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Book Review: Breach the Hull by Mike McPhail

Genre: Military Science Fiction. Short Stories
ISBN: 1892669439
ISBN-13: 9781892669438
Format: Paperback, 232pp
Publisher: Marietta Publishing
Pub. Date: November 2007

Since the publication of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, stories about the soldiers who fight the wars in space have had an enduring popularity among science fiction fans. Of late, though, its popularity has waned with the rise of fantasy, steampunk, and urban fantasy novels. Editor Mike McPhail has attempted to revive this sub-genre with the publication of his collection entitled Breach the Hull. Collecting 16 tales of military SF, Breach the Hull does a good job of covering the spectrum of military style SF, while only including three previously published tales.

There are two stories by veteran writer Jack McDevitt, “Cryptic” and “Black to Move.” “Cryptic” tells a modern story of the SETI project and the need to question just what we might encounter out there if we are not careful. Continuing in that vein, “Black to Move” mixes chess and war, and left a cold feeling in my heart with its chilling ending. Both stories are very well-written and their inclusion makes this anthology extremely strong. Even though both have been previously published, they are hard to find, and are an excellent introduction to an SF writer everyone should read.

John C. Wright, another excellent SF author has two stories in this anthology. The first, “Peter Power Armor” is a new story for this anthology. “Peter Power Armor” is about a child’s toy in a man’s war, and the salvation it can bring. This story was heartwrenching. “Forgotten Causes” is a story about a weapon and a man, but a planet destroying weapon of an unusual nature. I would very much like to read more stories of Marshall Lamech. Wright’s stories had well integrated themes of heroism and revenge and would make anyone want to find more stories by Wright.

Mike McPhail’s own contribution to the anthology, “Wayward Child,” is actually the one least liked. It was disconnected and vague. It tried to tell the story of a soldier on the ground, and the sacrifice one makes for a comrade. McPhail’s protagonist simply did not generate empathy, and the final conclusion of “change” was too vague to be of use in defining the character’s future.

“Not One Word” by James Daniel Ross is a spy story. The protagonist is on the run with some sensitive information, and the reader will experience the thrill of the chase as he runs from his pursuers. Ross’s story brings the thrill of excitement by telling an action packed tale. It is actually part of lager world he has developed, so you I recommend you visit his website to learn more.

“In the Dying Light” by Danielle Ackley-McPhail was one of my favorite stories of Breach the Hull. An Alien style horror tale, it is about the dangers of the strange uncharted regions of space. Ackley-McPhail builds tension well, and by the end you may find yourself gripped in the cold sweats of fear.

James Chambers’ “Killer Eye” explores the reasons that some go to war. For his protagonist, it is revenge for a family killed. Bringing to mind the close confines of spaceships and the sometimes lonely life on would expect in such situations, Chambers’ story find enemies both within and without in a wartime situation. Well-conceived, “Killer Eye” shows why and us-versus-them mentality can bring about solidarity.

“Compartment Alpha,” by Jeffrey Lyman, is an epic space battle. Each ship fires on another, and eventually one is destroyed, but the true heroes never stop fighting. Lyman brings the bravery of soldiers to the forefront, and envisions what happens to the survivors of those huge spaceships after they go silent.

John Hemry’s “Dead End” looks at the diplomatic side of military SF. Sometimes our understanding of the enemy is too clouded by our own perceptions. Hemry’s tale really drives that point home, and you will look at our own conflicts a bit differently after reading “Dead End.”

Bud Sparhawk’s “Broadside” wants to point out the colossal waste in life and potential in war. By describing a battle instigated for reasons of trade, Sparhawk makes allusions to the Gulf War and the current conflict in Iraq. Although the story was politicized, it’s still worth a read. Sparhawk’s second story “Alliances” is a pirate tale, a story of rebellion against a ruling empire. And sometimes rebellion makes for strange bedfellows.

Making allusions to Shakespeare throughout, Lawrence M. Schoen’s “Thresher” is another pirate tale. Although not really a military SF story, I can see why the editor included it in this anthology. Schoen”s paean to Shakespeare in this tale piques the interest. Schoen’s story is a worthwhile addition.

“Dereliction of Duty” is an admixture of zombie fantasy and military SF. Sometimes fear can overrule even the best of soldiers, but if one person stands up and does what is right, many innocents can be spared. Patrick Thomas adds urban fantasy elements to an older genre, and out pops an inventive little story.

“Perspective” by Tony Ruggiero is another urban fantasy/military SF mix, and gives a sci-fi explanation to our own myths about vampiric beings. I truly was surprised by its ending. Sometimes our change in perspective makes us see things in a whole new light.

C. J. Henderson closes out the collection with a humorous tale called “Shore Leave.” As you can imagine, the story is about a couple of gregarious soldiers who do the right thing when an unusual situation presents itself. The story was a good one to end with, as it allows the anthology to end on a high note.

McPhail’s editing is superb. Breach the Hull is full of excellent stories, no two of which are the same. While similar themes crop up throughout, each writer has managed to take the subgenre and make it his own. McPhail, a graphic designer as well as editor, has given each story an opening illustration that heightened the sense of military splendor and pageantry. I highly recommend this little known anthology for all SF enthusiasts.

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