Armored, by John Joseph Adams

trike's review

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My ultimate take-away from this collection of stories is that there's nothing new to say about power armor. All you can hope for is really good writing of tales we've seen before. If you've never read stories about this sort of thing, this might be a decent introduction, but this is well-trod ground for long-time readers of SF.

Of course, the problem is that I'm measuring these stories against the best the field has come up with. Haldeman's The Forever War, heinlein's Starship Troopers and especially Gordon R. Dickson's novella "In the Bone", which deconstructs the powered armor story figuratively and, within the tale itself, literally.

That said, let's parse this sucker.

Foreword by Orson Scott Card. He says a bunch of obvious stuff, to the point where I thought, "Oh shut up, you idiot."

The Johnson Maneuver by Ian Douglas. This is a by-the numbers Military SF story with an interesting alien culture sweetening the pot of the typical "competent Marine versus incompetent paper-pusher". Well-written and a decent way to ease into the collection.

Hel's Half-Acre by Jack Campbell. Another by-the-book armor story by another veteran MilSF writer, this is predictable but well-written.

Jungle Walkers by David Klecha & Tobias S. Buckell. A near-future story that is informed by the realities of what actual conflicts are about. This is one of the better stories in this collection. The good news is that you can read it for free here at io9.

The Last Run of the Coppelia by Genevieve Valentine. This story is different from most in that the powered armor is semi-sentient pseudo-biological suits designed for aquatic work. It's hampered by some unclear action scenes, but the characters are nicely done.

Death Reported of Last Surviving Veteran of the Great War by Dan Abnett. This was just a lazy pseudo-obituary and should have been rejected.

The Cat's Pajamas by Jack McDevitt. One of my favorite stories of the bunch, this one feels like a classic Larry Niven story where the characters are presented with a problem that requires some out-of-the-box creative thinking. The power armor in this case isn't for military use but rather to protect against the beyond-extreme environment near a pulsar. Cats are cliche in sci-fi, but this one I really liked.

Find Heaven and Hell in the Smallest Things by Simon R. Green. A character study more than anything else that offends my sense of justice. It feels very much in the vein of 60s New Wave stuff, but the unfair denouement aggravates me.

Power Armor: A Love Story by David Barr Kirtley. Despite the terrible title, this is actually a pretty decent character sketch about opening yourself up to love. The metaphor is a bit obvious in that the main character has sealed himself into his power armor because he is justifiably frightened of assassination and only true love can get him to "open up"... his armor. But the writing is good and dialogue is nice.

The Last Days of the Kelly Gang by David D. Levine. A true rarity: a science fictional steampunk story. This is one of two of these here and this is the good one, with excellent writing and terrific characters. It didn't hurt that I read this the week after returning from Australia, so the setting was fresh in my mind, but this could be set in the American West, too.

Field Test by Michael Stackpole. I'm not sure if this qualifies as Alternate History or Secret History, but the story takes place during the recent uprising in Libya, with a soldier using an experimental battlesuit to wreak havoc during Ghaddafi's fall from power. Great action scenes, fun characters, superb dialogue. This should be used to teach SF writers how to do infodumps that aren't annoying. You get everything you need to know about the situation while also learning about the characters and it flows together seamlessly.

Trauma Pod by Alastair Reynolds. A decent story that we've seen before (and will again in this collection) but the pieces fall into place readily enough.
SpoilerThe titular pod is a robotic medic working to save a soldier's life, and eventually his consciousness merges with the pod's AI... or perhaps the pod becomes delusional that has happened. Reynolds leaves it somewhat open to interpretation.

Contained Vacuum by David Sherman. This was a boring action bit that felt like a level in a mediocre space combat video game. It was probably inspired by Dead Space or something similar and it feels like it.

You Do What You Do by Tanya Huff. This is similar to Trauma Pod in that it explores what happens to people who interface too closely and too intensely with machines. Unlike trauma Pod, it is unambiguous about what happens, but is ambiguous about whether it's a good thing or not.

Nomad by Karin Lowachee. This is a cracking-good story about betrayal and death and moving on from losing the one great love of your life, using a post-apocalyptic powered armor gang warfare story as the framing device. This is the kind of story that would look good as a movie but wouldn't translate well.

Human Error by John Jackson Miller. Like The Cat's Pajamas this is a Nivenesque tale of being forced to find solutions to apparently insurmountable problems. In this case problems caused by a shipping error, where someone sent human soldiers power armor meant for starfish-like aliens... and it just so happens that they are facing a mindless glob of goo that eats everything in its wake, including entire planets. It's the good ol' "adapt, improvise. overcome" story that's so much fun in sci-fi.

Transfer of Ownership by Christie Yant. This story was particularly satisfying for me because it combines the outside-the-box thinking I like in stories as well as the sentient power armor tale with a genuinely satisfying ending that wasn't a "happy ending" but appealed to my sense of justice. It's almost as if Yant has perfectly (and intentionally) synthesized a number of the other stories in this collection.

Heuristic Algorithmic and Reasoning Response Engine by Ethan Skarstedt & Brandon Sanderson. I don't have anything good to say about this story. The aliens are uninteresting, the action is tedious, the dialogue some of the worst I've ever seen and it just stops. There's no ending. It's as if they got to the number of words they contracted to write and quit. This is an example of how not to write a story.

Don Quixote by Carrie Vaughn. This is the opposite of The Last Says of the Kelly gang. Really lifeless steampunk that just didn't work on any level.

The Poacher by Wendy Wagner & Jack Wagner. After two really terrible stories in a row, this one bounced back with a well-told story of a park ranger on a future Earth that's protected as a heritage site. The recent story of poachers poisoning over 300 elephants as well as other animals like lions in Zimbabwe with the aid of government officials really underscores how important this sort of thing is, and I'm all about rangers trying to protect fragile ecosystems from greedy little bastards.

The Green by Lauren Beukes. This is a horror story, plain and simple. It's depressing and sad, but also terrifically written. The ending is horrific but feels inevitable. Sadly, despite its removal from anything familiar by placing it far in the future on a distant planet, it speaks directly to the actions of so many heartless corporations today, which is what the best science fiction does.

Sticks and Stones by Robert Buettner. This story has a lighter tone than the one surrounding it which makes it feel almost like a comedy, but it, too, is a really well-done throwback to stories from the golden age of sci-fi. A little push-pull of Imperialism as well as Star Trek's Prime Directive is always good for a tidy little story. Again, it suits my sense of justice to give the good guys a fighting chance.

Helmet by Daniel H. Wilson. This is powerful stuff, of heroism and horror, human decency struggling to survive amongst brutal inhumanity. it works on both levels as science fiction and as commentary on current events in war-torn Anywhere. This story surprised me the most, because I totally hated Wilson's novel Robopaclypse, which I felt was a lazy version of World War Z.

The N-Body Solution by Sean Williams. This story was good in that it gives us a glimpse of how alien things can be, but the underlying "twist" is one that's been done before.
SpoilerThe wormhole transfer station appears broken but actually works fine. What usually happens, though, is that the person on the transmitting end is killed by the machine and a duplicate is created on the receiving end. It's an old idea that has been explored quite a few times before.
It's a decent enough tale, but the familiarity of the pieces works against it, and the power armor aspect of it is rather incidental.

teenytinylibrary's review

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I really enjoyed this anthology. I'm surprised by how much I love military science fiction - especially considering how little I know about the military. John Joseph Adams has done well here, juxtaposing stories surrounding a common theme (power armor) but with quite different nuances. My favorite story was definitely the Dan Abnett story (I can't quite remember what it's called) about the last solider from the first war in which power armor was used. It is haunting. Excellent anthology.

bahnree's review

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Shout out to Karen Lowachee’s story for absolutely wrecking me.

awyxm's review

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A good anthology of power-armor short stories.

18thstjoe's review

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last story was the best, pretty uneven anthology....

gunner's review

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In the interest of owning every Brandon Sanderson story, I decided to pick this book up. Imagine my delight when I found a brand new, autographed copy on Amazon for under $2 ($6 shipped)!

Despite the relatively high ratio of very good stories to bad ones in this anthology, I find my overall impression of the collection to be mediocre. Many of these stories feel like their only purpose was to be included in this book, though I'm sure that's probably not the case, and plenty others were very original. Maybe it's just that as a theme, power armor is not really interesting enough to justify reading so many stories about it all in a row.

Simon R. Green provides the only "must-read" story here, though I did enjoy those by Jack Campbell, David Barr Kirtley, David D. Levine, Christie Yant, Wendy & Jack Wagner, Lauren Beukes, Robert Buettner, and Sean Williams a lot, with a number of others turning in decent if forgettable works. I am disappointed in the one co-written by Brandon Sanderson, and his name is the reason I read this book at all, so that's unfortunate.

So I leave the book with a 4 star rating but a less-than-glowing review. I guess that means it's worth picking up, but maybe not for reading all at once.

andizor's review

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I really enjoyed this anthology. I'm surprised by how much I love military science fiction - especially considering how little I know about the military. John Joseph Adams has done well here, juxtaposing stories surrounding a common theme (power armor) but with quite different nuances. My favorite story was definitely the Dan Abnett story (I can't quite remember what it's called) about the last solider from the first war in which power armor was used. It is haunting. Excellent anthology.

jmoses's review

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Awesome. Why? Because it's mechanized armor, that's why. Who doesn't loved armored suits?? NO ONE.