I knows it’s been a while since I wrote a post for The Audio File, but I’m finally making up for that. I’ve been taking care of some personal matters and obligations, and I really don’t need to bore you with the details. Anyway, in this edition of The Audio File we’re taking a look at Military Science Fiction. I’ll start off by admitting that Military Science Fiction isn’t exactly my cup of tea. Until recently wasn’t quite sure exactly what what constitutes Military Science Fiction. A bit of research, and a very helpful article from Amazing Stories’ own Steve Davidson, helped point the way. Therefore, I’m going to be using a broad definition for this article.
Now it’s time for Podcast Roll Call! This is the part where I give a brief run-down of the podcast these stories appeared in. To bring you these stories I consulted a crack team of three speculative fiction podcasts. I’m talking about Escape Pod, Lightspeed Magazine and Cast of Wonders. These podcast are home to all kinds of great stories, so don’t feel shy about dropping a donation to any or all of them.
Alright, enough with the intro, strap on your rocket-boots and hold those rayguns steady. It’s story time…
“Navy Brat” by Kay Kenyon
Narrated by Dani Cutler
Originally Published in Space Cadets as Tall Enough For Navy
This story is set on a generation ship known as the Centauri and follows a young navy cadet named Marie. The ship’s military, known as the navy, are in charge until the ship reaches a habitable world. The ship’s original admiral, now long since dead, is held to an almost religious devotion by the navy. Marie, though happy to serve in the navy, has never quite bought this way of life. She soon discovers that everything isn’t quite as it seems aboard Centauri.
Right out of the gate we start strong. I always enjoy a story with a religion vs. rationality theme. The fact that this story was set in a military environment, and featured a female protagonist, brought to mind the various difficulties and abuse faced by atheist and female soldiers. It is wonderful when science fiction can comment on real world issue such as those. Now, some of you might take issue with this story being YA. To which I’d point out that YA is simply a genre like any other, and can be good or bad.
If it at all abates your concerns, I quite enjoyed this story, and I’m sure you will as well. Of course, a story this good needs an equally good narrator. Fortunately, we have that in the form of Dani. It’s a fun little story with a dash of social commentary. I happily recommend it.
“Beyond the Trenches We Lie” by A.T. Greenblatt
Narrated by Andrew Clarke
An Escape Pod Original
In this story Earth is being assaulted by glob aliens. The story follows a solider named Nim who has recently lost his twin brother to the globs. He ponders their childhood aboard a space station, their willingness to join the war and the true nature of the globs.
This is another story that has all too real implications. Strip away the aliens and space stations and you have a typical story of a solider grieving a fallen companion. Powerful stuff indeed. On a lighter note, I enjoyed how the aliens were…well, actually alien rather than rehashings of terrestrial life forms. There’s a lot the story doesn’t tell us because these aliens are just so bizarre to the characters. I also liked the descriptions and little details of life on the space station. For example, it’s considered unusual for a child to have siblings due to space and resource restrictions.
As for the narration, I thought Andrew did a great job. A story about loss and aliens. I recommend it.
“Arena” by Fredric Brown
Narrated by Bill Bowman
Originally Published in Astounding Magazine
This one’s a classic science fiction story, so odds are you’ve probably heard of it. If not you might be familiar with the episode of the original Star Trek based upon this story. However, I say it’s still worth going over.
Humanity is locked in a deadly war with an alien race originating in the Pleiades simply referred to as Outsiders. Both races are so evenly matched that the battle could go either way or it could destroy them both. A pilot named Bob Carson finds himself transported to a strange arena by a being of higher evolution. He is to face off against an Outsider in combat, but cannot directly attack it. The loser’s race will be doomed to instant extinction.
Like I said, a well-known older story, which I enjoyed quite a bit. The writing style definitely reflects this story’s age, but not necessarily in a bad way. Personally, I find half the fun of reading these older stories is comparing the style to modern writing. You pretty much know from the start that humanity will triumph, but that doesn’t take away from any of the drama or tension. I was on the edge of my seat as Carson searched for solutions to the problem he was faced with.
It was nice that we didn’t get any more info on the aliens than we needed. The story was meant to focus on Carson’s struggles, and while interesting, such information would potentially distract from that. A story this iconic needs a good narration, which is excellently handled by Bill.
It’s a classic for a reason. Come see why.
“Women of Our Occupation” by Kameron Hurley
Narrated by Mur Lafferty
An Escape Pod Original
This story is told from the perspective of a boy who witnesses his nation taken over by foreign occupation. Said occupation consists of women from…okay, the story never really mentioned where they come from, but that isn’t the point. The point is we witness society changing through this boy’s eyes.
Okay, not the best description, but a reasonably good story. One of the things I really love about this story is the great applicability it has. You read all kind of things into the women’s occupation. You can see it as a metaphor for the greater presence of women in speculative fiction, the fears of various reactionaries or any number of interpretations. It’s a rather fitting story in light of this year’s Hugo Awards. Speaking of which, Kameron has also written We Have Always Fought, the first essay to win a Hugo Award. If you have not read it I strongly recommend that you do. You can find an audio version over at PodCastle.
This was one of Escape Pod’s rare live episodes and was recorded in one take at LonCon3. The audio is…kind of off as a result. To her credit, Mur does a great job narrating and only stumbles about two or three time, and it isn’t that noticeable. A fitting story given currently events. I recommend it.
“Each to Each” by Seanan McGuire
Narrated by Janis Ian
Featured in Lightspeed’s Women Destroy Science Fiction
This story follows a group of women who are part of a military experiment. The experiment involves changing the women to make them like various sea creatures. Sounds cool right? It’s anything but that.
Okay, the description doesn’t sound like much, but trust me when I say this story is worth it. The premise of getting transformed into human-animal hybrid…things does sound cool. Then you discover the absolutely horrible things these women have been subjected to. The procedures themselves are terrifying, their reversibility is questionable and the women have basically been forced into it by the higher ups.
Two of the recurring themes are sexism and discrimination against women. You see that in how the women’s modifications are made with sexual appeal over practically in mind, to name just one example. There’s also how the uniforms and submarine were all clearly designed with non-modified humans in mind. Hell, some of the women have been modified so severely they can’t even communicate normally! The parallels to the abuse of women in the real military are all over the place.
The writing is absolutely top notch for this story and so is Janis’ narration. This story is considered so good it almost got on the Hugo ballot…then the puppy fiasco happened and it got edged out. That’s what the worst part of all the puppy nonsense has been, that great stories like this didn’t get the recognition they deserved and earned. I’m this close to making an award of my own and mailing it to Seanan. Frankly, I’m considering creating the Sam McDonald’s Choice Awards specifically so this sort of injustic doesn’t happen again.
Do I really need to tell you that I recommend this story?
“Art of War” by Nancy Kress
Narrated by Rajan Khanna
Originally Published in The New Space Opera
In this story humanity is fighting a war against an alien race known as the Teli. The Teli have lately been raiding human colonies for works of art. Nobody is quite sure what they’re up to, but art historian Captain Porter is determined to find out why.
First of all, as someone studying to get a history degree, it was nice to see a story featuring a historian as the hero. It was also a nice though that the main character suffered from seizures. You also get plenty of great action and adventure between all of the sociological theorizing, but the theories where enjoyable in and of themselves. Though I have to admit that the Teli being small and furry made them kind of hard to take seriously as antagonists. Also, this story mostly has nothing to do with Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.
Rajan did a great job with this story. I’m struggling to put it to words, but this is a good story. I happily recommend it.
“Codename: Delphi” by Linda Nagata
Narrated by Roxanne Hernandez
This story is set in the same world as The Red: First Light; it follows Karen Larsin aka Delphi. Her job is to remotely monitor soldiers using tiny drones and guide them to ensure their survival. It’s a pretty typical day for her, but it get more hectic when one of her fellow workers walks out on the job. She never lost a solider before, and she’s not about to start
I have not read The Red: First Light, but after listening to this story I think I might look into it. Delphi’s job struck a cord with the way I feel with video games. I do like them, but I tend to get so invested in the character that I can bare to see them get killed. Of course, at least in games you have back-up lives. In wars…not so much. I thought it was ha interesting touch to make the main character the mission control figure rather than a solider in the field. Then again, that was the point of why Linda wrote this story. With all the drones used now I can easily see something like this happening in the not so distant future.
I thought that Roxanne handle the narration a quite well, and the occasion vocal effects were a nice touch. It’s a bit more down to Earth than some of our other stories, but still plenty enjoyable. I recommend it.
“Influence Isolated, Make Peace” by John Chu
Narrated by Vikas Adam
Featured in Lightspeed’s Queers Destroy Science Fiction
This story follows two cyborg soldiers who are also lovers. The war they’ve been fighting in has just ended, but under international laws cyborgs such as they are classified as living weapons. This leave their future, romantic and otherwise, in serious question.
One of the great things about this story is that, though it centers around a gay romance, it does dwell on the fact that the characters are gay. Put another way, it would have worked just as well if the main characters were heterosexual. That, form me, is one of the true markers of progress; when being gay isn’t even worth commenting on. Of course, it helps that John Chu himself is a gay man.
Cyborg soldiers, for better or worse, are mostly likely become a reality someday. That could very well open a whole lot of potential Pandora Boxes. Still, I like how this story didn’t pretend to know the answers to the many thorny questions. As for the narration, Vikas did a great job, especially with the brief bits of Chinese dialogue.
A story about love and cyborgs. I happily recommend it.
“The Way Home” by Linda Nagata
Narrated by Stefan Rudnicki
Featured in Operation Arcana anthology
It’s often said that war is hell. For the solider in this story it literally is. They’ve somehow found themselves transported to Hell and the only way home to by killing demons to open doorways…or is it?
Okay, this is military fantasy rather than military science fiction, but I say it goes on the list. Also, military fantasy is total a think, it’s younger and there’s less of it than military science fiction, but it’s there all the same. For the curious, checkout not only Operation Arcana, but also try the Shadow Ops series. Anyway, back to the review.
Hell is almost a character in and of itself in this story. This is very much a man vs nature story, just with a supernatural twist to it. I’m a bit curious as to why the soldiers wound up in Hell, but that wasn’t really the focus of the story, so I’m willing to let it slide. The descriptions are really great; just listening to how hot and thirsty the solider were made me need to reach for a glass of water. Thought fantasy, this story does have a very science fiction feel to it, and can serve as a great introduction to military fantasy.
As far as narration goes, Stefan knock it out of the park once again. It’s a great military fantasy story that I happily recommend.
The Cy de Gurch series by Rick Kennett
Narrated by Marguerite Kenner
2013 Parsec Award Winner
I’m going to do something a little different for this last one. Instead of reviewing one story I’m going to review a bunch of stories set in the same world. These stories follow Cy de Gurch, a genetically engineered space cadet from Phobos and Mars. The stories follow her at various points in her teenage life. Whether it’s training on Mars, going after rouge bombs or helping aliens in trouble; for Cy de Gurch there’s always a new adventure to have.
Cy is a very interesting and complicated character. On the one hand, she’s been raised to be a perfect solider her whole life and she’s eager to prove herself and move up in rank. On the other hand, she’s very rebellious and free wheeling, which doesn’t always mesh so well with her missions. Sometimes she even seems a little resentful of who she is and why she was created. In short, Cy is a very well rounded character.
The writing style and dialogue are great for these stories. The plots range from fun space adventures to touching drama that tugs at the heart strings, sometimes in the same story. I’d be very tempted to say these were my favorite if I hadn’t already given that honor to “Each to Each”. Actually, this is my column, and I say they tie for my favorite of this list! I don’t usually play favorites so that is a very big honor.
As for the narration, well, Marguerite was the perfect choice for this story. As I mention before, the story “Now Cydonia” won the Parsec Award in 2013. The Parsecs, for those who don’t know, are an annual award ceremony highlighting achievements in the world audio speculative fiction podcasting. Think of it as the audio short story version of the Hugo or Nebula awards. It’s really not that hard to see why it won the Parsec.
I think it goes without saying that I give a solid recommendation.
Well, we’ve returned from our tour of duty. I hope you had fun and enjoyed the stories. I’m all about my readers having a say in what goes on, so here’s where we stand. For the next edition of The Audio File I’m feeling either Religion in Speculative Fiction or stories about settling the final frontier. We’ll get to both of them eventually, I just need to know what you guys would like to see. Alternatively, if you have any them you would like to suggest for a future Audio File, I’m open to that as well.
Like I said, I do this to share great stories with great people, and occasionally to tell you which stories to avoid. I wouldn’t be here without you guys, and hey, maybe one of these days you’ll see stories from yours truly here on The Audio File. Happy listening to you all, and I will see you next time.