The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 4 (ed Neil Clarke, Nightshade Books 2019)

With 2019 being the first year for four decades without a Gardner Dozois take on the Year’s Best SF, this is the only pure SF annual best volume this year!

I’ll slowly work my way through the volume, reviewing stories and putting summaries of those reviews below, with links to the fuller reviews, where available.

In a homage to the recently departed Dozois, Clarke opens his volume with a mini-summation of the type that Dozois so diligently supplied in his long-running series (and the final volumes of the earlier series initially edited by Lester Del Rey, which Dozois took on editing). Then Clarke gets on with his take on the best SF of the year.

Simone Heller. When We Were Starless.
Originally published online on Clarkesworld Magazine, and still online there.

Clarke opens the anthology with a strong story from his own publication. In my review of the story when it appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine I noted “Heller is an author new to me, but a name I would be looking out for now if I was still in the habit of reading a lot of short SF in it’s original appearance.” Read the Full Best SF Review here.

Kelly Robson. Intervention.
Originally in : Infinity’s End (ed Strahan, 2018)

I read this in it’s original appearance, and remember that I wasn’t really grabbed by the story of a spacer who turns her back on her team to become a creche leader. However, both Strahan and Clarke included it in their year’s best SF&F volumes, so clearly it ticked several of these three august editors.

Alyssa Wong. All the Time We’ve Left to Spend.
Originally in : Robots vs Fairies, 2018.

The story is online on the Fireside Fiction website. A near future story set in South Korea. Ruriko hides herself behind a mask and her new name, but spends her time and money visiting and re-visiting the deceased colleagues of the all-girl band of which she was the surviving member. They are housed in what amounts to a brothel populated by replicas of famous pop stars and other celebrities, identical to the real thing, and containing downloads from brain backups from the real people. Ruriko visits Yume the most, her ex-lover, try to get her head around the bust up they had shortly before the accident that killed all but Ruriko. Wong gets into the head of the traumatised girl as she tries to find a resolution to her feelings of guilt. [28th March 2020]

Madeline Ashby. Domestic Violence.
Originally in : Slate (and still online there).

Written as part of a series of stories looking at how science and technology will change our lives, ‘futurist’ Ashby doesn’t look too far into the future, as the technology in question is virtually in place now. The title of the story is a giveaway, as the theme is domestic violence, and the technology is a home security system which has been hacked by a controlling/abusive husband to constrain his wife’s movements. The protagonist is a HR manager, with her own history of abuse, who keeps a lid on her memories – until one of her reports is late for work due to being unable to leave the house. There’s a Hitchcockian dimension to the story, which is well related, with some nice touches in terms of other minor tech developments, but it wasn’t a story that really grabbed me as a standout. 29th March 2020]

Ian McDonald. Ten Landscapes of Nilli Fossae.
Originally in : ‘2001: An Odyssey in Words’.

A few pages in which a crew member on an eventually ill-fated mission to Mars spends his time painting the Martian landscape surrounding them. He uses a gloved finger and a tablet, and records a variety of impressionistic paintings, drawing inspiration from great painters through history. Short but affecting. [30th March 2020]

Naomi Kritzer. Prophet of the Roads.
Originally in : Infinity’s End.

A story that could easily have been fleshed out to novella length, and a setting that could support a fat trilogy. It’s far-future, but humanity is evidently constrained to our solar system. There has been a costly civil war – humanity had embraced AIs, and allowed ‘The Engineer’ to take us under it’s/their wings and to take a lot of control over our lives. It proved to be *too much* control and humanity rebelled. The protagonist, Luca, had a part to play in a massacre, and struggled to live with that, but they also have a small fragment of The Engineer, who whispers into Luca’s ear, directing the to seek other fragments. The story has a retro feel to me – almost like an Asimov story in some ways : partly on account of the characterisation and dialogue feeling somewhat two-dimensional as Asimov often does. There were some nice touches, but I would have preferred a bit more depth (as Kritzer provided in space in her ‘Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe’ a couple of years back). If it hadn’t been in an adult anthology, I would probably have thought it a ‘juvenile/YA’ story. [31st March 2020]

Vanessa Fogg. Traces of Us.
Originally online on GigaNotoSaurus and still online

I’m a soppy sentimental old fool, and the ending of James Cameron’s ‘Titanic’ gets me very time, even though I know how the movie is going to end. And this story makes it clear from the outset what the ending is going to be, and yup it still got to me. It’s still online, so follow the link above and read it, as there are spoilers ahead. There are two storylines that run parallel through the story, one very far in the future. Although in fact they are the same storyline, but threaded non-chronologically to give the desired effect. Two scientists find each other and fall in love, but their life together is to be short-lived. The wife, with terminal brain cancer, decided on an experimental (but destructive) brain upload, on the microscopic chance that somehow she and her husband will be reunited. The story is a successful mix of science and human behaviour and emotions. [31st March 2020]

Nick Wolven. Lab B-15
Originally in : Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March/April 2018.

Scientist fiction in which there is a mystery about Lab B-15 which the protagonist has to solve, not aided by his aloof, non-communicative personality. A bit slow for me and I baled out well before the end.[20th Oct 2019]


Alastair Reynolds. Different Seas.
Originally in : Twelve Tomorrows 5, MIT Press 2018.

Trying to re-engage my brain with reading SF, I checked the contents list and headed for this story, looking forward to a lengthy galactic-spanning yarn from an author who invariably delivers the SF goods. However this is much more tightly focussed story and is tethered to Earth. Lilith is onboard an otherwise unmanned oceangoing cargo ship when a major auroral storm damages her vessel. Such has been the global impact of this storm that rescue or repair is not going to happen quickly enough for her, and her vessel and it’s cargo, and Lilith herself are in grave danger. However, help is provided, through a maintenance ‘bot controlled through telepresence from a woman whose life, unlike Lilith’s, is up and out amongst the planets. In the short time her saviour is with her, Lilith’s life is not only saved, but energised for a starrier future by her unseen saviour, who is not to be rescued from her predicament but used here final hours and minutes to save Lilith. [20th Oct 2019]

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