I have found in my experience with stories about war that during battle scenes it is a common incident that the action of a battle leaves me bored and reading faster just to get to a part with real human dialogue and storytelling. Is it odd to say that I have become desensitized to the battlefield in literature? Maybe and maybe not. It is very hard to pack real emotion into a battle scene. This is understandable as any battle in war is barely controlled chaos. How is it possible to pack real emotion and sympathy in something where absolutely nothing is certain and every character essentially becomes faceless as they fight for survival? This week’s review is different from those, in that the author has found a way to humanize (as terrible as it sounds) his battle scenes into something more than a faceless mass of death and destruction.
I was first introduced to the world of Shattered Citadel by Michael Mangual, by a stranger at a Barnes and Noble store who saw me looking over the Alternate History section. I’m thankful he suggested it. Shattered Citadel at this point is a series of short stories that can be found here: http://shatteredcitadel.com/ . They are a work of love from the author, one Michael Mangual who hopes to one day turn this labor of love into a full-fledged book in the same style as The Good War by Studs Terkel and World War Z by Max Brooks. Shattered Citadel is about a future world war (also called the Third Human Civil War) between a Federated Europe, United North America, and India against the hordes of the Chinese Hegemony, a newly born Soviet Union, and a new Muslim Caliphate that is made up of the entire Middle East.
I will not lie many of the stories involve intense scenes of violence which include graphic depictions of genocide, cannibalism, and the unmitigated use of weapons of mass destruction. The world he paints is one that I desperately hope we can avoid. Despite these scenes of intense violence there are also instances of compassion and humanity. Many stories deal with the redemption of characters and champion the sacrifice one person can make out of love for another. While Mr. Mangual is able to make his battle scenes stay interesting he is also able to create real sympathy from the reader for the characters he creates.
This series does not only focus on World War III. Many of Mr. Mangual’s short stories also describe the world afterwards as well as the colonization of the solar system by humans along with Humanity’s first interactions with beings from other planets. These stories I find especially well planned and executed as the alien species are very interesting. One race, the Huellok are described as two headed flesh eaters. The second are the Voorik, large crystalline beings that speak through telepathy in the voices of dead loved ones. Both are very different from the standard aliens we seem to get today, most of which always seem to be overly human. These actually seem otherworldly.
I am genuinely glad to have had this series of short stories introduced to me by a random person in a book store. I have not been disappointed. These series of short stories are great reading for anyone who has an interest in military Sci-Fi.