From the moment Emperor Hirohito surrendered to the Americans, humanity has feared the possibility of a third world war. The first gave us trenches, machines guns and poison gas, and broke three empires. The second gave us the nightmares of Auschwitz and Nanjing and Berlin and Hiroshima. It would be insane to fight a third war like it. Yet speculative literature of all kinds has tackled the theme, from contemporary thrillers like Red Army and Red Storm Rising (review here) to John Hackett’s The Third World War to more openly futuristic tales like P. W. Singer and August Cole’s Ghost Fleet.
There are many ways to write the story of Word War III. In 2020, Baen Books published an anthology dedicated to the notion. Weird World War III, edited by Sean Patrick Hazlett, boasts many luminaries of fantasy and science fiction, foremost among them David Drake and Mike Resnick.
It is a collection that runs the gamut in terms of what it does with the premise. Temporally, it is divided roughly equally between those set in a version of the Cold War that went hot and those set in the near future, predicting a maelstrom yet to come.
You can also put the stories on a spectrum between the completely fantastical and the hard science fictional. The result is a candy bowl of speculative literature that is a joy to read.
The science fiction more often than not harkens back to earlier eras of the genre; deliberate throwbacks to a time when it was assumed the Soviet Union would endure and the tightrope walk-cum-dance of the Cold War would continue. You have a war fought on the Moon, a war over crashed alien technology, and a time-travel story that is suitably bizarre and one of my favorites.
There is also the fantastic and the occult. Brad R. Torgerson spins a tale of the occult which is the scariest in the collection. Rasputin shows up, as does Baba Yaga. Much like the fantasy and science fiction of yesteryear, psionics are aplenty, which was long considered inevitable.
There are also, surprisingly, some rather funny stories. Mike Resnick delivers a wry satire of international relations, which amused the international relations student in me. There is another story in which an augmented reality mobile phone game, of all things, leads to the destruction of the United States.
Weird World War III is a buffet of war-related speculative fiction, guaranteed to entertain anyone who likes destroying humanity. Who would have known that blasting this species to Kingdom Come could be so fun?