Book Review: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year ed. Jonathan Strahan

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The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year Volume Ten edited by Jonathan Strahan

Genre: Science Fiction, Fantasy

Publisher: Solaris

Length: 624 pages

Rating: 4 stars

 

 

 

 

 

Publisher’s description

“DISTANT WORLDS, TIME TRAVEL, EPIC ADVENTURE, UNSEEN WONDERS AND MUCH MORE! The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume ten and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents. Previous volumes have included stories from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Bruce Sterling, Adam Roberts, Ellen Klages, and many many more.”

 

Review

I discovered the wonderful Coode Street Podcast at the beginning of 2016 and I am now completely obsessed with it. Basically, if you don’t know what it is, The Coode Street Podcast is a weekly podcast hosted by Jonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe where they ramble about science fiction and fantasy, discuss pretty much everything speculative fiction related and have great discussions with authors and editors. It’s a real delight to listen and I discovered some amazing books thanks to them like the fantabulous (yes it’s now a word), Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson.

Since I tend to have the same taste in books  than the host and one of them, Jonathan Strahan is the editor of the long going Best Science & Fantasy of the Year series, I thought that it would be good idea to read the latest instalment in the series so I pre-ordered the anthology when it became available. To my surprise, weeks later, it appeared on the Netgally website and it since I was very looking forward reading it, I requested it.

I really liked this anthology, of course, I can’t say that I loved every single story because, in 27 stories, it’s impossible. I am not going to do really detailed synopses of every single one of them because it would be really tedious so I am going to put the stories on different categories and say a few word or sentences about them.

 

Category 1: Not for me/did not finish/did not enjoy/forgettable

 

“The Lily and the Horn” by Catherynn M. Valente  DNF

I read the first three pages of this story and they did not manage to grab my attention at all so I started the next story and never tried to start it again because  what I previously read was very confusing..

“Drones” by Simon Ings

This story is based on a society where almost all the women have died of a plague. I don’t remember much about it except that I really didn’t like it and that the pacing was extremely weird.

“Dancy vs. the Pterosaur” by Caitlyn R. Kiernan

Again, I don’t remember much about this one, I think that it is set around an interaction between two characters coming from very different background (one character is very religious and the other one, not at all) in a post-apocalyptic world.  This story didn’t do anything for me, I pretty much forgot it the moment I finished it…

“The Winter Wraith” by Jeffrey Ford.

This is a kind of horror story I guess? The villain is a Christmas tree. I believe that it was supposed to be funny,but, it wasn’t. At all. I almost felt bad for the author… However, it might just be me, I read The Physiognomy by Ford and I didn’t like it either so I guess that we just don’t share the same sense of humor!

“Capitalism in the 22nd Century or A.I.R” by Geoff Ryman

Not gonna lie, I had to look up the story on Google to find a synopsis of this one because i had completely forgotten what it was all about. It follows two sisters who want to escape their planet but one of them change her mind at the last moment. I don’t know if it was supposed to be heart-wrenching or what, but this story didn’t touch me at all because none of the characters felt real and so, I didn’t feel like that the sisters had any relationship and it was hard to relate to them and to care about them.

“The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club” by Nike Sulway

This story had some interesting elements on gender, loss and evolution however, it was extremely weird and the main character was really unlikable.

“The Game of Smash and Recovery” by Kelly Link

I heard great things about Kelly Link’s stories but this one disappointed me quite a bit. The writing was off and even if I liked the ideas , I didn’t care about the actual execution..

 

 

Category 2: Good stories, maybe not as memorable as I would have liked but interesting nonetheless

 

“Jamaica Ginger” by Nalo Hopkinson and Nisi Shawl   racism and slavery, steampunk

I don’t have much love for steampunk, it’s definitely the speculative fiction genre that I like the least and I think that it’s probably why I didn’t love this as much as I would have liked.

It follows a black girl named Plaquette who works as a automation engineer and build porters robot in a steampunk America. It brings up a lot of great themes such as racism and slavery.

 

“Botanica Veneris: Thirteen Papercuts by Ida Countess Rathangan” by Ian Mcdonald

I was very much looking forward this story and maybe I set my expectations too high. It’s not that it’s not a good story, it is, it’s just not great in my opinion. The structure is pretty unique but the story isn’t. It follows the story of a noble woman looking for a family artefact stolen years ago and, even though it’s set on different planets, it didn’t manage to grab me as much as I would have liked. If I remember correctly, it took me five days to read, and it’s like, 20 pages or so…

Paolo Bacigalupi’s “City of Ash”

This story is set in the same universe as The Water Knife and follows Maria one of the main characters of the book. I already read this before so I did not re-read it, it is interesting, especially if you really enjoy the book but it did not think that I really stand well on its own.  You can understand it if you haven’t read The Water Knife but it won’t mean as much to you so, even though I liked it, I expected more from this story.

 “The Waters of Versailles” by Kelly Robson

Again, I read this story before and I didn’t re-read it, the setting of it, Versailles, is beautiful but I couldn’t really relate to the main character who’s an abusive idiot in my opinion… He is an engineer who runs the toilets of Versailles helped by a tiny fish and, for me, the fish was the best thing in this story. However, the writing and the pacing were very good so there’s that!

“The Empress in her Glory” by Robert Reed

It tells the story of a blogger whose predictions are always true. I won’t say much more than that, it was good, not the best story of the collection but I enjoyed the speculative fiction elements and being a blogger myself, it was fun to read!

“Emergence” by Gwyneth Jones

It’s set in a future where AIs can inhabit bodies and humans are basically immortals thanks to science. It had great ideas but it was almost trying too hard to tackle a lot of topics which was both overwhelming and confusing.

 

Category 3: Really really liked/Thought-provocking and awesome

“The Deepwater Bride” by Tamsyn Muir

This story follows a teenage seer who tries to help another girl escape her fate. It’s a Lovecraftian story but also a love story. It’s very beautiful and it has really interesting things to say on gender and sexuality.

“Kaiju Maximus: ‘So Various, So Beautiful, So New'” by Kai Ashante Wilson

This is varition on the Hero vs Villain trope because it is seen from the perspective “average” citizen, also, the hero is a woman and the man is the follower and takes care of the children. The writing was pretty odd but it’s the typical Wilson’s prose.

“Oral Argument” by Kim Stanley Robinson

I read this story when it came out last year and I didn’t re-read it. It follows the consequences of an invention which enables humans to photosynthesize. I don’t think that it’s the best story of this category but, even if I read it back in December 2015, I often think of this story so I guess it’s a good sign!

“The Ghosts of Home” by Sam J. Miller

If you follow a little my Short Fiction Sundays, you know I am a huge fan of Miller. This guy can’t write a bad story. This one follows the consequences of the housing crisis in 2008. It’s beautiful, heart-wrenching, well-written and tactful. I didn’t put it on the last category because this anthology has another Miller story which is even better.

Neil Gaiman’s “Black Dog”

This story revisits American Gods and follows the same main character, Shadow. I didn’t like American Gods but I have to say that this story was great! It is very atmospheric and creepy and I now really want to read collections of short stories by Gaiman!

 “The Machine Starts” by Greg Bear

Oh this one was good, very good. I don’t want to say to much about it. Actaully, I’m just going to say one word: multiverse.

“Another Word for World” by Ann Leckie

I really need to read her trilogy and after reading this, I’m really looking forward doing it. Again, I don’t think that you need to know a lot about this story but it brings up interesting discussion on languages,misunderstanding and preconceptions.

Genevieve Valentine’s “Blood, Ash, Brains”

I didn’t expect to love this one as much as I did and, when I read the last paragraph, I was a little teary-eyed. This story is set during World War II and follows women military aviator. One of them is a witch and tries to protect the other women.

 

 

Category 4: Fantabulous/You need to read this!

 

Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” 

I already mentionned this story  in a previous SFS three or four months ago. I was glad to re-read this story, it was still as powerful and creepy and I am SO glad that it won the Nebula!!

It follows a young woman who eats dark thoughts and is haunted by them. It’s a coming of age story and brings up themes such as the discovery of sexuality, mother/daughter relationship and determinism. It’s such a great story, I already read it three times and I still want to read it. A little warning though, it’s pretty gross.

 

“Little Sisters” by Vonda N. Mcintyre 

Oh lord, this story. I never read such an explicit rape scene and the worst is that, technically, it wasn’t a rape scene. However, it is definitely a story about rape, child custody and gender. I want to reread it and I kind of don’t. Warning: this is going to make you feel uneasy.

“The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” by Elizabeth Bear

This is a story about love, jealousy and scientific research and it’s done brilliantly. After reading it, I wanted to buy (and read) every story Bear has written so far. It was fairly short but powerful!

“A Murmuration” by Alastair Reynolds

Speaking of scientific research, this story also follows a scientific. However the tone is way different, this is much more creepy than Bear’s story and it brings up interesting reflexions on ethics and “academic madness”!

 

 “Calved” by Sam J. Miller

I previously talked about The Ghosts of Home, Calved is the other Miller’s story present in this anthology. I already said how much I love his stories and Calved is one of my favorite by him. It is a story f the relationship between a father and the son he doesn’t know. It’s a story about tolerance, discrimination, racism, parenthood and love. The setting is also brilliant, it’s set in a future where the USA is collapsed and the consequences of that on the former American citizens.

 

“The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn” by Usman T Malik

I can’t say that it’s my favorite of the anthology but it’s definitely on the Top 3! It’s the longest story  but I wouldn’t take off a single sentence. It is a gorgeous story about family, obsession, origins, knowledge and a jinn. It is available for free on Tor.Com and you should read it!

 

Conclusion

Does this collection contain the “bestSFF” of the year? I don’t know. Thousands of stories are written every year and you can’t possibly read them all. Do I think that every single story “deserve” a spot on this antholgy? No. Of course they are a few duds, I can’t possibly love them all. Do I think that it is a good Best of the Year anthology?

Absolutely.

I don’t love all the stories but they all contain interesting themes and reflexions on various different topics such as social issues, family, consciousness, discrimination and they’re all tactful. Yes, I didn’t love all of them but could I have done a better job than Strahan? Nope!

 

(Okay I might have added When Your Child Strays From God by Sam J. Miller because this story is fantastic but, oh well.)

 

Wow, I’m glad I finally finished this review, I took me more than 5 hours to write and I’m tired! Anthologies are fun to read but reviewing them is a bit of a pain!

 

★★★★

 

I received a copy from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. My thanks to Solaris!

 

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year ed. Jonathan Strahan

    • I was also like that before and, I don’t exactly know what changed, but, toward the beginning of the year, I started reading a lot of them and now I am completely addicted! 😛
      Oh yeah lots of them were great and they were worth reading the other ones (even the duds!) 😉

      Like

  1. Glad to see that the decent-to-fantabulous stories outweighed the bad and the DNFs. The uneven quality of stories has always been my problem with collections, but I can never bring myself to skip over the ones I don’t like either! Thanks for providing mini reviews for every story, I really appreciate it when bloggers go into detail!

    Like

    • I almost never DNF short stories because they’re so short that really, when you realize that they’re not for you, you’re almost done! However, when I am really struggling, bored or both (like with the Valente one), I just put them down.
      Thanks, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to do that at first because of the number of stories and the fact that I finished this at the beginning of June but since I received it for review, I decided to do the job properly haha!

      Like

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