Score: 92/100 (9.2 out of 10)
The undisputed Outstanding Creator Awards champion in fiction returns with yet another great entry! No one in modern times does fantasy & adventure quite like David V. Mammina. Nobody. And we've read dozens of these types of books this year, there's just no one who does it better.
“Of Freedom, Fear & Fantasy” is a collection of short stories by the Mammina that primarily deal with themes like warfare, the future of humanity, and what it truly means to be free.
In the very first story, we're thrown into a thrilling seafaring adventure story akin to “Pirates of the Caribbean” or “Master and Commander” in which the protagonist aboard the eponymous warship, Seawolf, hunts down the Caribbean slave ship, the Jarled Stag, and its nefarious captain, Deadlash. Jake was left for dead along with his slave-turned-lover, Marilyse, and her slave children.
As an aside, Marilyse is probably Mammina's first-ever major love interest who isn't a red-head.
Their ship, the Duchess, was cruelly scuttled with them still inside it by Corbin Nash, a diabolical man with a heavy hand in the Arab slave trade. Slavery and freedom are in the background of this story as it becomes apparent that the Civil War has been fought and slavery is now officially illegal in the region. The best parts of this story by far are the fighting scenes, particularly when we finally get the climactic showdown between the crews of Seawolf and the Jarled Stag. We can only imagine the sense of dread in having the enemy ram our ship and board it. It's truly a fight to the death—no surrender! David Mammina again shows his art in describing these types of all-or-nothing battles.
This story was so thrilling and exciting that we almost forgot that this book was a collection. Mammina treats us to a true variety show: a detective story involving a vampire ("night hag"), a dystopian story about a Terminator-like society in which human beings are quickly being replaced by robots and machines, a discussion/debate of humanity's place in the biosphere (destroying the environment while enriching their civilization) starring the somewhat obnoxious Avidus. In fact, let's talk about that particular story because it brought up some thoughts.
For one, the topic is a lot like “The Cottage” by William Thon, another book we read this season. Both stories discuss the effects that humanity is having on the environment, particularly in polluting the world, accelerating global warming, ruining the habitats of various animals, and sabotaging our own future. Like “The Cottage,” there's even a debate about organized religion in here. The difference between this and Thon's work is that it seems a lot more balanced. Thon's take was very lopsided, and the bias was pretty overbearing. It was almost like a school teacher wagging their finger in front of you saying, “Bad, bad, bad! No, no, no!” In Thon's work you could almost hear the characters screaming and shouting about the evils of plastics and automobiles, all in a medieval fantasy. With Mammina's work, we have another character, Genus, who supplies a more balanced take and gently challenges Avidus on his opinions, not to prove him wrong but to supply a different perspective. The key word is “gently.” Genus isn't screaming or shouting at him about how her opinion is “better” or “worse” than Avidus's. That's up to the audience, as it should be.
Another especially interesting story in here is “Pest Control.” From what we gathered, and we might be a bit off, it's about a young female soldier serving in an insurgency against the corrupt and tyrannical federal army, one that's replacing human workers and soldiers with machines and robots. There are several interesting aspects of this story. First, the female protagonist is struggling to fit in among mostly-male comrades. They constantly make misogynistic comments and belittle her, and yet she still feels a strong connection to them because working with them is her only real chance of survival. While their behavior is reprehensible, it is understandable. They don't entirely trust the protagonist because they feel she can't physically pull her own weight and/or will be a liability in battle. Also, it gives us hope that the protagonist can prove them all wrong by proving her metal.
Another aspect of this story that's interesting is how the villains are treated. Yes, they come on in and basically commit a war crime, but you get the feeling that they're as much victims as the protagonist and the insurgents are: they're doing what they think is right. They believe in the state and have a somewhat just and understandable hatred for the insurgents who stand against it. They also believe in the promise of the technological advancements they are propagating, having faith that these robots and machines will be for the betterment of the human civilization in the long term. They also feel that if they don't build bigger, better, and badder weapons and technology that the Chinese and Russians will. These just aren't evil people who kill and massacre people because they're kill-crazy sociopaths, they are actually proud and loyal soldiers who are serving a cause they think it's the right thing to do, just like the protagonist's group.
A last aspect of this story that's interesting is the actual pest control. It's symbolic for what both the protagonists and antagonists are doing. The ants are all serving a higher calling. They all believe they're doing the right thing, and following their instinct to work and serve. When one ant deviates from the rest and survives because of it, we feel how that resonates with the protagonist—a young woman indoctrinated by people that one side calls freedom fighters and the other calls terrorists—trapped in a cycle of violence.
All in all, this is a great collection of short stories. If you love fantasy and adventure, you'll love this and all of Mammina's books!
Check it out on Amazon!