"Life... it endured and even flourished, when those willing to fight stood their ground"
I love short stories. I consider them a cornerstone when it comes to science fiction. They are an effective vehicle for ideas and analyses, since it doesn't require a lot of character introductions or lengthy prologues. In a few pages they can deliver a powerful message, make you laugh or deliver an emotional gut punch, so in certain aspects writing a short story is much harder than writing a novel. The author must deliver their message in a concise and effective manner, otherwise it would lack the impact it should have.
So it is all the more impressive that Aragmar is able to make the switch so seamlessly. If you ever needed proof or lacked the assurance of his talent - this book is your answer. From a grand space opera to short suspenseful stories, it's obvious that he understands that the switch in format means a switch in styles. And he does it brilliantly. For the sake of being thorough, the book consists of eleven stories, each consisting of a couple of chapters. Some are longer, some are shorter but none of them overstay their welcome or leave something to be desired.
Now, I deliberated for a long time whether I should go into depth, reviewing each story but then I decided against it. I fear I will have to somewhat spoil the stories and it is much better to go in "blind" on this one. The reason being, we no longer follow the same characters we've come to know and love, so all bets are off. The stories span the cosmos and take us to a lot of different locations. We get to meet a lot of new and colorful characters, that take us through a lot of heroic, tragic and suspenseful moments. Suspenseful, that is a word I want to focus on. There are some really intense moments in this book, in no way would I classify it as "horror", "nail-biting" is what I would describe them as. Aragmar absolutely hits it out of the park with this style, he keeps you guessing and on your toes, but never in a way that makes you want to close the book, quite the opposite in fact - you'll be turning the pages excited and a little worried what will happen to the characters. And while you do not get to spend much time with these new characters they will most certainly hold your interest. Even if they do not get as much time as the Starshatter crew, they are still able to shine in their own way.
These stories also give the author freedom to further explore different aspects in the universe. It is more than impressive and really puts things into perspective, that the author cannot fully explore his own galaxy just with the characters of Starshatter. If you ever needed proof of just how vast and layered Aragmar's universe is - this book is it. It is a universe filled with mystery and wonder that I love exploring. I can honestly say this only for a very small number of other fictional universes.
A Mandate Of Sword And Railgun is a great ride that spans from one end of the cosmos to the other. Explores many themes and places. The shorts stories allow for a change of pace that a novel just can't offer without it being jarring. This is a great ride, and while it is different from the Starshatter novels, it has all the hallmarks of a great Aragmar story - great characters, interesting locations, cool technology and mysteries aplenty. It is a great read for veterans of Starshatter and new readers alike and it cannot get anything other than a heartfelt recommendation from me. So get onboard Terrans, the final frontier awaits!