A Fistful of Credits: Stories from the Four Horseman Universe, ed. Chris Kennedy & Mark Wandrey

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 16:57 Richard Cartwright

A Fistful of Credits:

Stories from the Four Horseman Universe


Edited by

Chris Kennedy and Mark Wandrey


(Seventh Seal Press, June 2017, 497pp., pb)

The Last Alpha” by Mark Wandrey
Breach Of Contract” by Terry Mixon
Paint The Sky” by Jason Cordova
Surf And Turf” by Jon R. Osborne
Stand On It” by Kevin Ikenberry
Lost And Found” by Jon Arroz
Gilded Cage” by Kacey Ezell
Legends” by Christopher Woods
With The Eagles” by Doug Dandridge
Dead Or Alive” by PP Corcoran
Hide And Seek” by Christopher Nuttall
Information Overload” by Charity Ayres
Enough” by Chris Kennedy
CASPer’s Ghost” by Brad R. Torgersen

Reviewed by Richard Cartwright

When creators of a fictional universe invite others to come and play in their world there's often a risk that the stories are either so "inside baseball" that someone who has never read the novels is lost, or so tangential that readers who have read the series wonder if they picked up the wrong book. I am glad to report that the editors and writers walked that tightrope with skill and panache. A Fistful of Credits is an excellent introduction to Mark Landrey’s universe of the Four Horseman for those who have never read the series, and a fun read for devotees.

The Last Alpha” by Mark Wandrey was an especially fun read because it is set in the area I grew up in. Not only is his geography spot on, it’s interesting, albeit somewhat depressing, to see the writer's vision of my part of the somewhat dystopian Earth of the Four Horseman universe, where for all practical purposes the only valuable resource the planet can offer is mercenaries. Wandrey skillfully spins a tale of a bittersweet homecoming and a brighter future for a returning solider.

Terry Mixon’s “Breach of Contract” explores the glue that holds the Four Horseman universe together—the sanctity of contract. You might think that a story about a broken agreement would be more suited to law school than military SF, but not so. Mr. Mixon not only crafts a great read, but deftly illustrates something any lawyer knows—enforceable contracts are often not “fair” and you have to have a way to deal with those who seek to use their power to break faith with those with whom they make agreements. Revenge is a dish best served with a side of penalty clauses.

Paint the Sky” by Jason Cordova tells a story of not only the perils of buying at distress sales but making do with what you have. I especially liked that the stars of the story were the support types rather than typical uber fighters.

Surf and Turf” by Jon R. Osborne looks at something not often addressed in milsf. Being a soldier for hire means you and your company travel to where the fighting is and leave when youre work is done. This is a story of what happens when you’ve decided to fight for something other than money: when you fight for a home.

Kevin Ikenberry in “Stand On It” creates a Matryoshka doll of a story. Like the Russian nested dolls, each scene opens to yet another more nuanced twist. Well worth your time.

Lost And Found” by Jon Del Arroz is a story about the Canavar, which in the Four Horseman universe is the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and general bogeyman of the Galactic Union. Del Arroz delivers a story of mercs not only fulfilling their contract but doing the right thing at the same time.

When change comes, some people aren't able to handle it well and retreat. I was reminded of the opium dens of history when reading “Gilded Cage” by Kacey Ezell. Fair warning, this is a very dark story, yet powerful and poignant, illustrating that not everyone thrives in a new reality but can sometimes find a way to survive.

Legends” by Christopher Woods starts from the somewhat tired premise of the “go into the military or go to jail” trope. Fortunately for everyone the author has the skills to build a great story of a person who had no interest in being a hero but becoming one and finding his calling at the same time.

Doug Dandridge gives us a look into the day to day of the Fierce Eagle Company, a team of mercs trying to pay the bills in “With the Eagles.” A good story with an interesting twist.

Dead or Alive” by PP Corcoran is a story of the Peacemakers Guild, as close as the rather libertarian Galactic Union comes to a police force. Mr. Corcoran weaves the tale of a lone Peacemaker bringing murderers to justice. And turning a nice profit for her guild and the mercs helping her.

Christopher Nuttall is a legend in the indie writing community for his prolific output of well written books. “Hide and Seek” is a classic example of why the reputation is well deserved. According to the editors, the story was turned in about 24 hours after the offer was made. The story is not just a tale of a spy trying to avoid capture and salvaging a blown mission, but a commercial ship’s officer trying to be loyal to his country, avoid the ire of a jackbooted government official and keep his job all at the same time.

Charity Ayres tells a story starting from the dual premises of “information is power” and “information security is key” in “Information Overload.” While not a bad story, it was by no means the best of the anthology. The story has well written action, but the level of technical description impairs the pacing.

Enough” by Chris Kennedy addresses the question that has gone through the mind of every commander who has been handed the hopeless battle against incredible odds. “What was the @#$#%$ thinking that ordered us here?” Rather than stand and die, the commander and his troops do something to find out. One thing I especially liked about this story was the three dimensional portrayal of the enemy, which is often missing in the genre.

Brad R. Torgersen delivers another solid story befitting one of science fiction’s rising stars. “CASPer’s Ghost” packs more description, mystery, misdirection, characterization and action in a short story than most recent Hugo winners can manage in a novel. Ostensibly a “man vs the elements” story, Torgersen layers more and more complexity, twists and turns with every paragraph. One of the best stories of the collection.