A lovely cover design by Grace M. Conti-Zilsberger, and illustration by Julie Dillon, here are some links should you wish to purchase.
And here are the stories in the order in which they appear in the anthology.
Ken Liu. The Paper Menagerie.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2011.
When I read it in its original magazine appearance I wrote :
Another effective tale drawing on Chinese culture, following his ‘The Literomancer’ (F&SF Oct 2010 – reviewed here and ‘Tying Knots’ (Clarkesworld Magazine Jan 2011 – rreviewed here).
Here a man with an American father and Chinese mother reflects on his relationship with her. Her father brought her back from China, a mail order bride, and as a teenager the son began to have contempt rather than love for her. The early days, where she uses old family magic to animate origami animals she makes, are poignant, and following her death, it is her words, written on the very paper of these animals, that allow him to reflect on their relationship, and to fully understand her life’s journey.
Winner of the Short Story category.
Carolyn Ives Gilman. The Ice Owl.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, NOvember/December 2011.
When it first appeared I wrote:
A story in the same universe as Gilman’s ‘Arkfall’ from F&SF September 2009, which I enthused about, and which was a Nebula nominee.
Checking back on that earlier story, I noted then that ‘Gilman has put together a believable alien planet, a different human society, and believable, complex characters, and spun an adventure tale that almost matches the setting’ and that is exactly the same conclusion I had come to with this story.
Here the setting is the city of ‘Glory to God’, a quite vividly described city of metal based in an enormous crater over which a dome has been built. Living in the bottom tier of the city, and of society, is Thorn, the adolescent female protagonist. There is a depth to the society and the politics of the city in which she lives, and in the bigger universe, which we find out through her relationship with an aged teacher, her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
Stories with an adolescent protagonist tend not to be a favourite of mind, as you get a naive perspective on issues which is great for the author, but for me to be fully rich, the story would have followed one of the adults, and to addresses the challenges they face in the light of their backstory. This is partly covered through the teacher, but only delivered through a monologue relating to his history, which prevents any emotional resonance coming through.
But these are minor issues, as the characters are complex and varied, as are the politics and the society, and I’d have put this forward for a potential Year’s Best collectee, if it wasn’t for the fact that Garden Dozois has announced his collection for next year, and this one -is- in it.
A nominee in the Novella category, which was won this year by Kij Johnson’s ‘The Man Who Bridged The Mist’.
Katherine Sparrow. The Migratory Pattern of Dancers.
Originally online (and still there!) at GigaNotoSaurus, so click here to read it before you go any further.
A nominee in the novelette category, this is an excellent look at a near-future US where the economy and ecology have gone to pot, with many humans, flora and fauna paying the price. Josiah has been genmodded with bird DNA and each year he migrates with a small group of colleagues to cycle south, and to perform the ritual dances of the birds that are not longer alive.
It’s a touching story, effectively raising a number of issues and show impacts of changes, without labouring them, and well worth a read.
Only one query : how does ‘tail feathers’ in the original online version because ‘tale feathers’ in the print version??
Runner-up in the novelette category to Geoff Ryman’s ‘What We Found’.
David W. Goldman. The Axiom of Choice.
Originally in The New Haven Review, a literary fiction magazine, and indeed this story has no sfnal or fantastic elements. But it’s a clever piece of fiction, initially masquerading as a choose-your-own-adventure format, to look at issues around determinism, free will, and the mathematical conceit to which the title refers. Through a second-person narrative, you get to see the range of choices and consequences a guitarist has.
Runner-up to Ken Lui’s ‘The Paper Menagerie’ in the Short Story category.
Geoff Ryman. What We Found.
Originall in Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2013.
When I read it last year I noted :
Ryman takes us to Nigeria, gives us the texture and taste of that country, and the strange family of the protagonist, a young man whose scientific research provides the sfnal element to the story which is otherwise largely domestic and familial. His research suggests that too much scientific study, too much replication, is affecting science itself. It’s not a full-on science story approach a la Benford, just passing notes on the research to reflect on the story.
Winner of the Novelette Category.
Nancy Fulda. Movement.
Originall in Asimovs, March 2011.
When I read it last year I noted :
An interesting perspective, that of a young child, happy in her own mind, her own world view, her own timeframes. But she doesn’t fit into the norm, and so her parents are seeking medical advice for ‘treatment’.
Fulda gets across the alienation of the protagonist, and the feelings she has of appreciating the world on an altogether different basis.
Runner-up in the Short Story Category to Ken Liu’s ‘The Paper Menagerie’.
Ferrett Steinmetz. Sauerkraut Station
Originally published on line at GigaNotoSaurus, and still online.
Excellent story that looks at three generations (all female) ekeing out a living in a deep space refill station. The three women – grandmother, mother and daughter – struggle to make ends meet (spoiler alert) and it’s a grim, grimy life, not exactly improved by the dead body of the father orbiting around the station (he forgot to secure himself when going EVA).
The third-generation woman is the POV character – Lizzie is in her teens and knows only life in space, and the story starts with her talking to a visiting young man who gives her a taste of the wider universe. The story gets grimmer as war encompasses their station, leading to some cold equations necessitating Lizzie to have to be very, very brave, and very, very along.
A real page-turner.
Runner-up in the Novelette category to Geoff Ryman’s ‘What We Found’.
E. Lily Yu. The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.
Originally in Clarkesworld Magazine – (and still there).
Nominated in the Best Short Story for both the Nebulas and the Hugos, it took me a few goes to get through a very short story. Online it didn’t grab me, and yesterday I had to break for explaining to an 8-month old cocker spaniel that bringing in a 9-foot runner from a wisteria was not a ‘good thing’. (Note to self : time to prune the wisteria).
So read the story, it’s not a long one. It’s elegantly written, a cautionary entomological political tale of colonialism, arrogance, suppression, repression, anarchism and, in the end, the futility of it all, especially in the face of higher powers.
Brad R. Torgersen. Ray of Light.
Originally in : Analog December 2011.
Due to alien intervention, humanity (or what remains of it) is ekeing out an existence on the ocean beds, cut off by thick layers of ice atop the ocean (atop is a good Analog word!). What could be a simple Analog daring rescue mission story is something quite different. The daring rescue mission isn’t daring at all, and doesn’t require any scientific cleverness, as the protagonist, a dad, knows exactly where his runaway teen daughter has gone.
What the story offers that many in Analog don’t (or didn’t, when I read it regularly) is a bit more about people, and a bit less about science. True there is science in there – out on a submarine journey the protagonist ‘paseed one of the black smokers – chimneys made of materials deposited by the expulsion of superheated water along the tectonic ridge’. And there’s the intriguing alien ‘intervention’.
But the story features a broken marriage, a suicide, and a deeply unhappy child, and it paints a bleak picture of life in extremis. And it’s the children who are the future, and the ending was a little cheesy for me (“Hang on, little one. Dad’ll be back soon.”) Perhap a followup to see if the youngster can lead a path to reclaiming Earth for humanity?
Runner up in the novelette category to Geoff Ryman’s ‘What We Found’.
Kij Johnson. The Man Who Bridged The Mist.
Originally in Asimovs, October/November 2011.
When I read it a while back I enthused:
A much longer story from Johnson than we’re used to seeing, and she makes the most of the opportunity.
The story covers several years, creating a setting that has a strong sense of place, and characters who are three-dimensional and who you feel have had a past, and will have a future beyond the story. An empire is split into two halves by a huge river/ravine through which a mist flows – there are dangers in the depths of the mist, creatures that live in it, and the mist itself frequently claims those who use the ferries to cross it.
Coming from the city, Kit has the contract to build the first bridge across the river, and we follow his journey, differences between those in this more remote part of the country different to what he has experienced back at home. The characters are described lovingly, subtle changes in societal norms being used, rather than heavy-handed silliness with names, or giving characters different coloured skins, as less-accomplished authors would be tempted to do.
It’s a story that gives an insight into several different areas, and rather than simply leading up to a dramatic challenge to be overcome, the final bridging of the mist, whilst important, is just another stage in the lives of the main characters. And there’s a tantalising glimpse of more to come.
Winner of Nebula for Best Novella.
A lovely book to own and a great read. In addition to the fiction above, there is a classic Connie Willis, some non-fiction (John Clute getting boggingly academic!), and some poetry – I was almost tempted to read CSE Cooney’s poem, and it actually looked like a good read!