A Song of I.C.E. and Fire and XSeed CY 73

Saturday , 2, May 2020 Leave a comment

Several authors, including many former Castalia House blogger and guests, got together to provide a free anthology for those itching for adventure and the thrill of the unknown during this time of distancing and quarantine. Inside are a collection of short stories and even four novels filled with tales of high adventure, escapist fantasies, and thrilling stories of suspense, and, as the name Corona-chan: Spreading the Love implies, more than a little dark humor. Here are reviews of two of the eighteen stories inside.

As the last vestige of the men’s adventure genre, paramilitary monster-hunting stories have fallen on hard times. Popularized most recently by Monster Hunter International, and fanned into an indie craze by Seal Team 666, the genre, like Navy SEAL fiction and other men’s adventure genres, has been rendered safe for editor’s tastes and politics through series like Joe Ledger until what was once a vibrant genre is now forgotten among a slew of monster girl harems and monster evolution fantasies.

Enter the Corona-Chan anthology.

In “A Song of I.C.E. and Fire”, renegade author Jon del Arroz uses monster-hunting on the border to take a pot-shot at the idea that “all X must Y”. In this case, it’s that all Hispanics must be for illegal immigration. However, what should have been eye-rolling politics is kept to a mere scene as Gabriel Hernadez and his fellow I.C.E. agents hunt down a Mexican vampire clan preying on children trying to cross the border.

I am not a fan of politics in science fiction–real-world, fresh off the headlines screeds age horribly in a matter of weeks as the headlines change, but to deny that some of the best science fiction explores timeless social issues would be foolish. As in all things, Harlan Ellison’s advice should be followed. Before one can educate, one must first entertain. And the admittedly real-world, straight from 2019 headlines immigration protests take a back seat to a simple tale of a man doing his duty by fighting monsters.

That’s the key. The action comes first. And the action holds its own against the monster-hunting books of the early 2010s and the Dick Marcinko-clones they are patterned after. Honestly, Latino I.C.E. should have been as cringe-inducing as the standard fare from del Arroz’s political opponents. In the hands of a lesser writer, it would have been. But del Arroz gets the banter right, gets the action right, gets the focus on the job right. While others would dwell on the politics (or even the ten thousand varieties of firearms and ammunition on the market), del Arroz writes Gabriel to focus on the task at hand.

If anything, “A Song of I.C.E. and Fire” is too short, reading as the introduction to what might be a classic monster hunter novel stripped of the normal excesses. But I’m not sure we can tear Jon del Arroz away from his beloved comics and steampunk to write it.

Check it out for yourself in the free pulp anthology, Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love.

The Corona -Chan anthology holds a surprise for fans of Brian Niemeier’s Combat Frame XSeed series. Among its many stories lies the first XSeed story published. Called “Anacyclosis”, or, perhaps more fittingly renamed in the series’ current nomenclature, CY 73, it is a more contemplative story, befitting its first publication in the Sci Phi Journal nearly five years ago. As such, it offers a glimpse into the history of the XSeed universe between CY40: Second Coming and the recently announced XSeed S. And for those who might be confused by the seemingly random string of letters and number, that means war and giant robots.

Humanity is locked in a long stalemated war against the Ynzu, a race known for exterminating everything in its path. Yet despite frequent losses, humanity has still spread to the stars. Above one colony, mecha pilot Kob Agur is about to learn the cost of his monomania: immortal glory earned by fighting the Ynzu.

Kob is the typical anime protagonist; determined, skilled, and utterly clueless with the ladies. His brusque refusal of a co-worker’s advances sets the stage for how his obsession with glory brings death all around. The disasters around Kob spiral, from doomed wingmen, to destroyed carriers, and razed colonies. But when the cold embrace of space is about to claim his drifting combat frame, Kob is discovered by a hidden settlement filled with strange monks obsessed by collecting the computerized memories of Witnesses to history, including many of the leaders of the original XSeed novel. Once Kob awakens, he is tested to see if he might join this immortal archive.

Given the tendency towards violent death in XSeed, one wonders how so many characters’ memories were captured. Perhaps it is something to do with the XSeed combat frames’ computer systems. Or maybe the technology is similar to the Rimway AI simulations in Jack McDevitt’s Alex Benedict novels. What is soon clear, however, is that Kob’s nature will claim more victims.

Kob’s fate is a darkly ironic take on the typical anime protagonist, and an inversion on the typical plot armor granted by determination, skill, and cockiness. Some would say more realistic, but the same traits that doom Kob are rewarded elsewhere in the XSeed series. Not all who are named Destroyer bring ruin to their enemies.

Briefly considered in the story is the possibility that humanity might have beaten the Ynzu, in a future far away from CY 73. However, there is no hint to the gnarled path that might lead humanity to that destiny. And with two novels remaining, that will undoubtedly be a rollercoaster full of switchbacks before readers see that future. But while we wait, “Anacyclosis” is a splash of Soul Cycle contemplation between thrill rides.

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