Military science fiction in three novellas from Drake, Weber, and Flint with characters or plotlines from the authors’ well-known multivolume series. It’s too soon to tell whether the war against terrorism will elevate military SF to the level of its WWII glory years. The standout in these three original tales provides an idea of what some of the Baen boys have been doing over the last two decades. Flint’s “Islands,” the best of the lot, is also the most difficult to follow. An outtake from the Belisarius series (written in collaboration with Drake, The Tide of Victory, etc.), it needs an introduction to explain that it’s set in an alternate past where personalities from the future are introducing advanced technology to the fifth century Roman Empire. The story, though, is a touching, battle-brings-out-our-best tale as Calopodius, a young and naive Greek nobleman who escaped his loveless marriage to join Belisarius’s army, not only learns to live with wounds that have rendered him permanently blind, but enlists his estranged wife on a mission of mercy that repairs their marriage. Weber (Ashes of Victory, etc.) goes the rights-of-passage route as his tough, resourceful female King’s Navy officer Honor Harrington learns how to survive shipboard hazing and marauding space pirates in “Ms. Midshipwoman Harrington.” In “Choosing Sides,” Drake offers another guts ’n’ glory adventure for his future mercenaries, Hammer’s Slammers (The Sharp End, etc.), with Lieutenant Arne Huber uncovering, and then helping to slaughter, a band of saboteurs threatening the Slammers’ latest job.
Despite Drake’s gratuitous references to exploding body parts (“the blast. . . pureed their heads and torsos”), these stories of stock characters in visceral action scenes actually tend to fare better outside their ponderously plotted series than in.