Michael Z. Williamson
(Baen, December 2019, 593 pp, hardcover)
Reviewed by Rick Cartwright
Freehold: Resistance is a mosaic novel masquerading as an anthology via the interwoven stories written by various authors. The book recounts the events of the war between the libertarian utopia Freehold of Grainne and the United Nations of Earth first chronicled in Michael Z. Williamson’s series opener Freehold and his growing number of followup books, among them The Weapon, Rogue, and most recently Angeleyes. It is not necessary to have read Williamson’s other books set during the war, as Freehold: Resistance stands alone.
It is not the conventional anthology where the editor rounds up a bunch of writers, gives them some parameters and says“have fun.” There are some stories in that vein, such as “Proxy War” by Larry Correia. However, Freehold: Resistance reads like a novel. Not reading it as such seriously diminishes the impact of the book and its tales. The editor creates the seamless flow by taking six of the stories, starting with the aptly named “Spider’s Web” by Jessica Schlenker, “Force Majeure” by Michael Z. Williamson, “Excerpts from General Jacob Huff’s Journal” by Christopher DiNote and Jaime DiNote, “A Time to Fight” by J.F. Holmes,
“The Danegeld” by Marisa Wolf, and “Cry Havoc” by Jamie Ibson, and breaking them into parts scattered throughout the book. Each part references and reacts to the events described in the other, more conventionally stand alone stories along with the other multipart stories. The blending makes for a better book. All the stories are especially well crafted but difficult to judge on their individual merits. That said, all of them are well worth your time.
“Prologue: Invasion” is a very short piece (by Williamson, though uncredited) designed as a stage setter aimed at those who might be unfamiliar with the Freehold universe.
“Spider’s Web” by Jessica Schlenker chronicles the exploits of a group of hackers who evolve the web that holds the various fighters together. No single part is particularly long but each one bridges what came before and what comes after the other stories. Ms. Schlenker’s point of view character is not only three dimensional but conveys the journey from hacker to war weary officer very effectively.
“Force Majeure” by Michael Z. Williamson, explores the role of supply and logistics for any military action through the story of the fabrication ship FMS Force through the eyes of its captain. Over the course of the overall story’s many parts you find that wars are often won not just by courage and bravery, but by the guys scrounging to find materials to make boots and bullets.
“Excerpts from General Jacob Huff’s Journal” by Christopher DiNote and Jaime DiNote chronicles the thoughts of the commanding general of the UN occupation force and his increasing frustration not only with the Freeholders, who never seem to get the message that they should be happy to be invaded, but with the politicians and bureaucrats, military and civilian, who handicap his ability to prosecute the war to the finish.
“A Time to Fight” by J.F. Holmes, tells the story of one man’s hidden resistance to the occupation and what in the end drives him to abandon his covert role and take the fight directly against the enemy.
“The Danegeld” by Marisa Wolf is a complex story that explores how blurred the role between “collaborator” and “resistance fighter” can be. And the cost when a loved one crosses the line.
“The Prayer Wheel” by Jason Cordova examines how one of the pivotal events in the book Freehold, the destruction of Skywheel 3, came about from the point of view of the instigator. The author does an amazing job with telling the story of the journey from a person who puts up with the increasing abuse of UN occupiers/overseers in order to do the job she loves to a person willing to burn it all down.
“Star Crossed” by Kacey Ezell and Robert E. Hampson tells the story of two scientists, one from Earth and one from Freehold who are united by love and their work on a long term research project aboard a small spacecraft despite the deteriorating health of one of the couple. As the war forces the suppression of their findings and their permanent separation, they find a way to get their work out and be forever together. While not everyone might agree, this was one of the most moving stories in the collection.
“Dear Diary” by Rob Reed traces the story of a family torn by apart by the war through the eyes of a Freehold teenager. She first joins the fight by passing information, and later to save her younger brother from being sold and transported to Earth by a corrupt social worker.
“Proxy War” by Larry Correia chronicles the struggles of a group of business people whose livelihoods are disrupted by the war. Of course when your business is assassination by dueling, and the occupiers are stupid enough to go back on their agreements, things are going to happen. Bad things, as any devotee of the John Wick movies can attest. A good read.
“Soft Casualty” by Michael Z. Williamson is actually a reprint from an earlier work, but it is worked in very effectively to show that some crippling injuries don’t show. Not for the faint of heart.
“FNG” by Kacey Ezell is a very dark story that delves into the psychological deconstruction of a non-commissioned officer. In plain English, it’s the story of driving an effective NCO literally insane by killing all her new people.
“Codger Command” by Mike Massa tells the story of the UN occupation of a remote old folks home. The UN is doing very bad things at this location. Mike ably, and sometimes hilariously, illustrates why one should never take old people for granted. Like old dogs, they often have one bite left. Or several.
“Buffalo Fifteen” by Brad R. Torgersen is a story of second chances and the education of a young man about what is worth fighting and dying for. Brad has a great talent for getting inside the heads of his characters and this story is no exception.
“Starhome” by Michael Z. Williamson is also a reprint from an earlier work. The story explains how the Freehold acquired its covert forward base in the Earth system. Starhome in the story is a deep space version of the real life Sealand mini-nation off the coast of England that got by through providing docking and cargo transhipment services without looking too hard at what was going on.
“Survival” by Justin Watson is almost unique in the book because all the characters are UN troops. It’s a great story about the honor of the unit and what troops will do to take care of each other. There are more than a few pokes at the internal battles you have to fight against people wearing the same uniform just to survive against the people actually shooting at you in the field.
“Is That A Fire?” by Philip Wohlrab looks at the interactions between military advisors and the local people they are tasked to mold into a guerrilla force. When the advisors are pagan followers of the Roman gods and the locals are surprisingly well armed fundamentalist Christians, the working relationship can be interesting. And deadly to the occupiers.
“What It’s Worth” by Christopher L. Smith and A.C. Haskins explores the idea that oaths run both ways and what happens when the leaders betray their oaths to the troops one time too many.
“Cry Havoc” by Jamie Ibson is a really interesting story about the bonds between troops and their animal partners as the author chronicles the story of the exploits of Freehold troops and their combat leopards. The story is especially engaging in that the point of view shifts from the humans to the combat leopards.
“Epilogue: Post Action Review,” also uncredited, was co-written by the authors, each of whom were invited to write a pararaph about their surviving characters, and which were then spliced together by the editor. The story is a nice finish to tie up the loose ends by bringing many of the surviving characters together at a post war function and letting the reader know who actually survived some of the more ambiguous endings. It also served as an illustration that war has a cost as some characters grieved lost friends, lost youth and lost innocence. However, at the same time it celebrated the unlikely friendships that serving together can bring about as well.