(Book received for free for review from IDW Publishing.)
Tales from the Cobra Wars is a collection of two short stories and five novellas, each by a different author. Chuck Dixon is probably the most recognizable name of the group.
When I say that five of the seven stories didn't really work for me, it might make the book sound bad, but that's not the case at all. If I had paid for the book, the last story alone would have been worth the money, and one of the others was really enjoyable, too.
The other five were not bad stories, it's just their focus wasn't a match for my tastes. The five were all action-orientated, which is not at all unreasonable for stories set in the GI Joe world. The two I liked were more character-driven.
These stories were set in the same rebooted world as the graphic novel I reviewed two books ago -- that is to say, Cobra is known as an enemy, but no one knows much more about them than that. When an economy crashes, they might be behind it... or they might not be. New virus? Might be Cobra... or might not be. They're behind so many different sorts of trouble, it's impossible for anyone outside of the organization to pin down their goals.
I enjoyed how much darker and more realistic this rebooted world is than the 80s cartoon/comic book was. People get hurt, people die (duh, war), hard decisions have to be made.
I'm not going to go into detail for the five stories I didn't like, but I will for the two that I did.
Speed Trap, by Duane Swierczynski. Skidmark, GI Joe's top driver, is used to driving the fastest vehicles on the planet. Mid-mission, he's suddenly without a vehicle, and so is forced to carjack a single mother's Prius... with the mother and her young son in it. The three race cross-state, while being pursued by one of Cobra's drivers.
Either Swierczynski loves cars or he fakes it well -- all the car-loving details were almost a turn-off for me, but once Skidmark was in the Prius, the whole story took a turn for the better. The amusement of someone used to driving the best vehicles now stuck in a Prius as he's racing to save the American southwest was great, but more than that, his interaction with the mother and son were what made the story for me.
I'm going to be looking up other things by Swierczynski once I post this; he's a writer who trusts his readers, which is the best thing a writer can do. For example, I believe the son was autistic, but we were never outright told. I love that sort of thing.
Message in a Bottle, by John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow. Like I said, I would have easily paid the book price just for this story. Heck, I'd pay ten times the book price just for this one!
The story starts with an American teenager, a hacker of great skill. He hacks the wrong thing (Department of Defense system) and is caught. Instead of going to jail (due to his age, I assume), he's instead banned from using computers or interacting with the Internet at all. (The kid later claims (to himself) that he was doing it to help them, to show them where the weak points were, but I'm pretty sure he was lying to himself.)
The kid is contacted by someone who offers him a job on some island, doing what he loves doing: Hacking. He jumps at the offer.
Written in first person, we get to see his reasoning for the things he does that hurts America and kills innocent people. ("If they weren't stupid, they wouldn't be in the wrong place at the wrong time...") Pretty poor reasoning, but it fits the character.
Then things get good. Really really good. (I'm sitting here grinning as I write this.) His mother sends him an email which gets him thinking about what he's doing...
The kid is no fool. He knows his mother was computer illiterate before he got caught, and hates computers now for the trouble her son got into with them.
Still, the news story she linked to (how someone can slowly be brainwashed to do bad things) hits home and gets him thinking. He replies back to the email. "Mom" replies to his right away, and eventually he figures out it's a GI Joe.
They email back and forth more (since he's a hacker with access to so much, he can sneak his emails out of the secure base), and the Joe convinces him to turn on the people he's working for and come back home... she offers him a job doing what he's doing now, except he won't hurt anyone anymore and his record will be cleared.
He accepts the offer. The Joes storm the island to both destroy it and to rescue him... except it's not the Joes. It was Cobra all along, testing his loyalty.
So after all that soul-searching, after realizing what a mess he made of his life, how badly he hurt so many people, after coming to understand he's been doing evil all this time... it's for nothing. All it accomplished was letting Cobra know he couldn't be trusted.
Do they kill him? Nope, why waste such a skilled hacker? They ship him off to Korea (my guess), and keep him in a tiny box with no net access, nothing more than what he needs to do his work. He went from working for Cobra on the island stronghold, where he had every luxury, unlimited net access, beaches all to himself... to doing the same job for the same people while living in a coffin-sized cell, never to see the sun again. And on top of all that? He now knows exactly what he's doing, how much he's hurting people, how wrong it is.
That story could have been written personally for me. I'm still grinning, just remembering it. All the things the main character went through, and ending up like that! I love these authors and must find more things by them.
So, to conclude this long review: I highly recommend this book! If you like action over characterization, you'll love the majority of the stories. Like characterization better? You'll get two great stories. Love dark stories? Then that last story is for you!