Since Susquehanna left the story on a slight cliffhanger there is no way getting around reading Columbia too.
Mary Brenneman, the leader of the Bestimmung Company, remains captive in the hands of the Transport regime, and Stug and Hatch are going AWOL from their unit on a rescue mission. Suicide, really, since no one knows if the QB is even still alive, which seems unlikely at this point. They are taking huge risks sneaking in behind the front lines of their enemy, and they have also to consider that TRACE sees them now as lost causes since they are acting against orders.
The third story in the series takes the same fast paced action packed approach, and focus on the mission to save Mary, and as much to save The Wild Ones. Their camp, established in Susquehanna, was terminated, and remaining members of their tribe captured and brought to the city. Since Transport is - at least on the surface - withdrawing from the city, their movements are left open for questions and discussion. What´s the point exactly to bring in 100s of people into a so called Detention Center when they are obviously in a hurry to leave their place? Those are the mysteries that the members of the Bestimmung Company need to resolve before they can help them, and maybe are able to save their lives.
The rest is gun fights, and bomb explosions and any kind of warfare that is technically possible, I guess. Not that those bored me exactly, but those are most certainly not the reason I like Pourteau´s stories and writing. I take it, of course, but I prefer to watch the characters playing out their different roles, and how they interact with eachother. Or speculate in my mind about their reasons or how they approach they situations they have to face. Columbia plays out in a way more personal fashion than Gettysburg and Susquehanna. Mary, Stug and Hatch have some real hopeless situations to deal with, and in the end decisions to make that are one way or the other being between a rock and a hard place.
A central plot point in Columbia I have read from a different angle in Philip Harris´ The Girl In The City, namely the threat of the destruction of the city. Again, this is something I am not sure plays a role in Pennslyvania but I suppose it does. Those are the downfalls of not having read the main work first before any stories based upon it. I can only blame myself for it, so I´m not complaining, but yeap, makes some things rather odd looking for me since I clearly lack the knowledge of the how and why some things are done the way they are done.
One new character is the little girl Anne, who is just marvelous. A Wild One and pre-teen, sharp in her mind, and future rebel leader already written over her angst-ridden but still brave face. Her newly made friendship to Stug and Hatch is one of the more, and most, emotional moments in the series. It is beautiful. And smart, since it also leaves a back door open to continue the series, if Chris Pourteau wishes to do so one day. Which I hope he does, since Anne´s story could be quite something, already seeing so much death and misery in her young life.
Pourteau´s writing is spectacular, even not always easy to access due the minimalist style in the series. Very accurate to the point of clarity he describes everything very smoothly, even not all that descriptive in the strict sense. There is a lot left for the imagination, while he manages to bring across any kind of character or setting or mood they way he clearly wants it to be. I am rather impressed, though, and since reading his beautiful prose in The Serenity Strain, even those is very different, I am a fan of him anyway. If it would be anything else but military/sci-fi I would be fangurling pretty hard.
Talking about fangurling. I am as much a fan of the amazing black/white illustrations done by Ben Adams. They add to the story in a way that I cannot really describe. Adams has a style that is both raw while at the same time polished, but they are as grim as grim can be. One day I would love to see a graphic novel with his artwork. If that wouldn´t be pretty damn freaking awesome I don´t know what will.
The for me most important thing in Columbia from the author´s notes (again!) are Chris Pourteau´s thoughts how a tale written through the eyes of Transport would look like. As it is the case history is written by the winners, so any kind of written testimony is always biased, if not outright falsified. How would Transport, in hindsight, actually justify their oppressive regime or the killing of their own people? As I´ve still not read Michael Bunkers original Pennsylvania I don´t know if those questions are resolved somehow, but every take so far has been through the eyes of TRACE. I would love to see someone taking on the other side, and tell Transport´s version of events.
Another thing, which I don´t know was intentional, or a simple coincidence, that Transport, the regime itself, doesn´t have a name or a face to it. As a reader I see their movements via their soldiers, but even those remain nameless and faceless, and really are disposable. While of course the TRACE rebels have their members like Mary Brenneman, with a life to show, a name to it, something to relate to. Transport, who is Transport exactly? Who are the ones who really run the show? This I do not know. Which makes it scary, since the unknowns, the shadows behind the corner are frightening as much as the shown horrors. Transport exists - as already mentioned - via their soldiers, true believers in the cause, or drones controlling the movements of the common people, but otherwise it remains an unknown force. Which, I am sure, is the way they prefer it.