In the sad absence of a Dozois’ annual anthology, I’ve been and gone and bought the dead-tree version of Strahan’s F&SF anthology (I did buy an Amazon Kindle, but haven’t got the hang of it).
In the introduction Strahan announces that this is the last volume in this series, which would be disappointing news, but it is more than compensated for by his telling us that he will have a new Year’s Best SF anthology series starting next year, which is good for me as I won’t miss the &F.
So what about the SF&F in this volume? Or to be clear, what about the SF in this volume, as I will skate over the &Fantasy and the &Horror and the &Speculative fiction…
S. Qiouyi Lu. Mother Tongues.
First published in Asimovs, January/February 2018.
You can have this story poured into your ear by Escape Pod and indeed read it online there. It’s a shorter story, and it’s on a theme that has been done before : giving up a skill, or knowledge, in return for payment. Here, as the title suggests, an immigrant feels she has no choice but sell her mother tongue in order to pay for her daughter’s college (she’s a single mother and the father isn’t on the scene in terms of financial support). The technology that will take her lingual expertise is one that is destructive, so selling her command of that language means losing it. We find out what her mother thinks, but her telling the daughter is left to after the story finishes. Nice enough, and the different languages are treated cleverly in the story, but TBH a better story would do away with the SF and explore the three generations of the family on their different journeys in terms of language, integration etc. But that would be a horse of an entirely different colour.
Alyssa Wong. Olivia’s Table.
First published in ‘A Thousand Beginning and Endings’, pub Greenwillow Books 2018.
A ghost story, from an anthology of stories based on Asian folktales and myths. I liked the overall vibe and setting in the first couple of pages but once it became clear it was a ghost story I made like Scooby Doo and Shaggy and made my escape. Yoiks!
P. Djèlí Clark. The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington.
Originally Published in : Fireside Fiction, February 2019 and still online there.
In addition to reading this story online, you can read some thoughts by the author on using speculative fiction to recover black history. An intriguing approach and a good read.
Tade Thompson. Yard Dog.
Originally in : Fiyah #7
S.L. Huang. The Woman Who Destroyed Us.
Originally in : Twelve Tomorrows
A story that felt rather some way short of a Year’s Best SF story. A mother feels that whilst the treatment her son has had done that has taken him off the autistic spectrum and into ‘normal’ functioning has indeed work, he has lost something else that she as a mother can feel keenly. The premise was so-so, and the dramatic plot so-so.
Analee Newitz. The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto.
Originally in : Robots vs Fairies (ed Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)
Possibly an SF story but I skipped it.
Yoon Ha Lee. The Starship and the Temple Cat.
Originally in : Beneath Ceaseless Skies (and still online there).
A great story, go ahead and follow the link above and read it. I particularly enjoyed the far-future world-building, and complementing a galactic sweep with a rather intriguing protagonist : not just a temple cat, but a dead temple cat. Not sure about tearing up, as many of the commenters on the online story mentioned, but, then again, as a dog person, if it had been a posthumous canine, then maybe the waterworks would have followed for me.
Carmen Maria Machado. A Brief and Fearful Star.
Originally online on Slate and still online.
A young girl and her mother are living on a prairie farmstead. We find out early on in the story that her mother will be dying soon, and the story, what there is of it, is about the girl, her mother’s memories and how the girl herself is somehow linked to those memories, and memories of even earlier times. Nothing is explained, and the sfnal element, the titular bright star, is not/was not a harbinger of anything that will explain to the reader, leaving the story a thoughtful one.
Kelly Robson. Intervention.
Originally in : Infinity’s End (ed Strahan, 2018)
I did get Infinity’s End last year, having read and really enjoyed previous volumes in the series. But the first half dozen stories didn’t really grab me and the volume was put back on the shelves. I did read this one, and remember it as an OK read about a spacer who takes the decision to turn her back on her work cohort and work in a creche with kids – not a cool thing to do at all. I’ve never been a big fan of stories which children/young people in them, and less so as I get even older!
Jeffrey Ford. The Bookcase Expedition.
Originally in Robots vs Fairies (ed Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, 2018)
Evidently a fairy story and ergo not SF so I skipped this one.
Alix E. Harrow. A Witch’s Guide to Escape : a practical compendium of portal fantasies.
Originally published online on Apex Magazine and still online.
Note to self : come back to read this.
Update : well, I didn’t come back to read it, but the story appeared in Nebula Awards Showcase 54 almost two years later, and I read it and really enjoyed it. As a fantasy story involved witches, I would have given it shriftage of the short variety, but the witch is also a librarian, and it’s set in a children’s library, and those are things that have been close to my heart for over half a century.
Garth Nix. The Staff in the Stone.
Originally in : The Book of Magic (ed Gardner Dozois)
Clearly fantasy so onto the next story…
Elizabeth Bear. Okay, Glory.
Originally published in Twelve Tomorrows and reprinted online on Lightspeed Magazine and still online.
A daily log by a somewhat reclusive CEO of a tech firm, who finds that whilst a man’s home may be a castle, when the house AI is hacked and he is locked in by ransomware hackers, it very much becomes a prison. As the days, then the weeks pass, he tries various ploys to best the AI and to get out or to get help in, reflecting on the fact that his personality and reclusiveness mean that nobody out there is likely to spot the predicament he is in.
more to come…