Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Shark Strategy: Move or Die

Review: Tales of B-Company by Chris Pourteau

There I was, reading a David Weber novel one morning at Chick-fil-A, when my friend Mitch learned that my new book was due to be published in August. He said I made four published authors he knew personally. I already knew Mitch was acquainted with Steven Gould, author of Jumper and other novels. They had gone to college together. I asked, who are the others?

In reply, Mitch asked if I had ever read Pennsylvania, the Amish sci-fi novel by Michael Bunker. Thinking, Amish sci-fi? I told him, no, why? It was because another author he attended college with, Chris Pourteau, had written some military fiction in the Pennsylvania universe. 

Military Amish science fiction. What a concept.

Pourteau makes it work, though, and you don't need to have read Pennsylvania to enjoy this collection. The first story, "Gelassenheit," introduces Mary Brennerman, a pivotal character in the rest of the tales, and reveals her motivation for leaving the community of Plain People who have settled on New Pennsylvania, to join the rebel force called TRACE.

The remaining three tales in the collection, "Gettysburg," "Susquehanna," and "Columbia," are closer to novellas than short stories, and Pourteau traces his inspiration for each (mostly from Civil War history) in an afterword that follows each tale. 

The juice of the collection, however, resides strongly in the stories themselves. We meet Lieutenant Hatch, "Trick" to the company, and the hard-drinking "man-mountain" Sergeant Stug, whose continual complaint is not getting to hit enough people. Hawkeye, Bracer, Pusher... Each of the TRACE rebels becomes important to us, and we care what happens to them. The action of their battles is balanced by the action of their hearts and minds.

The "B" of B-Company, by the way, is not a mere alphabet letter. It is short for Bestimmung, a German/Pennsylvania Dutch word that can mean regulation, purposeor destiny. While Mary Brennerman and the other evocative characters of her company move through their various battlefields, it takes on each of those meanings in turn. 

Pourteau goes on my watch-for list, along with Bunker and Amish science fiction.

Who knew?