"A Death in Peacetime" by David Drake
"Useful Agonies" by Gregory Benford
"Useful Agonies" by Gregory Benford
"Soldiers" by Dave Luckett
"Resistance" by Kenneth Chiacchia
"Nuevo Shine" by Renee Stern
The Spring 2005 Issue of Oceans of the Mind, Issue XV, is dedicated to the military themes in science fiction. This issue brings us five visions of war or its aftermath in the future.
David Drake, well known for his science fiction stories of war, brings us the first story of this issue, "A Death in Peacetime." The war is actually over, and the winners are trying to establish an elected government. Unfortunately, the government’s Minister of Security is too deeply ingrained in the ways of war to fit the methods of peaceful governance. So, someone hires an assassin to kill the Minister.
"A Death in Peacetime" is a simple story with a complex message. It looks at how it people who take a government through war must struggle to establish a government of peace. And how the people to be governed will inevitably carry the scars of the just ended struggle. The only complaint I have of this story is that I thought the lead-in characterization took too long. But I understand its importance, and the story ends in an ironic twist.
Another modern science fiction giant, Gregory Benford, is the author of our second story this issue, "Useful Agonies." A group of peacekeepers is fighting in the Middle East somewhere, peacekeepers in a post-nuclear era. One problem is that they are fighting Jihadists, who view death as their path to heaven. The other problem is that they are fighting in a city. So, when a new microwave gun is deployed that prevents the Jihadists from even getting close enough to really do damage, the story’s protagonist is pretty happy. But the protagonist sees a way to make the new weapon even better and rigs up a setup to test his theory. In an urban warfare situation, the number of casualties is often the most marked indicator of the way the combat is going and the way the war is being waged. Soldiers are sometimes ordered to limit enemy casualties, at risk to themselves. So, when a new weapon comes along, a non-lethal weapon that can be used for area control, it’s a big deal. "Useful Agonies" is a story of both a new weapon and a resourceful soldier adapting the new weapon to better suit field conditions.
"Soldiers" by Dave Luckett is the story of warfare taken to a technological extreme. The army in Luckett’s story had forgotten about the effectiveness of men in combat, preferring to spend massive amounts of money to limit casualties to their side. But they can’t get the enemy to surrender. So, the remaining general with knowledge of unit tactics puts together a squad of non-coms to go out and deal with them. The rest of the staff remains behind to ponder.
"Soldiers" could be seen as a warning to some modern military leaders. With an emphasis on using technology where only men can really suffice, the army in the story became unable to effectively do its job. And an army that runs on technology alone will lose a war when it runs out of money.
"Resistance" by Kenneth Chiacchia is a story of occupation and insurgency. Sam is a lieutenant in an army occupying Mars, seeking to repress an insurgency. He falls in love with a Martian girl. The story progresses in much the way of stories about modern insurgency. The lieutenant offers a few good ideas that get discontinued by command. The insurgents commit terrorist acts against the occupiers and those who support them.
"Resistance" might simply be Iraq reflected on another planet. It certainly has that feel. It is, essentially, the story of a green officer in an unpleasant place who happens to fall for one of the natives. It is not an uncommon story. And while "Resistance" is well written, it is also completely predictable. Nothing unexpected or terribly original happens in the story.
Renee Stern authors our final story, "Nuevo Shine." Military teams made up of men and dogs are being sent to root out illegal settlements on distant planets. Joseba is a station dweller and isn’t all that fond of planets. He also isn’t all that well adapted for working with a dog, given that pet animals are very limited on such resource dependent colonies as space stations. But he and his unit go down searching for "roaches" or people illegally settling an alien race’s planets. Joseba is on his first drop, seeing his first action since training. He has to adjust not only to things like working with his dog and his unit mate, but to weather, open space, and vegetation. As the unit sweeps the planet looking for people, Joseba’s unit mate, Unai, encounters something large that attacks his dog. Joseba races to assist him, against orders, and encounters a large dog that attacks his dog, Zakur. But it’s the "roach" that causes the damage.
"Nuevo Shine" is an interesting look at the possible uses of canines in the military, and an interesting examination of how people who grew up in space might view planets and those who cling to them. Tightly written, the only problem I saw with the story is that Joseba’s spacer views are only lightly touched on in the lead. This makes some of his later thoughts unsympathetic because the reader really only has his connection to his canine partner to rely on for common experience. Still, Stern writes a good story, for all that I didn’t like the ending. But that is a personal dislike and not due to the quality of the writing.
Oceans of the Mind has continued to grow as an e-zine, getting better with each issue. I’m glad to say that this issue continues that trend and presents five good stories.