The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Seven (ed Jonathan Strahan, Nightshade Books, 2013)

strahansevenReviews underway – in the meantime, why not buy yourself a copy from amazon.com | amazon.co.uk – it’s always good value for money.

Christopher Rowe. The Contrary Gardener.
Originally in : Eclipse Online, and indeed at the time of writing still online here, although sadly the attempt to move the excellent four-volume Eclipse anthology series into an online anthology didn’t last long.

When I read it last year I wrote :

    A new online source for short SF, with another top notch editor. When the plug on Ellen Datlow’s excellent SCI FICTION several years ago by the coelocanths and bashi bazouks who now perpetrate SyFy, it was a major disappointment. But with Eclipse Online joining Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, Subterranean, Tor, Strange Horizons and more, we’re extremely well served in that respect.

    On of the standouts stories on SCI FICTION was Christopher Rowe’s singular ‘The Voluntary State’ and stories from him have been few and far between since then, with ‘Another Word for Map is Faith’ in F&SF in August 2006 the most recent across my radar (review here.)

    Jonathan Strahan is the pre-eminent SF anthologist, with his ‘The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year’ now in its sixth volume, the Eclipse series which has run into four volumes, and others too numerous too mention (is it really 4 years since ‘The Starry Rift‘??)

    And I’m pleased to say that Rowe gets the Eclipse Online series off to a flying start. There’s a lovely illustration by Kathleen Jennings to illustrate the story, the contrary gardener being a fascinating character in a fascinating world. As with his other stories, he creates an intriguing near future setting, alluding to societal changes rather than spelling them out in a heavy handed way. Young Kay Lynne is doing a great job of raising crops, but has her father to contend with and….

    ..well, you should head over to Eclipse Online to read the story. The only disappointment was that in reading it on my iPad and scrolling down the page I came to the ending much sooner than I expected/hoped.

Eleanor Arnason. The Woman Who Fooled Death Five Times : a Hwarhath folk tale.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, July/August 2012.

I really struggle to get engaged with Arnason’s Hrawhath stories, to the extent that when this story appeared I summarised thus : “A short, cautionary tale.”. Clearly the editor of this volume is able to get more from the stories than I.

Andy Duncan. Close Encounters.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, September/October 2012.

Much more to my liking than Arnason’s story, and I noted :

    A heart-warming take on the the final years of one Buck Nelson (wikipedia) who evidently achieved some degree of fame/notoriety for his visition by men (and women) (and dogs) from Mars (and Venus), and who spent time out on those planets, and had his lumbago cured.

    Nelson died in 1982, and the story is based around them, with him giving short shrift in his remote farmhouse to a reporter that comes a-calling. Duncan gets into the character of the crotchety old farmer extremely well, and manages to stay just the right side of maudlin sentimentality at the end.

Peter S. Beagle. Great-Grandmother in the Cellar.
Originally in : Under My Hat : Tales from the Cauldron.

Witchery is done, and to undo it, Great-Grandmother is called upon and has to overcome some obstacles (like being dead!). Well-told fantasy.

Nalo Hopkinson. The Easthound.
Originally in YA anthology ‘After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia’ edited by Datlow and Windling.

Both single-topic anthologies, nor YA fiction (with their teen protagonists) tend to leave me cold, so good to have Year’s Best anthologies to pick the best, and this story is a cracker. Truth be told, whilst it has a teenage protagonist, and features a world gone to wrack and ruin through adults (!), it doesn’t read as a YA story. Small group of youngsters hunker down in deserted towns, fearing the moment when puberty turns a child into a child-killer….

Caitlin R. Kiernan. Goggles (c.1910).
Originally in : Steampunk III : Steampunk Revolution.

Claustrophobic, dark look at a world where the Great War was far greater, the the symbols of steampunk are reduced to the skeleton of a crashed airship, which has to be searched by children to find food to save themselves from starving. It’s cleverly wrought – opening with a boy watching a nitric-acid thunderstorm at midnight, rather than sleeping and dreaming. When we find out what those dreams were (sunny days, and mothers) we realise just how bad things are…

Gwyneth Jones. Bricks, Sticks and Straw.
Originally in : Edge of Infinity

A story I enjoyed last year :

    A clever story that looks at the exploration of the solar system via telepresence rather than in person, and to explain much more would be to give away too much, but suffice to say it provides an interesting perspective. And the reason for the title is a neat one when explained. Quite some way ahead of the tired scientists-stranded-on-a-moon-and-have-to-think-of-a-clever-way-to-escape trope. After all this is a collection that looks to the Fourth Generation of SF, as opposed to that First Generation trope, which is still used today becomes close to tripe rather then trope. (hmmm ponders whether the British word tripe is that well known…)

Genevieve Valentine. A Bead of Jasper, Four Small Stones.
Originally online on Clarkesworld Magazine, and still there.

An elegant little gem from Valentine, set on the moon Europa, which is a waystation for a desperate humanity. The protagonist welcome the isolation there, seeks it out, but in his short comms with Bangalore Ground Control, Valentine paints a picture of humanity on both a personal, and macro, looking at both the importance of names to things, and also harking back to Galileo and his early observations. Well worth half an hour of your to read it.

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