Contributors: Kevin Dilmore, David Mack, Marco Plamieri, Dayton Ward
Era: The Original Series
Series: Vanguard (#6)
Publisher: Pocket Books
Genre: Space Opera
Publication Date: 2011
Starbase Vanguard and the Taurus Reach have earned a reputation for tragedy and mystery. But the legacy of the Shedai is far from the only story to be found in this region of space . . .
Don’t let the fact that this is an anthology fool you. Declassified is absolutely the sixth book in the Vanguard series, and should be read immediately after Precipice. A lot of the time short stories are used to add extra material to existing universe, to shine a light on lesser-known parts of the setting, or to showcase side characters. Declassified does that, but also a lot more. There are four novellas here, one by each of Vanguard‘s writers, and one by series editor Marco Palmieri. Each comes in at around a hundred pages, but that is where the similarities end.
Dayton Ward’s ‘Almost Tomorrow’ is the most interesting in the batch, and also the least consequential. It reads as a straight prequel to the main series, introducing all the major players, including those now sadly departed. There’s some good comedy here with the malfunctions in Vanguard‘s early days, and also some great character moments, highlighting where long established relationships began. It doesn’t add anything new to the series, but it’s a great introduction to the characters and themes. if someone wanted a taste of what Vanguard is about, this is the story I’d show them.
Kevin Dilmore’s ‘Hard News’ takes place in the aftermath of Reap the Whirlwind, and is unique in its first-person narration. Journalist Tim Pennington is one of my favourite characters in the series, but for me this account of his life fell short of the mark. Wedged in-between two novels, this story feels lacking in consequence. While this is true of the preceding story, here it’s more of a problem. ‘Hard news’ is all about character development, but when we know the destination, the journey is far less interesting. To me, at least. Your mileage may vary, and I hope it does.
Marco Palmieri’s ‘Ruins of Noble Men’ is another character-driven piece, this time picking up where Precipice left off. In uncharted territory now, the development has more pay-off. Here we follow Desrai and Reyes as they untangle the mess of their lives. It’s an interesting piece, but I’m not invested enough in their relationship to get the full effect.
David Mack’s ‘The Stars Look Down’ is the outlier in the collection. Also taking place after Precipice, this isn’t just a snapshot of people’s lives the way the others were. Well, it is, but it’s also a lot more. On the one hand, this is a fun adventure through space for Cervantes Quinn and Bridy Mac, and a nice glimpse at what the Gorn are doing during the series. But is also has major (and I mean MAJOR) ramifications for the rest of the series going ahead. We’re talking game-changing revelations and losses. It’s strange to have these coming from an anthology rather than one of the novels, and it comes out of nowhere compared to the rest of this collection. A great story, and sets things up nicely for the final two novels in the series, but I feel it would have been better if the story was novel-length itself.
Overall, Declassified is a pleasant, if disjointed, anthology, and key reading for all Vanguard readers.