I am trying to track down a sci fi short story from a magazine. Been bugging me for years.

Not sure what magazine - journal size 7-8" x 10-11" - approx 70 pages when I picture holding it. I got the magazine some time during 1977-1979, though the cover was missing. The father of the person I got it from was a collector of magazine cover artwork. So older than 1979 but not sure how old.

It did seem more like young adult science fiction.


A man in his 20's wakes up to find he is in the middle of a World War I-type battle. However it is not WWI. He is on a 'war planet' where disputes are settled. Rather than all out war, the two sides select war conditions and fight it out on this planet to resolve the dispute. The rules selected for this battle was WWI conditions.

  • Not single combat (like Arena).
  • Many 'soldiers' were there for both sides.
  • Not sure if disputing sides choose the planet (I think this was the case) or if another advanced species forces it (like Arena).
  • The setting is almost exactly like Occupation: Warrior but more entrenched.
  • Centered on a group of the soldiers
  • I think the main character didn't volunteer to be part of the fight and may not have even been from one of the two races in the dispute.
  • The person didn't really know what he was doing or clearly understand fully why he was there.
  • At the climax, a group of 4 or 5 soldiers were in a bunker or trench.
  • There was a star shaped pit in the middle (grenade sump) that had to be explained to the main character.
  • I remember a grenade being thrown in and shoved into a grenade pit as a key event. One of the other characters may have been killed sacrificing himself by covering the pit.
  • The main character was knocked out by the blast and woke up with the war over.
  • I think the main character was going to head back home.
  • Was it a digest-sized magazine? Were the warring armies human or non-human?
    – user14111
    Jan 29, 2020 at 0:46
  • The description says George Alec Effinger to me, but a perusal of story titles from the 70s doesn't ring a bell.
    – user888379
    Jan 29, 2020 at 2:11
  • Thank you for the questions - journal size - not digest. Picturing holding it - thickness would put number of pages around 70 more or less. I hadn't even thought of that. My wild guess of Galaxy then is not a good guess. I will edit my posting to remove the guess.
    – Edgewood
    Jan 29, 2020 at 2:27

3 Answers 3


Occupation: Warrior (1959) by James White?

This short story was originally "unlinked" from the Sector General series of stories despite the author's wishes. In the story the Guard (human-dominated galactic peacekeepers) is reluctantly allowing a limited war between a more primitive group of humans (army size of 10,000) and an equivalent group of Kelgians (alien race) on War Planet Three. The Guard-imposed rules limit both sides to World War I-equivalent rifles, pistols and grenades only although each side is also given a limited secret advantage (a handful of unarmed biplanes for the humans). The Guard's agenda is to discourage both armies from wanting to fight at all, which it does by picking only the most cowardly candidates from both sides for their respective armies and allowing only weapons that must be employed from relatively close range.

Dermod, the protagonist, deliberately faints in the first scene of the book in order to ensure his selection by the Guard. Dermod is described as a "young man" and would have been in his 20's, although his age is not explicitly stated.

However, there are some differences between the OP's description and this story:

  • Dermod has deliberately involved himself in the war, although by the end of the story he realises that he did not understand the consequences of what he was doing. Most of the other participants on both sides are reluctant cowards.
  • Grenades are present and a threat, but there is no detailed description of one landing in a trench (although exploding bullets do play a significant part and the protagonist only just escapes a scout car before it explodes into flames).
  • Wow - this sound like it. I am getting a copy now to read and hope to confirm correct answer. I looks like published in 1959 Science Fiction Adventures #7 (UK). For sure much older than the year I got it in a box of about 2 dozen mags without covers. Don't see a reprint in another magazine. Great lead to track down!! Thanks!
    – Edgewood
    Feb 9, 2020 at 16:03
  • I got the story and read it. Great story but not the one I am looking for. The setting seems right, but the story I am looking for would have been from the common soldier or conscripts point of view. Did the author ever write a young adult version of this story from that perspective? I really appreciate this lead and have mixed feelings - again great story, but not what I remember.
    – Edgewood
    Feb 14, 2020 at 3:25
  • @Edgewood sorry about the wrong ID. I seriously doubt James White wrote a significantly different version - while there is physical conflict in a small number of his stories, the focus is on characters making key decisions to either "win" through non-violent means or negotiating an end to hostilities. Feb 14, 2020 at 10:12
  • No problem about the ID. I really appreciate you putting it forward. The story does seem like the same type of "universe" as the story I seek and I did thoroughly enjoy reading it. There are 6 other stories in the book that had Occupation: Warrior, so I now have even more to read by the author. It did make me reflect further and a tried adding more detail. It really is a stretch thinking back about 40 years to 5th or 6th grade.
    – Edgewood
    Feb 14, 2020 at 12:49

Starschool on Hell / There Is No Darkness

(Second try at identifying this!) Starschool on Hell was originally published in Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine - Summer 1979, an expanded version was part of the novel There Is No Darkness by Joe Haldeman and Jack C. Haldeman II. I do not have the original version, which apparently had significant differences compared to the later novel.

Viewpoint character is Carl, who with B'oosa, Alegria, Pancho and Miko are students on the travelling Starschool. As part of the curriculum for visiting the planet Hell, the students are enrolled in a combat training course. During one phase of this course in arctic conditions, B'oosa goes missing and a corrupt instructor fakes the deaths of the remaining four students and sells them to a recruiter for a mercenary proxy army fighting on the continent named Purgatory:

"For the next year, all of you will be employed by Her Majesty Queen Phylle II. Of Sanctuary, on the planet Spicelle. We are here to resolve a dispute between Her Majesty and the reigning monarch of Feder... We will meet Feder's armies in the northeast quadrant of Purgatory, for a clean Class 2/D war, beginning two days from now."


"What are we fighting for?" Mico said. "I've never even heard of Sanctuary, or your Majesty."


"A Class 2/D conflict uses no nuclear weapons, nor lasers, nor any other weapon invented after the year 1900, on Earth, with the sole exception of cybernetic aids to these primitive devices... no artillery be allowed, nor fragmentation weapons other than simple hand grenades."

Rifle and grenade training occurs over a few days and the students learn some details of the nature of the war, involving roughly battalion sized forces. They still do not know (and never learn in the story) why the conflict is being fought:

I don't think any war makes sense, but this one seemed even more stupid than the ones I'd read about. What was involved was two hills, named 814 and 905, with a small valley between them. Sanctuary was to position 500 soldiers on hill 814; Feder would do the same on 905. They were to fight until one group had possession of both hills.

When Carl and Pancho are assigned to a bunker a couple of veterans brief them on some of the features:

There was a "grenade well", a deep hole in the middle of the bunker floor. If a grenade came over the top, you could kick it into the well, which should channel all the fragments straight up.

Carl and Pancho are sent on an anti-sniper night mission into the trenches and unsuccessfully attempt to desert and get word back to Starschool. After being thwarted they encounter an enemy group of sappers in contact who are about to run into them. Carl throws a grenade but it bounces off the chest of the lead sapper, who kicks it straight back at Carl and Pancho. Carl makes a bad choice, picks up the grenade and tries to throw it back at the sappers:

It must have detonated about a metre away from my hand. It didn't hurt, just a big sting and a blinding flash, and I fell back onto the floor of the trench, right on top of Pancho.

Carl passes out, regains consciousness for a few seconds while Pancho is conducting first aid, then passes out again.

Without going into details of the subsequent events, the five students (including the missing B'oosa) survive to return to Starschool and leave Hell.

  • I am pretty sure this will be it! Thank you & thanks for sticking with it! I am tracking down a copy and look to confirm this answer within the week.
    – Edgewood
    Mar 2, 2020 at 2:06
  • Just finished it - the magazine version - 100% this is it. Thank you! - I've been trying to track this down for years on and off.
    – Edgewood
    Mar 6, 2020 at 2:52

Mack Reynolds wrote a number of works about Joe Mauser who was a mercenary who fought in small corporate battles. Two corporations with a dispute would each hire a mercenary army of an agreed-upon size (from company-sized units up to multi-brigade armies) to fight in a combat reservation. The battles had a specified duration and win conditions and were overseen by a referee corps. The corporation whose army won would win the dispute; the disputes were televised for entertainment and to bring in revenue to offset the cost of the war.

Theoretically the armies were restricted to 19th century weapons, but smart historians found evidence of previously obscure more advanced weapons, like a French rapid-fire gun from (IIRC) the Franco-Prussian war. Similarly, other more advanced weapons were snuck in, culminating in observation balloons in the final book. It's possible that with rapid-fire guns and grenades that trench warfare evolved, but I haven't read all of the stories in the series.

The series includes 2 short stories first published in Analog: "Mercenary", April 1962 and "The Earth War", serialized in March/April 1963.

  • Thank you for providing this information. The main protagonist didn't know what he was doing, so not fitting the Mauser character from what I can gather - but now I have this series to look to read.
    – Edgewood
    Jan 29, 2020 at 2:30
  • Pretty sure I haven't read any Reynolds, and yet I have seen the concept somewhere, though I think without the soldier viewpoint. Feb 14, 2020 at 4:15

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