Five By Five 2: No Surrender

Five By Five 2: No Surrender is the anthology sequel to Five By Five. Both books collect together five novellas by five different authors with the common theme of military science fiction. The anthologies also have a strong Star Wars vibe going with the authors. In this collection, there are stories by Kevin J. Anderson, Aaron Allston and William C. Dietz, all of whom have written Star Wars books. Also in the lineup is Brad R. Torgersen and R.M. Meluch. The tales range from soldiers on future battlefields dealing with the unknown concept of peace, to tiny robotic revolutionaries struggling for their survival. It’s a nice mix of stories and styles that provides a lot of entertainment.

The first story in the anthology is “Legio Patria Nostra” (The Legion is Our Country) by William C. Dietz. Star Wars fans might recognize Dietz from the Dark Forces Trilogy, though he has written a ton of books outside the franchise. In this story, he explores a handful of characters in an intriguing sci-fi setting. The galaxy is split between warring factions such as the Hudathan Empire, the Confederacy of Sentient Beings and the Ramanthians. Amidst this war, there’s Captain Damien Chozick, a member of the Legion, and a soldier motivated by greed. On the other end of the spectrum is Captain Dean Smith, a religious man on the rebound with his faith and a soldier committed to his troops. These two men get into battles with cyborg warriors, alien bandits and ultimately each other. There is a lot of nice world building and character building to suck the reader in. It’s a good story and a fun read.

Next up is “Prisoner of War” by Kevin J. Anderson. The story takes place in the world created by The Outer Limits episode called “Soldier”. Fittingly, it stars two soldiers, Barto and Arviq, comrades in a never ending conflict that no longer has sides or reasons other than ‘kill the enemy.’ On desolate battlefields, they deal with lasers, mines and robots without question and without fear. That is until Barto and Arviq get farther than any attack has ever gotten before. Driving deep into enemy territory, they discover a bunker filled with beings unlike any they have ever seen. It is there, deep underground, far from the battlefields, that they discover something so foreign to their concept of life that they can’t quite understand it: peace. It was interesting to see a story that explored the idea of individuals who are literal prisoners to the life of war. All in all, this was a solid story.

From there, the tales move on to “Reardon’s Law” by Brad R. Torgersen. This story follows a female military cop named Kalliope ‘Kal’ Reardon who is sent into the Occupied Zone known as Oz. It’s an isolated area of space where a defeated army lies licking its wounds from a galactic war it lost. Hitech, prototype battle armor has been disappearing in Oz and it’s up to Kal to find out where it’s been going. As can be expected, things don’t go quite as planned. While it’s a neat concept and mostly a good story, it did have one flaw going against it. There are two story threads that are interwoven together. One is set in the near future, while the other is in the past. The result is that in one chapter you’ll see where the characters end up, and in the next, you’ll see how they got there. While this might work in some situations, here it just spoils the surprise and catapults you into action with characters you don’t know yet. It would have worked a lot better if the chapters were just told in order, thus building up and developing the characters, then plunging them into action. However, there was one other issue, and that’s the ending. Instead of resolving the story, it leaves everything hanging as a way to tease readers into reading the series the story is a part of. I don’t mind short stories and novellas trying to spur reader interest in a larger series, but leaving a story incomplete with no real ending and no resolution to conflict that was setup in the story is not the way to go about it. The ending really left my disappointed in the story.

Then there is “Dagger Team Seven” by R.M. Meluch. This story has a lot going for it. The world that is created is pretty awesome, the plot development generates a ton of interest in the story and characters, and the overall story is complete and satisfying. The premise is a future where humans discover a portal off in distant space that is funneling in an aggressive, hostile species nicknamed the Rutogs. The soldiers fight with semi-sentient spaceships called Daggers which are formed into elite teams very similar to SEAL teams. They are expected to deal out damage far in excess of their small numbers and they act well behind enemy lines. The main character, Zack Cade, is a part of Dagger Team Nine. He and his team are sent through the portal, known as The Intersection, to take out the Rutogs homeworld and end the war once and for all. But there’s a tantalizing mystery element that’s thrown in and really elevates the story. With the great hooks and story elements, this was a really good story.

Last, but certainly not least, is Aaron Allston’s “Coffee Black Sea”. The title is a play on an old Greek saying Wine-Dark Sea. The story is also a sequel to “Big Plush” which was in the first antholgoy, Five By Five (if you haven’t read it, Aaron’s story alone is worth the price of the eBook, combined with Kevin J. Anderson’s story and Stackpole’s, and it’s worth buying the physical book, too). Both stories have an extremely neat setting. The stars of the book are tiny, sentient machines called Dollgangers. They’re about nine inches tall and made by humans as laborers and entertainment devices. However, with the Dollgangers’ advancement in sentience, they begin to resent the ill treatment of their owners and gain a desire for freedom. In this story, the ‘ganger revolution continues with the adventures of Bow the Giant Slayer. Having helped secure a temporary freedom for his people on the planet Chiron, Bow sets his sights on a larger avenue of freedom that could secure their independence indefinitely. What ensues is his mission to get it. I’ll admit that the first story, “Big Plush” was better as this one is very focused on combat and missions and doesn’t allow a lot of time for character relationships, but it was still a fun story. Allston sneaks in some of his penchant for humor and even some fighter combat and ground operations that might make some people think of his Wraith Squadron stories. The uniqueness of the characters is especially appealing and allow for a lot of neat imagery. Definitely a story worth checking out.

With five novellas of different flavors and fancies, Five By Five 2: No Surrender is an anthology that delivers some good storytelling. It’s definitely worth the price of an eBook, and if you’ve plan on picking up both Five By Five and Five By Five 2, I’d be inclined to opt for the physical copies, but I’m a bit of collector. Regardless, this is an anthology Star Wars fans looking to broaden their horizons should give a try. For sci-fi fans, it’s a good anthology to get your dose of warfare, aliens, character and world building. I give it a four out of five metal bikinis.

Reviewed By: Skuldren for Roqoo Depot.

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