While I’m writing up things I’ve done recently, I finished this year’s edition of the Jonathan Strahan edited The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year collection. As in previous years I’ll mention the high points.
This year’s theme seemed to be faintly fantastical things; stories with the same level of fantasy in many Nabokov short stories, or that you might expect to find in an average selection from one of the “The Best American Short Stories” collections. I have no objection to this, because it was also very consistently solid – there were, as far as I’m concerned, no serious losers in the set. Oddly, it manged to miss on Nebula winners this year – many of the candidates were present, but the winners were not, which has not been the trend. The Hugos won’t be announced until September, we’ll see what the hit rate there was.
In writing this up, I find that I’m drawing a lot of comparisons to memorable stories from the collection in previous years, which were not necessarily the ones I picked out as being memorable at the time, and that I was more impressed by amazing storytelling than plots. The latter may be a result of selection criteria: there were many strong tellings of traditional stories, particularly Eleanor Arnason’s The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times and Adam Roberts’ What Did Tessimond Tell You?, which would be trite if they weren’t so well written.
Stories of note:
Robert Reed – Katabasis: Takes the frequently successful “humanity has taken over a vast, ancient intergalactic spaceship, and is joined by other species” premise (also executed beautifully by Robert Reed’s Alone in Vol. 5), but the perspective and handling are very unusual, and the form of the storytelling/world building is excellent.
Ted Kosmatka – Color Least Used by Nature: It’s historical fiction about a Polynesian island that is totally not part of Hawaii. A very pretty, very tragic story, with just a touch of fantasy layered in to accurate history with the specifics washed out. It, however, makes one linguistic quirk that distracted the hell out of me: it uses Polynesian root compound words, compounded in SVO order (like English) instead of the VSO order that (AFIK) all Polynesian languages use. If I didn’t know, it wouldn’t bother me, but “wikwai” instead of “waiwiki” makes me twitch throughout the whole story.
Peter Dickinson – Troll Blood: – The plot is about a young young woman who finds sudden personal relevance to some historical documents she has been studying, and was quite good, but I was just as pleased by it’s humorously accurate expression of just how academic types live and fit into the universe. Something about the style made me remember the author as female until I looked it up to write this.
Catherynne M. Valente – Fade to White: It is the same kind of unabashed political commentary, with some of the same creepifying plausibility as M. Rickert’s Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment (in Vol. 3, should be read by everyone, although sadly I can’t seem to find a copy online), but is an alternate present, with past events changed, rather than alternate near future, which somehow makes it a bit less discomfiting. Some of the story development tricks made me grin. To be fair, I didn’t realize how creepifying Evidence of Love in a case of Abandonment was until later when I discovered how much it stuck with me.
Ken Liu – Mono No Aware: This is another of the “creative telling of a traditional story” examples. A small part of humanity escapes asteroidal armageddon on a fragile space ship… but the narrator is extremely culturally Japanese, and the story is largely about how that changes the plot.
I think Kij Johnson is baiting the awards committees again. She always seems to win awards for her absurd things (Spar), and not for the pieces I think are her best (26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss, or The Cat Who Walked A Thousand Miles), and this year’s Mantis Wives is an absurd bent on her more naturalist styled writings.
To not exclude any of the things I was really impressed with, I also marked Great Grandmother in the Cellar (family, and an intriguing system of magic) and About Faries (Creatively interprets Disney fairy mythos, and the much darker fairy mythos found everywhere else) as being particularly good.