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The Guns Above
by Robyn Bennis
Tor Book, $26.99, 365 pages
Jacket art by Tommy Arnold
Published: May 2017

Airships inspire the imagination of some of our finest writers, including Jim Butcher with his Cinder series and David Barnett, who writes the Gideon Smith books. The Guns Above is being marketed as “A Signal Airship Novel”, which indicates more are to follow. 

The Garnian military has been waging war against various border counties for generations, and always successfully – according to the Garnian generals. But prolonged campaigns take a heavy toll on the numbers of men who are fit, available, and willing to serve. In sheer (and unacknowledged) desperation, women have been allowed onto signal airships as auxiliaries. They are not allowed to hold command posts, but they can do such work as frees up more men for essential duties – and for promotions.

Auxiliary Lieutenant Josette Dupre has been in service since before the policy change, and she’s had ten years to learn what keeps an airshift aloft and moving at full speed.  When the news reporters make a heroine of her, she becomes the first Auxiliary to be given command of an airship, but the signal honor is one she astutely recognizes as an opportunity to fail spectacularly. Nothing would please General Lord Fieren better than for this darling of the media that excoriates him to go down in flames – literally.  So who better to be assigned to an untested new design of airship? And what better destination for its test run than a contested border thick with the airships and guns of the enemy?

General Lord Fieren is a realist who understands the universe does not always arrange matters in accordance with our preferences, so he takes steps to ensure that even if Dupre does not justify his expectations and die quickly, taking a disgracing number of fine, upright young men with her, he will yet have the means of putting an end to her career.  It proves easy enough to assign a spy to her ship, when his feckless, spendthrift nephew comes to him with a hand out for more money to fritter away on whores, hotels, and expensive meals. And if Lord Bernat Hinkal isn’t quite as feckless as his uncle assumes, he is nonetheless a very, very effective writer of slander.  If his lies go to print, death may be preferable to the firestorm they will generate.  That is, if any of them survive the campaign.

Realistic details, careful descriptions of engineering and design, complex actions, inventive dialogue, dark irony, brutalities of war and absurdities of “leadership”, plus the leaven of barracks humor all mark Bennis as a superb writer of military SF. I am already categorizing her with Elizabeth Moon and David Weber. Josette Dupre, airship captain, is right there with Kylara Vatta and Honor Harrington.  – Chris Wozney

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