Thursday, October 19, 2017

Forged in Blood, edited by Mad Mike

This is the somewhat expanded review of "Forged In Blood," which is edited by Michael Z Williamson. You can read the 'essentials' review on Amazon HERE, unless I forget to put the link in.

BTW: if you DO read the condensed review, & vote 'helpful' on it, it is possible that you will have a miniscule positive impact on the sales of the books I review. That's what Amazon tells us is true, at any rate.

With this review, I am ALMOST caught up with where I should be in reviewing books. Maybe three months ago, a passel of real-life events stampeded down the canyon and ran over me; I believe the correct terminology is 'they stomped a rut into me, and then walked it dry.'

Not to worry; quite a lot of it has been survivable, thus far, and the rest has given me glorious perspective. Actually, I exaggerate: all of it has been survivable, if not pleasant. In addition, hardly any of it has been my fault, and that, I find, is a great comfort. I can put up with an amazing amount of inconvenience, as long as it is either a function of random chance or someone else's stupid choices.

What I HATE is finding myself face down on the railroad tracks, soaked in kerosene, leaking circulatory fluid, with angry red marks from several different sizes of ballet slippers refusing to fade from my milk-white skin,, and realizing "Yup, I deserved that."

Not that such an event has ever happened, but it's a good example of the sort of thing I like to avoid. And, I think I will be able to, for the foreseeable future, although  I wouldn't claim to be out of the woods, yet. This whole "I-don't-have-any-teeth" thing, for example, is bothersome, and there is not much of anything I can do, other than avoid almost all food. But, other than that, there are no PLANNED disasters or emergencies on the calendar, which is a nice and welcome change.

So, I'm good.

And now: the Amazon Review!

This review of "Forged in Blood" is long delayed, because I got an Advanced Reader Copy from Baen Publishing, without noticing the 'Advanced' part. I was therefore frustrated in my routine policy of reading and reviewing IMMEDIATELY, because the book wasn't released yet. That's happened to me a couple of times, and I have even 'lost' some books for a while. However, in this case, it did permit me the guilty pleasure of re-reading a book I enjoyed.

I am not a blade or firearms collector. I use a term borrowed from the blade genius Hank Reinhardt: I'm an 'accumulator.' Like many others of such habits, I have on numerous occasions looked at a particular item and thought: "I wish you could tell me your stories." I've got a Mosin-Nagant 91/30, a 1934 Tula hex with matching serial numbers, and I wonder: did you drive back the invaders at Stalingrad? Or maybe something a bit nastier? But (fortunately), I don't get a response.

Williamson, who IS a collector of sharp, pointy things, has, in this volume, also collected authors.  They share in these pages the stories of a finely crafted bit of steel, whispered in the hearts of warriors, over centuries in time, and light years in space. Each story is linked to the next by his brief narratives, which are essential to understanding the book as a whole.

Although the cover states that these are stories in the Freehold Universe, I don't think that is precisely true. They just pass through that neighborhood, picking up hitchhikers on the way. Most of the stories were written this year for this volume, although one appeared in slightly different form in the novel that named the universe, "Freehold."

The stories:

The Tachi, by Zachary Hill. In addition to providing great stories of combat and perseverance, the stories can also provide a novice with instruction in the construction and naming of blades. The tachi is one of the more ancient Japanese designs, and it is in this form that the sword appears. On display as part of a household shrine, it does not see use as a actual weapon until the very end of the story, because the young mistress of the manor does not find herself worthy to touch it. The sword is only slightly self-aware at this point, and joins with the young wife to create new legends.
Due to one of those freakishly unexpected biological accidents that happen to humans, the author did not live to see publication of his work.

Musings of a Hermit, by Larry Correia.  Whether it is true that a man is a product of his time, I do not know. I do know that things which may be accepted standards in one age are rejected in another. Hatsu Kanemori was known for having a fiercely independent streak, which was only tolerated  by the overlord because he was also known to be fierce in battle, as well. Unfortunately for him, the battles came to an end, and with it, toleration. The multi-great grandson of the lady of the manor fled, bearing only the sword of his ancestors. His troublesome reputation remained, though, and he was both sought out, and rejected, by the peasant community. If you consider this as a small slice of "The Seven Samurai," you won't be too far wrong. The sword, now in the form of the more modern katana, waits; and serves when needed; and waits some more.

Stronger than Steel, by Michael Massa. 'The battle doesn't always go to the biggest army, but that's the way to bet.' Superior technology changes the balance of war, and after much time has passed, it seems that the only thing that will surpass a charger-fed bolt action rifle is a belt-fed magazine gun. The Russo-Japanese War is a horribly efficient destroyer of humans, between the technology of small arms and artillery, and the diseases faced by soldiers who are cold, wet, and poorly fed. Even so, cold steel has it's place. The Russian counterpart to the Japanese katana now carried by Major Tanaka is no less endowed by legends. The Kladenets legend is of a self-swinging sword, which cannot break if drawn with honor. However, metallurgy gets a vote, too, as do physics and luck. In the end, when two superior swordsmen face each other, don't bet on either side.

He Who Lives Wins, by John F. Holmes.   The 132nd Infantry Regiment was one of the first American units to go to war. Just six weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the regiment sailed from New York. Later that year, they were inserted into combat on Guadalcanal, which is where this story takes place. The katana is carried by Japanese Lt. Shizuka, and represents the last remnant of his samurai heritage. Unfortunately, Lt. Shizuka has almost no other aspects of the warrior, besides the sword, and he commands his squad of starving, diseased troops mostly because of they have been brutalized by training to follow orders. On the other side is slacker and all-around screw-off Chicago punk Private Tony Montero, who uses his enterprising talents to swap his weapons for booze, and make himself scarce when there is work to be done. Then, combat happens. It is truly amazing to observe unsuspected reservoirs of moral character emerge, when people begin to die. HOWEVER!!! I have a question about the dialogue. The action takes place in 1943, and at one point, Montero compliments fellow soldier BAR gunner Erik Nilsen for an excellent grenade throw, by comparing him to Babe pitching one across home plate. Now, while it is true that Babe Ruth was primarily known as a power hitter, he got his start as a left-handed pitcher, and was highly successful in that role, so that's the most likely reference. However, Ruth retired in 1935; he essentially retired as a pitcher after 1919. A more likely candidate is Babe Adams, a control pitcher who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates until 1926. But why would a boy from Chicago mention either of those players?

Souvenirs, by Rob Reed.  A story about lessons, and sacrifices, and losses. There is a generation that learns the lesson, and makes the sacrifice. That is followed by a generation that learns the lesson, because it is told of the sacrifice. That is followed by a generation that is not told of the sacrifice, and does not learn the lesson. Then, the lesson must be taught again. Now, that is not EXACTLY the message of this story, but it's a corollary. The message of the story is that you must be prepared to do what is necessary; and I THINK that the additional message is that you must be prepared to make the sacrifice, even if it is forgotten. And the sword is passed from the line of warriors and scholars, and into the hands of the ignorant.

Broken Spirit, by Michael Z. Williamson and Dale C. Flowers. If you go to a carnival sponsored by the PTA to raise money for an elementary school, you EXPECT there to be spongy animals to be won by matching numbers on floating ducks. It is the appropriate experience for small children. On the other hand, when adults get their hands on priceless relics and spray paint them neon pink, it's disgusting. Your toddler may not understand WHY  you don't want them to color in the family Bible, but typically, you don't permit your toddler to be alone with the Bible and a box of crayons. Unfortunately, idiots have access to power tools, and priceless antiques as well. The story has a somewhat happy ending, in that the sword is rescued; however, she wants to be used, not displayed.

Okoyyūki, by Tom Kratman. Confession: Because the story SAYS the Japanese makes no sense; and since the best translation I could get for the title is 'snow occurred;'  and I know Kratman has a gonzo sense of humor: I just didn't chase down the transliterated Japanese phrases in the story. I SUSPECT that if there is any sense whatsoever in the words, it is related to the fact that there is a two word phrase in English, the second word of which is 'happens'  (similar to occurred), the first word of which also starts with 's', but is not snow. I may be completely off base. End of confession! The sword finally has something of a kindred spirit. A certain Captain Reilly is going off to war, and he is bughouse nuts. He and the sword speak to each other, and the sword trains him, and can enhance his perception and reflexes somewhat. It is black humor, and perhaps no person who has not been in the military, AND been a fan of of both Princess Bride and Monty Python, can possibly appreciate it. I am a person who can.

The Day the Tide Rolled In, by Michael Z. Williamson and Leo Champion. We now move into the (near) future in the narrative of the sword. A distant relative of the last owner is retired Gunnery Sergeant James Chesterton, USMC (ret), a merchant seaman in Indonesia. Things go south, battles happen, and he lends his hand to the side of the good guys. This contains some of the better urban battle sequences in the book; true to life, the fight with edged weapons doesn't start until everybody runs out of bullets.

Ripper, by Peter Grant. After long years of peace/dormancy/boredom, the sword moves off planet. The Freehold Universe is officially on duty; the action takes place in the early days of settling Grainne. It's an Earthlike planet, and if you like the peaceful and soothing environments of Africa and Australia, you will just LOVE it here. In other words: everything is trying to kill you. I was an Army medic; wouldn't have been a combat engineer not no way, not no how. It's worse than being a medic, because at least as a medic, you had some hope that after you dragged the bleeding casualties back behind the lines, you could take a break after dealing with the sucking chest wound. Not the engineers: these guys are trying to build things, even while smart animals are trying to eat them. The sword has been reconfigured, and lost some length, and is now a wakizashi. Tom, the bearer, is the grandson of Gunny Chesterton. He has been brought up to respect the blade, and is proficient in its' use.

Case Hardened, by Christopher L. Smith. Yet another planet, yet another war. The sword's bearer dies in an ambush in the opening moments, and is accidently dragged away by being snagged on a rifle strap. The new bearer is a certain Private Cook, the errant son of a prominent military man. He runs, leaving companions behind. Whether in shock from this violation of the warrior code, or for some other reason, for the first time, the sword manifests visibly to the bearer, as a young Asian woman. He stops running.

Magnum Opus, by Jason Cordova. Rowan Moran is a deadly young man, and he uses anything available as a tool to accomplish his job. On this night, his job is to protect the Ambassador from attack, and gather as much information as possible. He doesn't LIKE the job, though, because it requires him to use his race and sexuality as camouflage to his real role as an Operative.  His relationship with the sword is an art form; the flows through prescribed routines like a dance. There is always something just a little bit off, though.

Lovers, by Tony Daniel.   Lisa Riggs had always known the sword would be hers one day. She just didn't realize that her parents would sell it to her, in anger and rejection because she chose the life of an enlisted member of the service, not a commissioned officer.  She bore up under the rejection, and was successful in her career despite their low opinion. And that's how she got sent to Mtali, the worst place in the universe. It didn't seem to have much potential to be a paradise, but the behavior of the assorted religious factions toward each other made it an open cesspool. She never liked the place, but she didn't hate it until they killed the one good thing she had found.

The Reluctant Heroine, by Michael Z. Williamson. The oldest story in the book, this tells how Kendra Pacelli and the sword picked each other, and how she used it in the desperate battle to save Grainne.

The Thin Green Line, by Michael Z. Williamson. A new Kendra Pacelli story for the book. Invited back to the cesspool that is Mtali, Kendra goes out of a sense of duty. It's supposed to be in support of a peace settlement, but on Mtali, that can degenerate quickly; and it does. Her counterpart is Aisha Rahal, also a woman in the service of her planet, in this case, Ramadan. Forced by her culture's gender models to take a back seat, Lt. Rahal is nonetheless eager to serve. As must Kendra.

Family Over Blood, by Kacey Ezell. Wayne Carreon tells the story, but he is not the bearer of the sword. That honor goes to his commander, Captain Naomy Aiella, who may not be as crazy as prior sword bearer Captain Reilly, but she will do until something else comes along. Humanity has a new enemy, and there appears to be no negotiations possible; the Cutters are expanding their territory, and attack whenever they come into contact with humans. It's exactly the sort of situation that calls for cool and crazy, and it seems to fit nicely for Captain Aiella. Unfortunately it's not THAT nice fit that has Wayne's attention; during the fight for entry into the Cutter ship, their power armor has been disabled, and they have to carry on in their composite underwear. Wayne LIKES the way Captain Aiella looks in her composite underwear. Now, some may theorize that it is the after-effects of the concussion he took on ship entry that have scrambled his neurons, but I think not. I think he's just normal. It just takes a while to work out the kinks on the job when there are beautiful women and handsome men involved, and when the jobsite involves the possibility of sudden death, it takes a little longer. That's all.

Choices and Consequences, by Michael Z. Williamson. Without this chapter, I don't think the book works; at least, it wouldn't work as well. Through SCIENCE, the new sword bearer is provided with the information about the history of the sword. There is evidence to document owners going back to Lisa Riggs, and proof that the sword was much, much older than that. And then comes the question: what is the highest and best use of the sword? To be treasured and placed on display, for all to see? Or to be returned to battle? Hint: It's a Mad Mike book. What do you THINK the answer is going to be?

Peace be on your household


  1. Thanks very much. Though "Spoiler alert" on the last story would be nice.:)

    1. I took out the only legit reveal that was in the last story. It's a great addition, by the way. More than we knew!