- An anthology of twenty-four stories
- Published by Black Library in November 2022
- Grimdark SF
- 631 pages
In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war. Humanity is besieged on all sides by traitors, heretics, and xenos. This endless war makes no heroes, and leaves nothing but the dead . . .
If you asked me just a few years ago what I thought of anthologies, I’d have said they’re great in principle but generally not for me. The past few years have made me re-evaluate my thoughts on anthologies, and on short stories in general. This re-evaluation is due in no small part to Black Library’s increasingly strong run of anthologies, of which Only War is the most recent to work its way to the top of my TBR stack.
When I pick up an anthology, I’m on the lookout for two things. First is a familiar name. Especially outside of franchise fiction, I’m unlikely to pick up an anthology unless there’s at least one story in there by an author I know will deliver a good story. In the case of Only War, that story comes in the form of Justin D Hill’s ‘The Place of Pain and Healing,’ which slots into his Minka Lesk series of novels as a backstory for the main character. Like a lot of the stories in this anthology, Hill’s offering was first released digitally a few years ago, and only now comes to print. As someone who doesn’t get along with e-readers, these first printing anthologies are great for catching up on all the stories I’ve seen discussed elsewhere. Hill’s story is typically strong, and caps off an opening slew of Militarum-centred stories that is by a small margin my favourite part of the collection.
The second thing I’m doing in an anthology is looking out for new authors. While any good short story is complete in its own right, I like to treat them as teasers for an author’s larger offerings. If I like the short stories, there’s a good chance I’ll enjoy full novels from them too. This is how I stumbled across Edoardo Albert (who also has a story collected here), and there are a couple of authors from previous anthologies on whom I’m currently waiting for longer works. From the Militarum side of things alone I’m keen to see more from Steven B Fischer (and happily enough I have his debut lined up for latter in the month) and Maria Haskins.
This book is broken up into a few sections. Aside from Militarum, there are a handful of Astartes stories (personally my least favourite, but by no means bad), a selection of stories about the more pious members of the Imperium, including Adepta Sororitas, but also the clergy (Danie Ware’s Da Big Mouf’ is the only story in here that I recall reading before, which isn’t bad for two dozen stories in total), and few xenos stories. There’s also an impressively strong final act of stories based around the Imperial navy and aeronauts, which hopefully means we’ll be getting more of this sort of story in the near future. Even if it’s an anthology like this rather than more novels, I’ll gladly take it.
All things considered, Only War has to be one of the stronger anthologies I’ve read this year. Even the stories I don’t rate as highly is purely down to personal taste, and there are far more that hit the mark. The familiar names are on top form, and I’m definitely walking away with a few new names to keep track of. I dare say this anthology would make a better introduction to Warhammer 40,000 than the Nexus + Other Stories anthology, but even if you’re a veteran of the grim, dark future, this one still has a whole lot to offer.