I don’t know if there is a generally accepted way to organize an anthology. Do you put the story that you think is best at the front or at the end, and if the first story isn’t your favorite do you pick one that is the best representation of your stories, the one with the broadest appeal or perhaps with the biggest name attached. Is it fair for me to even judge an anthology by the first story in it? This is relevant because I just started The Best of Jim Baen’s Universe and the first story in it, Dog Soldier by Garth Nix was by no means outstanding, though it wasn’t bad either.
The story of Dog Soldier follows a military engineer who is garrisoned near an alien world with whom humans are at peace, but were recently at war. Near the beginning of the story the main character gets a package from a research and development company which is a robot that has the mind of a dog.
As you can likely surmise the soldier and the dog end up in battle and the dog proves itself worthwhile. And perhaps all of that would resonate more if I cared more about dogs. I don’t dislike them and have almost always had one in my house, but I don’t have the relationship that so many people seem to and I suspect that if I did this would be more interesting to me.
The other part of this story which is both good and bad is that it felt like part of a bigger story. There was a fair amount of detail that while interesting enough didn’t feel important for this story. The aliens themselves could have been anything as could the war history and the planets they were fighting over. What was a bit more interesting was that very few of the soldiers actually knew what a dog was which gave the main character room for growth which is often difficult in a short story, but didn’t add all that much beyond that.
So, is Dog Soldier by Garth Nix a good story? It is certainly well written and I might read other stories in this universe to learn more about subjects which seem interesting, but overall it felt like it was missing some small spark that distinguishes truly good stories and on top of that the ending made me groan. Still, if you love dogs you might enjoy this more than I did and even if you only liked it as much as I did it was still worth reading.