The Best Science Fiction of the Year, Volume 5 (ed Neil Clarke, Nightshade Books 2020

Last year, following the sad loss of Gardner Dozois, Neil Clarke became the *only* anthologist of a Year’s Best SF volume (exclusing the SF&F anthologies, obviously). This year, Clarke is now *just* the longest-running Year’s Best SF anthologist, as he has reached volume 5, with Jonathan Strahan leaving his SF&F series for an SF-only series from publisher Saga Press. And that means just one SF&F volume for 2020.

So, what of this, his latest volume. It follows the same presentation as the previous volumes, and of the 11 authors named on the front, I recognise 10 of them FWIW. What I will do is start off now (20th Nov 2020) with a listing of stories and their sources, and work my way through the book, reading stories and putting reviews/summaries/notes as I go along.

Suzanne Palmer. The Painter of Trees.
Originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine #153, June 2019 and still online

A short, simple but effective vignette from Palmer. Humanity is spreading remorselessly throughout the universe, as the native intelligence life on one planet has found to their cost. There are but a half dozen of them left, in the final, small corner of their planet that has yet to succumb to the terraforming. There is one human who has some regret at the costs, and reflects on the loss of the habitat and its inhabitants, but it’s too little, too late.

Not the most cheering of reads, and I’m glad I read it post-2020 US Election and with news of vaccines, rather than in the middle of 2020! (Also anthologised by Jonathan Strahan in his take on the year’s best SF. [27-Nov-2020]

N.K. Jemisin. Emergency Skin.
Originally published in Amazon Forward Reads, 2019.

A story I really enjoyed reading. The protagonist is on a mission, to return to humanity’s homeworld, Tellus. He has been enclosed in a temporary skin, which will become permanent at the end of his mission and his return, and he has an embedded AI to help him on the mission. It transpires though that the homeworld hasn’t succumbed to environmental collapse, and, indeed those who remained on Earth have flourished *because* rather than *despite* the loss of the rich elite who fled generations ago. Jemisin drip feeds the reader as the story progresses with information about what has happened, which kept this reader engaged as did the perspective being from the embedded AI, and its responses to questions from its host. Admittedly the solution to Earth’s problems is a little simplistic and idealistic, and conservatives will doubtless object but hey, I’d contribute to a kickstarter to help the rich elite flee the Earth. Also anthologised by Jonathan Strahan in his take on the Year’s Best SF. [28-Nov-2020]

Mercurio D. Rivera. In the Stillness Between the Stars.
Originally in Asimovs, September/October 2019.

Winner of the Asimovs Readers Poll in the Novelette Category for 2019. It’s a story of two halves. I liked the first half – the setting (massive spaceship en route to New Earth using alien tech) and the setup (a psychotherapist, with guilt over leaving his young son behind, is brought out of coldsleep to help with another passenger having problems with guilt over an extramarital affair). Instead of the second half being a psychological exploration of guilt in these circumstances, there’s some ‘tommy rot’ (as we call it in the UK) about passing through a gravity wave that enables creatures from another brane universe to pass across and latch onto people’s guilt to substantiate themselves as demonic creatures of the shadows. And the second half becomes a Stephen King-like horror story (apologies for my horror references being some 30 years out of date, I never did get into horror to any extent after a few early King novels). The guilty passenger gets chomped by the monster, but the protagonist faces up to it and survives, but in aborting his trip at a layoff out near Pluto, he chats with an incoming passenger who (as tends to happen in horror stories/films) *also* has guilt over leaving her daughter behind, and who (we see in the final paragraph) is going to have the horrors during her voyage. The protagonist turns his back on them and heads home. Not the sort of ending that you find in SF although the kind of ending you get in horror movies/tv series, setting up more horrors beyond the conclusion of the story. [28-Nov-2020]

Karin Lowachee. Sympathizer.

Marie Vibbert. Knit Three, Save Four.

Cixin Liu. Moonlight.

Tobias S. Buckell. By the Warmth of Their Calculus.

Elizabeth Bear. Deriving Life.

Gwyneth Jones. The Little Shepherdess.

Rebecca Campbell. Such Thoughts Are Unproductive.

Kali Wallace. The River of Blood and Wine.

Dominica Phetteplace. One Thousand Beetles in a Jumpsuit.

Alastair Reynolds. Permafrost.

Tegan Moore. The Work of Wolves.

A Que. Song Xiuyun.

Vandana Singh. Mother Ocean.

Karen Osborne. Cratered.

Ann Leckie. The Justified.

Annalee Newitz. Old Media.

Alec Nevala-Lee. At the Fall.

Ray Nayler. The Ocean Between the Leaves.

Aliette de Bodard. Rescue Party.

John Chu. Close Enough for Jazz.

Carolyn Ives Gilman. n the Shores of Ligeia.

Yoon Ha Lee. The Empty Gun.

Indrapramit Das. Kali_Na.

Rich Larson. Painless.

A.T. Greenblatt. Give the Family My Love.

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