That same piece of fiction also grapples with the problems of the essay that precedes it: Eric S. Raymond’s “Battlefield Lasers” predicts that the use of lasers to blind pilots and drone sensors will quickly hamstring air warfare, and increase speed requirements for the deployment of foot troops. In “Tell It to the Dead” Day and Rzasa extrapolate these headaches to interplanetary combat: the Marines who are sent to attack the cyborgs are packed into pods in a superspeed deployment lander “like so much ammo.” The protagonist, after the tradition of individualist sci-fi, comes up with an on-the-fly solution to save his and his comrades” hides in the very short term, but the unhappy implication”that we never know quite enough, and that most of us are disposable”remains clear.
This is what future sci-fi is going to look like, this collection predicts: as nervous as its past, with future-tech tactical guesses mixed into the drama. (Although if you prefer your sci-fi laced with humor, the winner in the anthology is longtime Navy fleet veteran Thomas Mays” “Within This Horizon””with Rzasa’s solo contribution, “Turncoat,” as an oddly touching runner-up.)
This focus on military realism doesn”t surprise me in a Vox Day-branded anthology. What makes Throne of Bones, the fantasy series that gave Day his name, outstanding is the weakness of his magician characters”which makes his military generals work harder, which is more interesting to read than the standard Robert Jordan-type fantasy plot wherein Rand Al-Thor points at your army and it disappears. The authors in this anthology are reclaiming the same logic for sci-fi; instead of seeing the limitations of physics as an inconvenience to be juked around, they turn them into the driving power of their story lines.
The stories and essays talk back to each other in this manner constantly; regardless of whether their predictions will be accurate”my own military and technological knowledge is too poor to place any bets”they result in a conversation so entertaining and stimulating that the reader feels most privileged to listen in, especially for an entry fee of five dollars.
It’s a shame, on one hand, that the price of informed invention is so low. The writers” biographies indicate that each of these pieces is backed by a lifetime of day-jobbing, military action, study, danger, and/or fandom.
But for most writers in most ages, day jobs have been part of the reality of life. We remember Kafka not for his job as a lawyer, but for the metaphors he drew from it”and many of these writers have the great added happiness of being passionate about their day jobs. Far from living the stereotype of tortured artists creating something from nothing in a boring garret, the writers of Riding the Red Horse have more varied raw materials than they have time to write down.
Which is good, as the editors plan to make this anthology a yearly event.