising and his hands are tied. Denied access to the heavy weaponry he needs, one marine must strive to stop a slaughter and save his men. The story also makes a nod to some real life Marine history. With some strange looking lobster like aliens, a battle with a towering mech, and a good dose of action, it wasn’t too bad of a story.
by Jack Campbell
A heavy mechanized infantry unit is stationed on a desolate world gripped in battle. The armored suits they wear are beyond normal powered suits; people can actually live in them without ever leaving. The suits also have the ability to execute any soldier who disobeys a command. Giving a look at what combat is like in this setup, the story takes an odd twist and the main character finds that things are much worse than they appear. The narration is a bit rough, but the idea is pretty interesting.
by David Klecha and Tobias S. Buckell
Set in Venezuela, a group of marines find that their power armor is ill suited for the thick jungle. Carrying their mission out on foot, they pursue Columbian druglords and run into something much worse: Chinese mechs. Against impossible odds, the under armed marines must hold out against superior tech. It’s a nice action story with soldiers fighting against mechs in the jungle.
The Last Run of the Coppelia
by Genevieve Valentine
The sci-fi, futuristic story follows a group of aqua-mech salvagers. While gathering algae, they come across something that gets them into serious trouble. A group of misfits must use their mechs to stand off against their attackers in a fast paced with strange technology. It can be a little confusing at times, but I did enjoy how their mechs have artificial intelligence and personalities. Genevieve is a very good storyteller, however the ending leaves you wanting a little bit more.
Death Reported of Last Surviving Veteran of Great War
by Dan Abnett
This was an odd story that felt like it was a reinterpretation of the last surviving veteran of World War I. Instead of a WWI vet, it’s told by a 347 year old man who was a Shell. The Shells were a type of battle armor that had great power and destructive abilities. The veteran shares his memories as a reflection on his life. He’s the last of his kind. The story was brief but well told.
The Cat’s Pajamas
by Jack McDevitt
A routine supply mission in space turns into a rescue…for a cat. This strange tale covers the extent of what one spacer is willing to go through to save a cat. At first I thought the story was neat, but as it turned into ‘operation save the cat’ it got boring. Once it ends, the story just seems dull.
Find Heaven and Hell in the Smallest Things
by Simon R. Green
This story has some nice prose: “They threw me into Space and then dropped me into Hell, with just a dead women’s voice to comfort me. They should have known better. They should have known what would happen.” Stuck in a powered armored suit on a ship heading for a ferocious planet named Abaddon, the main character finds himself at war with world full of murderous plants. “Hell can be Heaven, if you look at it with the right eyes.” An interesting story and I really enjoyed some of the prose.
Power Armor: A Love Story
by David Barr Kirtley
A man from a dismal future travels to the past in hopes of escape. Safe within the confines of his body armor, he hides from those who would seek him harm. When an assassin from the future finds him, he struggles to maintain his sanity and a desire to be something else. Is love worth the risk of death? An odd love story, but interesting.
The Last Days of the Kelly Gang
by David D. Levine
Unlike most of the other stories, this one is set in the past. Ned Kelly was a real life outlaw in Australia, and this little tale explores what would have happened if his gang had forced someone to make them a suit of armor. The inventor comes up with an iron monstrosity powered by steam that turns Ned Kelly into the Iron Man of Australia’s wild wild west. I like westerns and outlaws and for me, this story was very enjoyable.
by Michael A. Stackpole
Stackpole takes the powered armor story into a modern setting. In his story the CIA is running an operation in Libya to rescue some trapped agents. On one side a UAV pilot stationed in the US remotely flies a drone providing intel and cover fire. On the ground a solider is testing a new piece of equipment: the XMWP-1. The experimental mobile weapons platform is more or less a warmech. It’s a fun story with good action, good characters, and neat use of current/bleeding edge technology in modern warfare.
by Alastair Reynolds
Sgt. Mike Kane’s op has gone to hell and now he’s wounded and stranded on the battlefield. He finds hope in a trauma pod, a robotic unit that can provide medical treatment on the battlefield. Inside the pod he’s face with some tough decisions: do I let them amputate, do I let them operate on my brain, or do I hold out for evac and real hospital? A strange twist makes this story rather interesting, though the ending could have used more closure.
by David Sherman
Kind of an interesting story that centers around some marines exploring a derelict ship and encountering some hostile, alien forces.
You Do What You Do
by Tanya Huff
This story flowed a bit better than some of the others. Once again there are marines fighting for a Confederation, this time in some ground combat. The story winds up with an odd ending. Getting there explored a little bit of the boundary between human and machine.
by Karin Lowachee
Easy going prowse, extremely strange, foreign plot concepts, coupled with a very intriguing setup made this story quite enjoyable. On top of that were some good intellectual threads. I’d certainly read more by this author.
by John Jackson Miller
John served up a story with a Surgical Assault Team that’s been sent to eliminate The Spore. In an ongoing conflict, this everyday battle turns into something a bit more complicated. The team has to compromise and adapt when the gear the they need doesn’t show up. There’s some humor, and overall the story is a bit different and adds something to the overall book.
Transfer of Ownership
by Christie Yant
This story is told from the perspective of a power suit that has to helplessly watch as its owner is killed. Worse yet, the killer then hijacks the suit. What follows is a series of flashbacks, an exploration of artificial intelligence, feelings, freedom, and revenge. Brief, odd, and enjoyable.
Heuristic Algorithm and Reasoning Response Engine
by Ethan Skarstedt and Brandon Sanderson
Karith Marvudi is an operator with a mech named HARRE (Harry). Karith and HARRE have the arduous task of taking on a self-replicating machine infestation that can build endless swarms of weapon systems. Karith has to act fast and against overwhelming odds to help an alien race. With the help of a pilot named Nicolette, he wades into some serious combat. The story was pretty interesting but it ended in a cliff hangar.
by Carrie Vaughn
Out of the dozens of sci-fi marine stories, Don Quixote stands apart. This story is set in pre-World War II Spain during the Spanish Civil War between Franco and the Popular Front Government. The focus is a couple of American journalists who come across an unstoppable homemade tank that could turn the tide of the war. While the concept is kind of neat, the storytelling is very flawed. Being a bit of a history and tank buff, the ideas the author came up with were beyond believable. The two Spaniards make a tank that is very fast and mobile but also sports two 152mm, auto firing canons. The tank is also pretty much impervious to anything the enemy can lob at them. It can wipe out enemy battalions in a matter of minutes. First off, tanks during this time period had main cannons that were normally around 30-40mm. Even the big cannons were only low velocity 75mm guns. Furthermore, even the big guns later in the war weren’t auto-loaders. The late model 152mm guns were loaded in two parts: shell and powder charge. The process was extremely slow. If a major country in full on war mode can’t develop a large caliber, auto-loading cannon, then I doubt a couple of Spaniards are going to pull it off in 1936.
This may be the first case of a Gary Stu character that was a tank.
by Wendy N. Wagner and Jak Wagner
Set in the future, Earth has become a tourist attraction where it’s beauty is preserved like a massive wildlife preservation. Rangers are tasked with patrolling the wilds in search of poachers. Since it’s the future, the rangers wear power armor and the poachers fly around in spaceships. Kind of an interesting approach for a story.
by Lauren Beukes
This story felt like it was heavily inspired by Avatar. Down on their luck refugees can sign up to become harvesters on a deadly planet. There they collect flora and fauna for a heartless, profit driven corporation. The harvesters come across a certain kind of mold that basically turns people into zombies. Of course the corporation loves it so the harvesters are sent out to get more and the story devolves into a conflict that was anti-climatic.
Sticks and Stones
by Robert Buettner
Ethan is a surveyor whose job is to explore new worlds and make contact with their indigenous people. Borrowing a theme from Stargate, humans were mysterious seeded across the galaxy, so the surveyors encounter human like civilizations. In this case Ethan comes across some stone age tribes entering the iron age and on the verge of a battle. The coming battle is going to be a slaughter, and Ethan decides he’s going to intervene and stop it. It’s against the rules to directly change the civilizations, so Ethan has to think outside the box. The ending had a good spin and overall it was a pretty good story.
by Daniel H. Wilson
This story had good prose but some flaws in the logic and direction. The main character and his brother Chima are poverty stricken survivors in a post-Apocalyptic Africa. There are invincible robots called Helmets that constantly wander village to village attacking people. It’s also expressed that the people constantly have to vote for the three members of the triumvirate. The setup is very oppressive. As the story moves on, the main character is captured by the Helmets and he finds out that they are people trapped in suits. He becomes one of them. Inside the suit, he unable to do anything. The suits have a mind of their own and the people inside serve no purpose. The reader is left to surmise that this is punishment. The story becomes very dark at this point. In the end, it’s just a flawed story with dark subject matter and personally I didn’t enjoy it much.
The N-body Solution
by Sean Williams
As the last story in the anthology, I thought this was one of the best stories. Sean Williams does a very good job of telling a story that has a strong sci-fi vibe while also tossing in the element of armor. The main character is Alex and he starts off rather enjoyably as he seeks out the nearest bar to drown his sorrows. He has an insatiable interest in socializing and seeks out every alien he can find before moving on to humans. The story slowly reveals itself. Alex isn’t just on some tourist trip of The Loop; he’s actually stuck on this planet…forever. The technology that allows people to travel planet to planet, galaxy to galaxy is extremely advance and no one really understands how it works. Unfortunately the transporter disc in this system is broke, and everyone who travels here is stuck. Alex becomes friends with a mysterious, power armored individual named Ei. It’s a nice story with some good intellectual threads and plenty of sci-fi elements.
Overall, I thought Armored was a fun anthology to read. There were some good stories in it, and anthologies can be a great way to find new authors. I give it a sound 3 out of 5 bikinis.