The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011. (ed. Rich Horton, Prime Books 2011)

Stories being read and reviewed indivdually, those reviews pasted into this page, which will grow before your very eyes…

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Yoon Ha Lee. Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine.

When I read it earlier I noted :

    It’s only a couple of thousand words long, and still online, so follow the link and read it!

    The title relate to the names of four very special weapons created centuries ago by Arighan. Shiron owns/is owned by one of these weapons, and the clever conceit of a story that reflect on effects of actions have echoes into the past, rather than into the future, is that having used the weapons before understanding what it can do, Shiron has found out to her cost, and those of her ancestors, and humanity as a whole, exactly how powerful the guns are.

    It’s a short story, an appetiser that leaves you wanting more. In Alastair Reynolds’ hands it would be the opening chapter of a 1,000 page novel.

K.J.Parker. Amor Vincit Omnia.
Originally in : Subterranean Magazine.

Also collected in Strahan’s SF&F anthology, whence I summarised pithily :

    Still online at Subterrenean Magazine here, so read it.

    Some wizardly goings-on for those of you missing Harry Potter. Admittedly somewhat darker, with adult scenes!

Amal E-Mohtar. The Green Book.
Originally in : Apex Magazine, November 2010

Alice Sola Kim. The Other Graces.
Originally in : Asimovs, July 2010

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    A runner up in the 2005 Dell Magazines Award for undergraduate SF writing gets her first story in Asimovs. A young Asian girl struggles to free herself from her ‘poor yellow trash’ roots, and finds help from a surprising source (there’s a clue in the title) in getting to a good university. But can she really break free from those family ties that bind?

Geoffrey A. Landis. The Sultan of the Clouds.
Originally in : Asimovs, September 2010

When I read it last year I wrote :

    An intriguing political background, and an imaginative setting amongst the clouds of Venus, to which the story doesn’t quite live up.

    Humanity had spread outwards across the Solar System, thanks to private rather than governmental initiative, and as a result wealth beyond imagination rests in the hands of the small group of commercial enterprises who know effectively own the transport and the infrastructure on which travel relies.

    There’s a feel of the Golden Age about it, a touch of the Brave New Worlds/Metropolis, and the occasional bit of anachronistic language (‘darn’ is the oath of choice), and a tad of teenage wish fulfilment – a teenager is the titular Sultant of the Clouds, and he has not only massive wealth but the opportunity to have a bride – an older woman wise in the ways of the marital bed.

    At heart there’s a scientific conundrum to be de-conundrumised, wrapped around some derring-do, with the help of ‘Pirates’ who oppose the current regime. David Tinkerman has to solve the conundrum, whilst protecting the beautiful female scientist who is aloof throughout (and who remains an enigma). So, a bit on the retro side, but the story skips along nicely enough.

Christie Yant. The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories.
Originally in : The Way of the Wizard

Steve Rasnic Tem. A Letter from the Emperor.
Originally in : Asimovs, January 2010.

I was very impressed with this story when reading it last year :

    A deceptively affecting short story from Tem. The setting is a universe without FTL travel, but one that has still seen humanity spread across the vast distances. The word of the Emperor is law, but that word is only slowly spread – very slowly. Very, very slowly.

    We see this through the eyes of Jacob, part of a two-man ‘reporter’ detail, who travel between planets relaying messages and news between each. In fact, he’s a one-man ‘reporter’ detail as his erstwhile college has commited defenestration, which is not a good thing in deep space. (Actually, he opened the hangar bay doors, so a window wasn’t involved and ergo not defenestration, but dangnabbit I do like that word!)

    He has to deal with his sudden loss alongside the ship command AI’s interrogation of him about the incident, and in his making planetfall to a remote planet, we realise just how impossible it would be to maintain any kind of centralised command and control without FTL travel. Having had to deal with the cumbersome AI, he finds himself with an aged career diplomat, with fond, if very old, memories of having been close to the Emperor, from whom he is awaiting a message of congratulation on his retirement.

    We see Jacob, who has his sleep regulated, and has the ship command whispering into his ear at every moment, and the diplomat, his own memory possibly tampered with in the service of the Emperor, and it all feels a rather hollow, futile life for each. However, there is a touching moment of deep humanity, which Jacob is able to dredge from somewhere. He fabricates a message from the Emperor (whose existence he has himself even begunto doubt), a message extolling the service to the Empire done by the diplot. That message draws on what Jacob had found in his ex-colleague’s diairies, who had clearly dreamt of a friendship between the two that was not there, and from one Li Po’s ‘Exile Letter‘.

Matthew Johnson. Holdfast.
Originally in : Fantasy Magazine

Charles Yu. Standard Loneliness Package.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine

Rachel Swirsky. The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window.
Originally in : Subterranean Magazine

I read this in the NEbula Awards Showcase volume whence I noted :

    So I finally got round to reading the much lauded fantasy story The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers beneath the Queen’s Window, originally published two years ago, and still online on Subterranean Magazine.

    Read it on account of having a long train journey, and a copy of the Nebula Awards volume in my briefcase. Magic, queens, dwarves, spells, exactly the kind of stuff that hasn’t ever grabbed me. But I stuck with it, and can see the reasons why those who worship the second F in SFFWA lauded it with the Best Novella Award this year.

    The one odd thing that struck me -it may well have struck many others, but I don’t have any time to spare to read other people’s ponderings on SFF – was that the extent to which it was very similar to hard SF in some ways. Partly in the use of a construct to enable a person to live a massively long time, which, in an sfnal form is used often by Baxter and Reynolds, to get their protagonist towards distant millenia, and often the end of time. With them it is cryogenics, or self-repairing dns, or wormholes or such, whereas with Swirsky it was magic. And one of the failings of hard SF is the focus on the technology at the expense of the story or the people in it (I’m thinking more Analog authors here rather than Baxter or Reynolds). “They constructed their spells into physical geometries by mapping out elaborate equations that determined whether they would be cylinders or dodecahedrons, formed of garnet or lapis lazuli or cages of copper strands” is very resonant of techno-babble often used to describe the tech in hard sf.

Adam Troy-Castro. Arvies.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine

I upbraided Castro for ‘Her Husband’s Hands’ in Lightspeed (like he’s worried) recently, for looking into issues of veterans coming back from combat less than whole, but through the lens of a rather extreme conceit (only a pair of hands left, and those linked to a backup memory dump). He skirts close to the same issue here, looking at how those in-utero become the norm for humanity, living long lives whilst being carried by humans of limited intelligence, trading in their carrier as you trade in a car.

It’s multi-perspective, with the fate of the Arvie, once no longer needed, being the closing of the story. FWIW she doesn’t get fast-tracked into the incinerator, which would really have been a contribution to the abortion debate.

Bill Kte’pi. Merrythoughts.
Originally in : Strange Horizons

Samantha Henderson. The Red Bride.
Originally in : Strange Horizons

Paul Park. Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan/Feb 2010.

Another story which impressed me last year :

    A complex, substantial novella from Park, of the type that F&SF has done well over the years. It’s a tale within a tale, a fiction within a fiction, part-family history.

    The narrator relates his family history from both lines, going back several generations, utilising extracts from other publications, military tribunals, and novels written by his forebears. An unreliable narrator, we follow his imagined relationships, and those relationships that take place in the online world of Second Life, as all this is seen through the magnifying lens of his own life. In addition to the richly created backgrounds to his forebears and
    their history, there is the repeated occurrence of children born with cauls (of which he was one). And as he probes deeper, the repeated occurrence of strange visitations, and his family’s role in rebutted those who would seek to enter our world, is clarified.

    To add further depth, the near-future USA has suffered, politically and environmentally. The story draws to a dramatic conclusion as the narrator finds himself inexorably, albeit unwittingly, eventually called to take up his place in the historic stand.

    It’s a story that requires, and rewards, the reader’s close attention.

Gene Wolfe. Bloodsport.
Originally in : Swords & Dark Magic

Carol Emshwiller. No Time Like the Present.
Originally in : Lightspeed Magazine

C.S.E. Cooney. Braiding the Ghosts.
Originally in : Clockwork Phoenix 3.

Neil Gaiman. The Thing About Cassandra.
Originally in : Songs of Love and Death.

Willow Fagan. The Interior of Mr. Bumblethorn’s Coat.
Originally in : Fantasy Magazine

Peter Watts. The Things.
Originally in : Clarkesworld Magazine,

I liked this one first time round :

    Watts gets into the mind of the creature that was John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’ (via Richard Matheson’s original story). He provides a background to the creature and its distributed/decentralised self, its mission that is taking it across the galaxy, and how it struggles at first to understand the centralised nature of humanity, the existence of a central brain to control the individual, and the absence of a networked whole for humanity. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and the monologue works well, referring back to key scenes in the film to provide dramatic tension.

    Read it here

Paul M. Berger. Stereogram of the Gray Fort, in the Days of Her Glory.
Originally in : Fantasy Magazine

Alexandra Duncan. Amor Fugit.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, Mar/Apr 2010

A palpable hit last year :

    A young girl is living in remote, bucolic splendour, in a small cottage, with her mother and father. But something is not quite right – her father and mother do not meet, as one spends all night out of the cottage, and the other is out during the day. In fact is it a mythical relationship, as one parent is indeed Day and the other Night, and as myth has it (not one that I was familiar with), Day and Night did in fact fall in love in the ancient days, and had to be forced to forswear seeing each other, in order than Day could follow Night.

    The girl, Ouriana, wanders from the cottage, and glimpses a family taking lunch under a tree in a field. There is something strange about them, but when the handsome young man chases her, and catches her, she is smitten. However, her world and the one in which he lives (clue in the title) are destined to cross only fleetingly.

    It’s a beautifully told story.

Robert Reed. Dead Man’s Run.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2010

Lots of people liked this story, but I didn’t!

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’m somewhat less appreciative, as a rule, of Reed’s stories which draw primarily on his daily life, than those in which he gives full sfnal rein to his imagination.

    This is a very lengthy look at running – something he has looked at previously. There is a strong sfnal element – a running club whose coach is murdered, have both a Prime Suspect (a fellow runner) and the uploaded backup of their coach available to help them (including through their bluetooth cell phone earpieces).

    Having been a runner myself back in the day (ruining two knees in the process), I was able to engage with a lot of the detail in the story about running. But, truth be told, somewhat like a marathon running hitting the infamous wall at about 23 miles, I found myself running low on energy at about halfway, and found myself slowing down. There’s an extended chase sequence in the middle of the story, which rings absolutely true, but felt overlong for me. (Not quite up to the dramatic tension in the novel Marathon Man, which features a taut sequence where the protagonist, having had the dental treatment!, draws the lest vestiges of his strength and his strategy, to outrun the goons with guns).

    And I pulled up before the end, deciding that there was no real reason to persevere, and several good reasons to bale out (like being able to start the Richard Bowes story that was next in the issue).

Charlie Jane Anders. The Fermi Paradox is Our Business Model.
Originally in : Tor.com

I read this when finding out it was to appear in this volume :

    Tor have just identified three of their stories from 2010 which are appearing in next year’s Year’s Best Anthologies, so I thought I’d have a read of them.

    Anders’ story was published in August 2010, and is of course still online on Tor.com, and worth a read.

    It’s a light piece, providing, as you might expect, a solution to the Fermi Paradox – ironically, a solution pertinent to the current corporate greed blighting our planet. With a nod to Golden Age SF (I was minded of the Asimov short story where Earth is admitted to the register of intelligent life, once we have detonated a nuclear bomb, but have our membership rapidly withdrawn when it is realised we haven’t established a foothold on another planet yet) the story features a couple of cilia-encrusted aliens happening upon a planet with a civilisation that is anything but dead. Chosen by Rich Horton for his 2011 edition.

Matthew David Surridge. The Word of Azrael.
Originally in : Black Gate, Winter

Damien Broderick. Under the Moons of Venus.
Originally in : Subterranean Online, Spring 2010, and still online.

Also chosen by Strahan, where I read it and noted :

    If you haz not read the story yet, follow the link above.

    It’s a complex story, as you’d expect (and demand) from Broderick, that starts off feeling like one kind of story – a sort of mix of JGB and ERB, with Blackett mourning the Venus that he has lost, to which almost all humanity have been instantly, unexplainedly, transported, along with our moon. Has that happened, or is he delusional?

    There is interesting character-driven interplay between himself, a female neighbour who is offering psychological support (or not), and a bed-ridden neighbour, but then some science starts to creep in, and there is math to support a very strange explanation….

    Excellent.

An Omowoyela. Abandonware.
Originally in : Fantasy Magazine

Elizabeth Hand. The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon.
Originally in : Stories – All New Tales (ed N. Gaiman)

I read this earlier in Strahan’s take on the Year’s Best and noted :

    Wonderful story from Hand, full of humanity and tenderness. Good news is that it is online, so before you read the next para – read it here.

    Two or three strong characters in the story, all far from perfect, who set themselves the task of re-creating lost footage of an early human-powered flight. The mourning widower, and his relationship with his son and his ex-colleagues, alongside a quotient of nerdy SF/spaceflight backdrop, gives the story depth and resonance.

Conclusion

As in previous years Horton has cast his net wide, including stories from sources not covered by other anthologists. I’ve consequently got more to read in this volume, and will be filling in the gaps in the weeks/months to come..

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