Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Fistful of Credits edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey

(Author's note: Sorry I've been gone so long. I've been suffering from an overdose of interesting life. The good news is that I seem to still be alive. The bad news is that I'm not quite sure how. I know I owe reviews to like eleventy-billion people. I will get to you. Things are just a bit crazy right now. At any rate, on with the review.)

I have to admit to being a bad boy. I had heard a lot about the Four Horsemen Universe but I hadn't tried it. This is a bad thing for a guy like me. I love military SF. I love stories about mercenaries. I freaking love mecha combat and I can't get enough of plucky little humanity stories. It was obvious that I needed an in to this universe and so I jumped at the chance to get a copy of A Fistful of Credit, an anthology edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey. I figured to be thoroughly entertained and to learn about this awesome universe. I wasn't disappointed on either count. This anthology really rocks. I'll get to each story in a bit, but I wanted to share a few thoughts on the anthology overall first.

Each story starts with notes about the author. I find this to be excellent. I love indie authors but I haven't had time to read them all. The information about each author, what other things they've had written and published and where to find them was awesome. I'm not promising to read the all (I, like most of you, have limited resources of both time and money) but I'll definitely get to a few at least. So good work there. Chuck Gannon's preface is pretty awesome too, as it provides a gateway for those of us (yup, guilty) who haven't had a chance to read the stories previously. I really wish I hadn't need it, but I did.

I also want to get into the organization of the anthology for just a second. The first story is called “The First Alpha” by Mark Wandrey. I'll get to a review of the story itself in a second, but for now I want to express a bit of frustration. This is an anthology set in the Four Horsemen Universe. The premise of the entire series is that humanity has been introduced to a wider universe full of aliens and can only survive by selling their services as mercenaries. When I opened this e-book I wanted to walk face first into a kick-ass mercenary story. I wanted a battlefield with bodies and explosions. What I got was a crime thriller. It's a good story (more on that next paragraph) but I really don't think that it was the right tale to kick off the anthology with. I was a bit disappointed here because it wasn't what I was expecting. Overall, it didn't really detract from my overall enjoyment of the collection all that much but it was a bit jarring. Other than that, things seemed to flow smoothly, but honestly if I were to read AFoC again, I'd probably skip this one and come back to it.'

The First Alpha” by Mark Wandrey was a look into life on Earth in the Four Horsemen Universe (4HU). Things on humanity's home planet are not good. People are broke to the point where most of them can't afford a simple breakfast out. Crime is rampant and infrastructure is crumbling. Our “hero” is a guy named Zeke. He's sneaky. He's resourceful. He's got a plan. This was an entertaining story with a surprise ending that I never saw coming but that made sense once I read it. Overall, I really enjoyed it once I got past the fact that it wasn't a merc story.

Breach of Contract” by Terry Mixon is a detective story. It gives us an insight into the workings of law and justice in the 4HU and it really rocks. Of course, I'm partial to story featuring ass-kicking attractive women, but this one has plenty of action and just enough back story to hold everything together without bogging the story down into long reminisces that would make it drag. The tech is awesome. The search for vengeance is fun and the daring of our heroes Jackie and Anton make “Breach of Contract” a winner.

The business end of the merc business meets good old fashioned ass-kickery in Jason Cordova's “Paint the Sky.” It's the story of Mulbah Luo, who buys a mercenary company and finds out that there's more to running it than just having some gear. He ends up leading his men in the field and learning a few lessons along the way. The character arc is amazing. The action is a ton of fun. And this is the type of story I was looking forward to when I cracked this book. There's a bit of a surprise at the end of this one too. I really had a good time following the mercs into the field on their first assignment under a new owner.

Dude. Dude, dude, dude, dude, dude. I loved “Surf and Turf” by Jon Osborne. The only problem I had with this story comes in the introduction. Despite the fact that there is at least one other story in AFoC that includes a tag about an upcoming novel, this one does not. Our main character is Bjorn Tovesson III and he's the reluctant commander of a mercenary unit. He's got an amazing back-story and he's a lot of fun to hang out with. He kicks ass, drinks hard and really does care about his troops and the people they're protecting. In short, he is way too cool of a character to be wasted on only having a short story. The story itself is awesome. The combat is gripping. There's a flirty attractive waitress. The villains are sentient crabs with shell mounted weaponry. “Surf and Turf” drips with awesome. NOW WHERE IS MY NOVEL?!?!?!??!?!?!?! (Please?)

Stand on It,” by Kevin Ikenberry takes a tried and true trope and makes it amazing. This is the story of a mercenary unit who ends up with more of a challenge than they bargained for – and a missing member to boot. Don't you just hate it when the employer lies about what the mercs are going to be facing and hangs them out to dry? I don't. I mean, I would if I were one of the character in “Stand on It,” but from the point of view of the reader it rocks. I see that Kevin is already signed for a novel in the 4HU. I'm looking forward to it.

You know what's really fun? Enemies that are pretty much invincible but that need to be beaten or we're all gonna die. Seriously. I love it when the Big Bad shows up ripping shit to pieces and the heroes have to save us all, only they NEED MORE POWER. “Lost and Found” but Jon Del Arroz delivers my favorite premise and it just make my day. The solution to the problem is one that I probably would not have come up with, but it makes sense and it works – barely. The ironic part is that it's not more power that gets the job done. I'll be reading more Jon Del Arroz as soon as I can.

Gilded Cage” by Kacey Ezell is a story of drug addiction and enslavement. It is aptly named as our heroine, Dr. Susan Aloh, trades her drug addicted lifestyle for a life as a pet to an alien. It's a fun story about a woman who learns to love.

Chris Woods gives us an epic in adventure in “Legends.” You can't beat a bunch of mercs in a bar telling war stories, especially when one of them is about to retire and his nickname is “The Legend.” This one was over way too soon. It was a great time. Sergeant Martin Quincy is really a bad ass, despite the fact that he really never wanted to be a merc. This hits a lot of the quintessential themes in merc stories. I had a lot of fun with it.

Doug Dandridge brings us “With The Eagles” a story of a merc company battling on a poisonous planet. The dual threats (the enemy and the native flora and fauna of the planet) keep this one suspenseful. We never know what's coming next and neither do the mercs. With the enemy being a fearsome Besquith and a hostage to recover things heat up quickly. This one was a lot of fun.

PP Corcoran's “Dead or Alive” brings us the story of Nikki Sinclair, a Peacekeeper and daughter the owner of Sinclair's Scorpions mercenary company in search of a criminal. Nikki is deadly and armed with a M1911 pistol. I'm a huge fan of that much firepower, especially in a world dominated by laser pistols. I just find something satisfying about a weapon that goes BLAM instead of pew. The fact that she gets a couple of friends and tears up the inside of a space station in CASPer power armor is pretty bad ass too.

Christopher Nutall's “Hide and Seek,” is a story about a conflict between Allen Jermaine, a security officer aboard a ship and the government of the planet his ship is orbiting which wants to snatch one of his passengers. It fits very well with my attitude toward government and their greedy, imperious, right violating ways. I had a bad case of the screw yous while reading about these damned government agents. I was all up in arms. Good job, Christopher Nutall. You tell it like it is and make the right guy the hero. (HINT: It's not the government.)

Information Overload” by Charity Ayres is the story of a crew just trying to survive after their ship was sabotaged. Her captain, Janna McCloud, is resourceful and focused and works her tail off to save her crew. Seriously. She does a lot of the work herself. This isn't exactly normal for a captain (unless this is ST:TOS and there's an away mission DERP, DERP, DERP) but it makes sense in the context of the story. She manages to overcome betrayal and get on with her mission. She's a member of the Information Guild, but she gets things done as well as any merc in the book. I like this chick.

Enough” by Chris Kennedy is probably the best story in AFoC It's the story of a betrayed group of mercs being hunted to extinction by humanity's oldest foe. It kicks large amounts of ass. Since I just mentioned ST: TOS, I should probably bring up another reference: The Kobayashi Maru, only this time there's no way to cheat the way Kirk did. No-win scenarios suck, and when you're pursued by a force that has a massive numerical superiority and has accepted a contract that can only be fulfilled by killing every member of your unit things get desperate, especially when your commander gets offed in the first paragraph. (No, I don't do spoilers. But if it happens on the FIRST PAGE it's not a spoiler.) Captain, cum Colonel Dan Walker doesn't give up on his people or their survival. He does fall for one rather obvious ploy, but maybe he was just tired. And he does what he needs to in the end, regardless of the risk to himself. I really loved this story.
Brad Torgersen was the victim of one of the earliest reviews on this blog. I love Brad's work and his entry (also the final entry of the A Fistful of Credits), “CASPers Ghost,” did not disappoint. When Blue Platoon hits the surface of Echo Tango 11, the fecal matter hits the rotary air impeller. They're seeking a deposit of F11 (the compound that powers spaceflight) and everything goes haywire. Torgersen makes a habit out of dropping surprises in this one and I don't want to spoil it. I'll just say that this “CASPer's Ghost” cooks with grease and it freaking rocked.

Bottom Line: 4.5 out of 5 Massive Paydays. Honestly, if the first two stories in the anthology had been like the fourth and fifth it probably would have been closer to 4.75 or maybe 5.0. Leading the anthology off with two non-mercenary stories detracted from my enjoyment of the anthology as a whole.

A Fistful of Credits
Edited by Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey
Seventh Seal Press, 2017

A Fistful of Credit is available for purchase at the link below:

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