Having belatedly finished reading the 2009 volume, I was more than pleasantly surprised to spot this handsome book sitting on a shelf of a bookshop in rural Suffolk. So what of the stories?
Steven Gould. A Story, with Beans.
Originally in : Analog, May 2009.
As regular readers will know, the shrift that I have been giving Analog has been very short of late. Horton’s initial foray into the Year’s Best anthology was criticised by myself, and some others (sources, sources! I hear you cry) for having too many stories from the magazine. He did reduce the number of stories from Analog (I’m not suggesting that was a direct response to any criticsm at all!) in subsequent volumes, but chooses to open with one this year.
When reading that issue of the magazine I summarized the story : ‘A short look at blinkered faith’.
Which isn’t a whole lot of use to neither man nor beast, although I do go for short summations when there isn’t a whole lot more to be said of a story. Although I did note for that issue, there was a lot of emotion in the issue for Analog readers, mostly used to lots of science in their stories, and not a lot of emotion. Let us just say, it wouldn’t be the story I’d lead out with in a Year’s Best volume. But Horton’s got his name on the cover, and I haven’t.
Theodora Goss. Child-Empress of Mars.
Originally in : Interfictions 2.
I haven’t read the Interfictions anthologies, but a quick google enables you to find the first volume on google books, and a peek at the introduction identifies the manifesto of the series (click here for that). Part of that is the concept of metafiction, fictions drawing on other works of fiction.
Here Goss looks at Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom novels, but from the perspectives of the inhabitants of the Red Planet. And we see the court of the Child-Empress, on the Crimson Planet (from their perspective, remember), as they follow the latest arrival from Earth. And rather than ERB’s simplistic biology of otherwise human-type creatures grown from eggs, Goss creates an altogether 21st Century genetics to underpin her creatures.
It’s an interesting conceit, and left this reader wishing it had been a longer story. And one thing I’ll be picking up on this volume, is the extent to which Horton as an editor has a very, very broad net from which he catches his fictional fishies.
Peter Watts. The Island.
Originally in : New Space Opera 2, eds Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan.
When it first appeared I wrote:
Some ultra-hard sf, ultra-far future, as with the previous story by Wilson. However, Watts’ is slightly less successful in taking on the challenge of presenting the story from a female protagonist, not quite getting an emotional depth of character.
Earth is long-dead, but humanity lives on, albeit in the service of those less than but more than human, constantly expanding the sphere of galactic conquest by building wormholes. Having created a wormhole, the humans have to flee to avoid being caught up by those hard on their heels.
As in the Wilson story, the humans achieve longevity by spreading their lives across centuries by living in short bursts – both authors using the term ’saccade’. Whilst Wilson’s protagonist is uploaded (but is able to retain and sustain emotional needs), Watts’ protagonist has physical needs which she is able to satisfy both by herself (having her ‘jill off’ comes across very strongly as a female character written by a male) and with her son.
The son is only partly such, a creation of ‘the chimp’, the AI which controls the construction ship. There’s an interesting troilistic relationship here, with the chimp directly linked to the son, who has been created in order to spy on his mother.
The drama is set up when the system in which the latest wormhole to be built has a very, very anomolous entity. So anomolous that it is beyond the AI’s coding to incorporate into its decision making, and the mother has to find ways to persuade it not to start a destructive build near a colossal, biological, sentient creature – less an Island but more a Dyson Sphere.
Robert Kelly. The Logic of the World.
Originally in : Conjunctions 52.
Sir Parsifal, noble knighte, happens upon a dragon in a valley. However the encounter is not as he envisaged, as conversation with the dragon gives him pause for thoughte
Holly Phillips. The Long, Cold Goodbye.
Originally in : Asimovs, March 2009.
The short summary I gave when reading this last year suggested I wasn’t exactly bowled over by this story : ‘Mood piece in which a young woman takes her leave of the frozen city, her frozen relationships.’
Ann Leckie. The Endangered Camp.
Originally in : Clockwork Phoenix 2.
Dinosaurs have achieved spaceflight, and, having found the Moon to be airless, have now sent a mission to Mars – just ahead of (unknown to them) the extinction event headed their way. With the post-impact white ring spreading across the face of the earth, there is a challenge to the captain’s authority when she decides to turn back. What can history teach them – through the sung history of their race?
The story asks a lot with regard to suspension of disbelief, and doesn’t really give much back by way of return.
Alex Irvine. Dragon’s Teeth.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, December 2009
When this first appeared I gave the story longer shrift than I would typically give one feautring a knight and dragon, as the story was atypical of the knight/dragon stories that fantasy-land oft features :
“Irvine’s ‘Wizard Six’ in F&SF June 2007 was a strong and dark fantasy story. In a similar vein, he follows Paulus, of the King’s Guard, as he embarks upon a quest to slay a dragon. But it’s not shining armour and chivalry, but human emotion, betrayal, love and fear. “
Lucius Shepard. Sylgarmo’s Proclamation.
Originally in : Tales of the Dying Earth.
From a collection that was a tribute to Jack Vance’s seminal ‘Tales of the Dying Earth’ fantasy novels. Clearly the more familiar you are with the Vance stories the more you will get from the stories penned by a range of big name authors in that collection. If you’re not at all familiar with them, then you clearly have to treat them a a singleton fantasy story, albeit guessing that it is written in a style similar to Vance’s, a slightly wordy style.
There are a couple of footnotes in the story, presumably also a Vance affectation, in which Thiago Alves is accompanied by the scarred beauty Drew Coreme, who are each seeking one Cugel, a cousin to the former, and the instigator of the scarring of the former. All manner of beasts are described in melliflous detail, with a restrained eroticism in the description of the bodies, nudity and athleticism of the protagonists.
An interesting peek in the world of Vance’s ‘Dying Earth’.
Jo Walton. Three Twilight Tales.
Originally in : Firebirds Soaring, ed Sharyn November.
Also picked in Strahan’s collection of the year’s best, in which I noted
- “A more traditional fantasy story, or three intertwined stories, featuring a king, a pedlar, a moonshine man, and a variety of people who are more than they appear to be. If you’re not fully attuned to the niceties of fantasy of this sort, as I am, it comes across as nice enough, but little more.”
John Meaney. Necroflux Day.
Originally in : The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction #3
When reading it last year I noted the plot elements, but it wasn’t one of the stories that I singled out for particular praise :
“..is evidently set in the alternate Earth of his ‘Bone Days’ and ‘Dark Blood’ novels. A young boy has to come to terms with his mixed-race heritage, with aliens of his father’s type starting to be at risk of being identified as a minority who can be blamed (for whatever the larger population feels is in need of blame). However, in coming to terms with himself the boy is able to find out more about the nature of society, and just what happens to those people who surrender the calcium in their bones. “
Paul Park. The Persistence of Memory; or, This Space For Sale.
Originally in : Postscripts 20/21.
Park’s so sharp in this story he’s at risk of cutting himself. A meta-fiction, with Park the author putting together several layers together, as he auctions on ebay elements of a story in progress, and then works on inserting the stories/characters of the successful bidders into the story. It’s layered and smart.
Robert Charles Wilson. This Peaceable Land.
Originally in ‘Other Earths’ ed by Nick Gevers.
Also collected in Hartwell/Cramer this year, and I enthused it at length here
Jay Lake. On the Human Plan.
Originally in Lone Star Stories – and still online here (bloody stupid photograph to illustrate the story if you ask me!).
I’d listened to this as a podcast (on Escape Pod prior to reading the story in this volume. So you’ve got the opportunity to read it, or listen to it before you read my words – and Lake’s words are far better than my words!
It’s a short story, packing a subtle punch. Setting in the dying days of our Sun, with humans increasingly moving away from ‘the human plan’, Dog the Digger relates a visit from a traveller from afar, seeking to find the doorway to death. In relating the story of that visit to the reader, Dog the Digger details a lot about the current state of humanity, and … how we have to some extent cheated death, albeit with a very high price to be paid. It’s a story that benefits from careful reading, there’s a lot of thought gone into its writing, with some clever imagery and thoughtful turns of phrase.
John Langan. Technicolor.
Originally in : Poe
An intriguing, clever deconstruction of Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death’.
Eugene Mirabelli. Catalog.
Originally in : the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2009
When I read it last year I said :
Terry Bisson’s ‘In the Upper Room’ back in 1997 was a treat, involving a man who finds himself in the world of the lingerie catalog. Mirabelli’s protagonist finds himself in a world that is a mashup of his own personal bibliographic and magazine favourties, and has to come to terms with his new existence.
Paul McAuley. Crimes and Glory.
Originally in : Subterranean, and still online.
Excellent hard SF from McAuley, in a narrative that gradually reveals more as it progresses. It’s set in his ‘Jackaroo’ series, where aliens have contacted us, and humanity is using their tech, and tech from elder species to expand our horizons.
Some potentially very, very risky alien tech is discovered, and there’s a chase to hunt down the people with it, and to work out just who is behind it. The detective in it is determined to bring the miscreants to justice, but whose justice?
Rachel Swirsky. Eros, Philia, Agape.
Originally in : Tor.com – and still online here so read the story before going any further!
When I read it in Strahan’s take on the year’s best I wrote :
After a couple of short, contemporary stories by Kelly Link and Pat Cadigan, that don’t really stretch the reader, Swirsky provides much more intense fayre.
There are more interpersonal and interspecies dynamics than you get in most sf novels. A wealthy young woman takes a lover – creates one in fact, a robot that is virtually indistinguishable from human, and one whose brain is plastic – it is able, rather than being restricted to positronic pathways mapped out in the brain, to develop and change at the behest of the human.
They later have a child, another complex piece of a jigsaw that includes a parrot, sisters, and a father who has recently died, but whose shadow hangs over his daughter and the story, but very subtly. The woman, a complex character as seen through the eyes of the robot, gives him the opportunity to take responsibility for his own development, and this freedom has huge implications for the family unit.
Nir Yaniv. A Painter, a Sheep, and a Boa Constrictor.
Originally in : Shimmer 10.
Horton throws his net far and wide for his volume, and provides access to stories that you won’t see in any of the other Year’s Best volumes. This three-pager is an example of good semi-prozine standard, but not, for my money, one for a Year’s Best. A meeting between a young boy, and a man, with the young boy holding a Maker machine and requesting a sheep be made, quickly leads to a dramatic denouement. But really not much meat on the bones.
Dominic Green. Glister.
Originally in : Interzone #223, Jul-Aug 2009.
When I read this last year I summarised it :
Green creates an interesting planetary setting to start the story, then whizzes us off to another setting, where the local fauna are being hunted for gold. There are some unsympathetic human characters, and a dramatic ending in which a near-invisible, fast-moving predator wreaks havoc on the hunters. The lead protagonist is smart enough to best it.
and noted that Green was generally a bit hit and miss for me, and the three stories in this Dominic Green issue of Interzone fell into the latter category.
Damien Broderick. The Qualia Engine.
Originally in : Asimovs, August 2009.
When it appeared last year I wrote:
“It appears that Broderick has been called “The Dean of Australian Science Fiction”, and here he presents his credentials with regard to some hard SF blended with the softer human side of the genre. There’s generally plenty of the former in SF, and not as much of the latter as there should be.
A tribute to past tales of enhanced children, Broderick looks at the problem of the generation of children who spring from genetically modified super-bright parents.
For Saul life is in many ways similar to that of any normally intellectually gifted child – having to negotiate school life with its ever-present jocks offering a clear example of the more physical approach to life. In the school canteen with three fellow geniuses (Ruth, Marius and Janey), he expounds his desire to explore and clarify the qualia to which the story title refers. As any fule kno, qualia as in fact units of conciousness and raw feelings and the experience of sensations.
Broderick sets the story against a well defined social and cultural setting, giving Saul a solidity of character that often is misses in stories where there is a focus just on the science, and all that is provided is a cutout of a white-coated scientist addressing a tricky scientific conundrum. This is welcome, as Broderick does load a lot of technical background into the use of plasmids to create the super-intelligent, thus providing a story that refers to Depeche Mode, the X-Men, and Ford Focus hatchbacks at the same time as providing a sentence like : “Mostly its an unstable CHRM2 allele, plus downregulation of dysbindin SNP”.
We follow Saul and his three friends, mostly Ruth, through the years as they use their skills in various ways – Saul to write a best-selling fat fantasy book – until they can buy the first commercial 1024-qubit adiabatic computer. Saul, in telling us this story, reflects on his experience as a fantasy writer which taught him not to info-dump, by means of an apology prior to a hefty info-dump, lulling the reader into a false sense of security as we then have Ruth killed off in a car crash.
This sets up nicely for the dramatic denouement, in which the trio use their new kit to encode Jane’s memories, which are then overlaid onto Saul. The experiment is a startling success, enabling Saul to see the world through her memories, through her eyes and, most importantly, through her emotions. And that gives Saul a huge surprise, and a challenge for he and Jane to address.
It’s an excellent opening to the issue, getting the balance between hard SF and soft SF just right. “
Margo Lanagan. Living Curiousities.
Originally in : Sideshow.
Carnival freakshow, with Lanagan’s usual clever prose and strong female characters.
Toiya Kirsten Finley. The Death of Sugar Daddy.
Originally in : Electric Velocipede.1
I’m pushing on to get this volume reviewed, and on the basis that this story, at a skim through, isn’t science fiction, am pressing on without reading it.
Kelly Link. Superheroes.
Originally in : Geektastic.
As per above, not SF, but dark superhero/villainry.
Genevieve Valentine. Bespoke.
Originally on : Strange Horizons (and still online
Also collected by Hartwell/Cramer, where I read it and commented :
Nicely handled time travel story through the eyes of a coutourier. Time travel is the prerogative of the rich, and they are more than happy to spend lots of money to ensure that their costumes are a perfect match for the era to which they head. The fact that in doing so they are destroying their own world bit by bit (the butterfly effect – which in this world is removing all flora and fauna, with a subsequent plague of butterflies. There are some nice background details, and the story revolves around a junior seamstress who is able to observe the foibles of the wealthy elite.
John Kessel. Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance.
Originally in : New Space Opera 2.
When I read this last year, I wrote:
Tight drama, as we follow a young monk was has carried out an audacious raid to steal some priceless items from an oppressive regime, and who has to return to his home planet to use them as a means of ensuring the freedom of his people.
The action is given an interesting background, with humanity restored, after failing, by gods, and these gods are ever-present and able to offer advice to their believers. Others have less belief in these gods. And there is a final twist in that, having found his way back to his monastery, there has been a change of plan.
A handsome book, and Horton has cast his net very far and very wide – he certainly can’t be faulted for being conservative in the range of sources from which he chooses. By my reckoning, 25 stories from 22 different sources, with only F&SF, Asimovs and The New Space Opera 2 having more than one story reprinted.