Sunday, May 2, 2010

Book Review: 'Monster Brigade 3000', edited by Martin Greenberg and Charles Waugh

2 / 5 Stars
Yet another  anthology edited by Martin H. Greenberg (here aided by co-editor Charles Waugh), ‘Monster Brigade 3000’ (215 pp) was published by Ace books in 1996. The cover illustration is by Gary L. Freeman.
This anthology’s theme is the use of altered humans in warfare; while this might seem like the perfect topic to generate some action-packed tales, unfortunately, many of the selections are predictable expositions on the Meaning of What It Is to be Human. While the majority of the entries appeared in the 90s, there are some golden oldies from the 50s added in to round out the collection.
The first story, William Tenn’s ‘Down Among the Dead Men’, appeared in Galaxy in 1954. It’s about a spaceship pilot who must command a crew composed of androids recycled from combat casualties. As is typical with a Tenn story, there is little action, and much philosophical musing about whether such creatures: Are Not Men ?
Brian Hodge contributes ‘A Loaf of Bread, A Jug of Wine’. It’s the Fall of 1942, and in a small French village, a young nun investigates the nocturnal visits of a mysterious stranger to the abbey stables. It turns out the visitor is a famous character from 18th century fiction; there are complications when a detachment of Nazis arrives to take control of the village. It’s a worthwhile premise, but the story suffers from the author’s overwrought efforts to be Profound.
‘The Monster’, by Joe Haldeman, deals with a Vietnam War veteran who witnessed a terrible atrocity while on a reconnaissance mission in enemy territory. Did the creature who committed the attack come from without…. or from within ?
‘The Eater of Filth’, by Gary  A. Braunbeck, is really more of a zombie story than sf. Fallen soldiers from the Mexican American War arise in the night and lay siege to a village. Offbeat and original, coming across like something Joe R. Lansdale would write, this is one of the better stories in the collection.
‘Correspondence’, by Lawrence Schimel and Mark A. Garland, takes place on a future Earth in which the descendents of humans abducted by aliens, returned to their ancestral home, wage a race war with mutated strains of Homo sapiens. It’s a rather unremarkable treatment of the ‘we have met the enemy, and he is us’ theme.
Billie Sue Moisman’s ‘War, the Last’ presents Armageddon from the point of view of an angel participating on the side of Right. It’s an interesting mix of sf and ‘End Times’ biblical tropes, and another of the more interesting entries in this anthology.
Bruce Holland Roger’s story ‘In the Matter of the Ukdena’, despite its 1996 copyright, reads like a tale from the 70s New Wave era, what with its contrived mixup of italicized and varied- font paragraphs, the insertion of numerous stanzas of blank verse, and use of a prose style aimed at evoking the stilted nature of translated American Indian folk tales. Underneath its messy structure is something to do with an alternate history of the New World, in which Spirits in the air somehow prevented the subjugation of aboriginal societies at the hands of the invading Europeans. The inclusion of this tale in the anthology had me scratching my head in puzzlement.
‘A Zombie Named Fred’, by Jake Foster, is a readable, humorous treatment of the zombie-as-soldier theme.
‘Surface Tension’, by Peter Crowther, is a tongue-in-cheek story about explorers of an alien planet confronting the sudden arrival of an unusual breed of monsters. The story is meant as a sort of homage to those appearing in the pages of the EC science fiction comics of the 50s. My opinion  ?  ….meh.
Robert David Chase contributes ‘The Monster Parade’, in which a US commando on covert assignment in Mexico investigates disturbing rumors about the Space Corps. Featuring some unexpected plot twists, this is another of the better stories in the anthology.
‘Grabow and Collicker and I’, by veteran writer Algis Budrys, is about rejuvenated soldiers fighting the Civil War.
Dan Perez provides ‘Behind Enemy Lines’, placed in a near-future setting in which vampires dominate the world and seek to snuff out armed resistance offered by the dwindling numbers of  ‘daylighters’.
From The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1956, Poul Anderson’s ‘Operation Chaos’ rounds out the collection. Set in an alternate universe where magic and mythical creatures are as normal as science and technology in our own world, warring sides use dragons, basilisks, and spells in their contest to control the western United States.
The verdict ? ‘Monster Brigade 3000’ is, like the vast majority of the Greenberg anthologies, rather unremarkable. You won’t be missing much if you decide to pass on it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i got a monster brigade in my pants