Monday, September 24, 2007

Breach the Hull Review

Hey everyone. A friend of mine asked me to review this anthology. It's a good read (the anthology, not necessarily the review), Enjoy.

Breach the Hull Review

I met Mike McPhail through his wife, author Danielle Ackley-McPhail as she and I were ran the East Coast convention circuit. Mike is a huge fan of military SF and this anthology is truly a labor of love.

What Mike understands best is that military SF doesn’t have to be just about epic space battles and high-powered grunts waging war against alien bugs. In fact, Breach the Hull is at its best in stories like “Peter Power Armor” and “Forgotten Causes” by Asimov’s veteran John C. Wright and the two reprints in this edition, Jack McDevitt’s “Cryptic” and “Black to Move” (both originally printed in Asimov’s in the ‘80s), which bring us down out of the stars and delve deep into the human condition. That’s where SF does its best work, even SF of a more military bent.

But that’s not to say there aren’t some great space-faring yarns here. I really liked “Thresher,” which contained some truly innovative tech along with a well-developed story of personal loyalty and honor. And for just plain, edge-of-your-seat, wartime adventure, you don’t want to miss Jeff Lyman’s “Compartment Alpha.” This story also has some cool tech driving the plot, but what brings it to life are the characters, whom you can immediately connect with as they strive to survive in the heat of battle.

The final story in this volume, “Shore Leave,” by the always wonderful CJ Henderson, is an amazing romp through a fanciful future city where the military of many worlds come to relax. But again, it’s not the tech or the guns that make this story work, but the two incredible jarheads at the center of the action. While absolute caricatures, Rocky and Noodles made me believe in them and their often wacky future.

I have to be honest, though, some of the stories in this volume are a bit of a mixed bag. Not all the authors here are seasoned professionals, and it shows at times. It’s not that they’re badly written. No, I enjoyed every story for what it brought to the anthology. But some of the stories here just didn’t feel complete. Some had brilliant ideas and crisp writing, but failed to engage me with their characters. Others pulled me into the stories and made me care about the lives of the inhabitants, but didn’t deliver in the end.

Still I saw definite promise in these newer authors and I would give each of them a look again in the future. In the end, there is more than enough great SF in Breach the Hull for any true fan of the genre, military or not. And without small press anthologies like these that provide a venue for up-and-coming authors, the next crop of McDevitts, Wrights, and Hendersons will languish in obscurity, never given the chance to reach for the stars... and perhaps blow one up.