Title: Big Boys Don't Cry
Author: Tom Kratman
Publisher: Castalia House
Slates: Sad Puppies and Rabid Puppies
Trigger warnings: child abuse, rape
Synopsis: Maggie is a Mark XXXVII Ratha, an "autonomous armored fighting vehicle", who we meet as she and four other Mk XXXVIIIs are advancing against a Slug formation. The Ratha are ambushed, and Maggie finds herself fighting alone (as her fellow Ratha are either destroyed or retreat); she is eventually overrun and nearly destroyed. After the humans retake the valley, Maggie is picked up by a recovery team, who look over the damage and decide that there's nothing to do but cannibalize her for what few parts might still be serviceable. As the recovery team disassembles her, she remembers some of her previous battles, and further back to her training. Realizing that most of her human commanders have been, to put it mildly, honorless scum, and hearing that her current commander wants to sell her hulk at scrap-metal prices to build a new officer's club, she opens fire on the people discussing her scrapping.
My reaction: I'm a big fan of military SF, and gigantic supertanks are flat-out cool. Big Boys Don't Cry is very reminiscent of Keith Laumer's Bolo stories, but there's one huge difference. In every Bolo story that I can recall, there was at least one worthy human who would work with the Bolo to solve whatever problem the Bolo faced. In Big Boys Don't Cry, none of the named humans are worth a damn. (Okay, there's one exception - Colonel Schlact, who awards Maggie her Star of Valor.) Maggie's later battles include covering the retreat of a planet's fat cats (leaving all the children behind to be eaten by the enemy), a "land grab" smashing a two-hundred-fifty-millennia-old civilization, massacring human hostages in reprisal for a terrorist act, and rounding up herds of slaves because they'll make popular children's toys. Her initial training would qualify as child abuse if done to a human (the Battle School of Ender's Game is a benevolent kindergarten by comparison), and she feels raped by the salvage techs as they remove what little functional equipment she still possesses.
None of that necessarily makes a bad story, mind you; even dystopias can be fun to read about. However, not only is this story not fun, the grand finale depends entirely on the (presumably) highly experienced Ratha maintenance technician grabbing the Idiot Ball with both hands. One does not power up a self-directing but badly damaged weapons system until after one clears the magazines, especially if one's supply lines have been interdicted and one is trying to salvage whatever one can.
Kratman should know better, and Vox Day (the editor) should have caught that. This goes below No Award.
Originally posted at http://edschweppe.dreamwidth.org/196186.html - comment wherever you please.