The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Vol. 2 (ed Jonathan Strahan, Saga Press 2021)

The second volume in Strahan’s new all-SF anthology, the dead-tree version of which has just arrived here in mid-Nov. I’ve popped the ToC from Strahan’s website below to save a bit of effort, and will add reviews of stories as I work my way through the volume.

17 of the 26 authors are known to me, and by the power of Math that means 9 of the authors are new to me. Only 4 or 5 are authors who I would at a quick glance identify having previously appeared in a Year’s Best SF volume more than 5 years ago, so the volume clearly isn’t profiling the Big Established Names. Here goes

Vina Jie-Min Prasad. A Guide for Working Breeds.
Originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution

Just the second story of Prasad’s that I have read, the other also appearing in a Year’s Best volume (‘A Series of Steaks’ from 2017). This cute story features a transcript of conversation between AIs. Not monstrously powerful ones, but humbler ones embodied in robots. One is a newbie, working as a barista/cook, who has issues with their employer. The other has a more existential threat, but between them, she (not sure why I assigned the female gender to them both??) they developed a shared love of doggo videos, and, much more. Cute and clever. [20th Nov 2021]

Rebecca Campbell. An Important Failure.
Originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine, 8/20 and still online.

Well, this is a corker and no mistake. You should follow the link above (or buy this book) and read this story. It’s near future, well into climate catastrophe territory, and it’s undoubtedly the best luthier SF story I’ve ever read. Okay, being a bit smart alecky does the story a dis-service, let me say that the story, which features a violin maker, is one of the best SF stories I’ve read in a little while. Not really SF, I suppose, as it’s a simple projection of current ecological shithousery trajections (not sure that’s even a word!). But amongst rising sea and river levels, and rampaging forest fires, a violin maker looks back on how a previous climate change benefitted the wood that would become violins, and tries his best to create a violin that will last for centuries. It’s a deftly handled story, and an eventually uplifting, warming story. Campbell’s ‘Such Thoughts Are Unproductive’ from last year’s Clarke’s ‘Years Best’ was also an outstanding story. [20th Nov 2021]

Sarah Gailey. Drones to Ploughshares.
Originally published in Motherboard Vice, 4/02/20 and still online.

Click on the link above to read the story online. I personally found the story rather disappointing, just too simplistic and I’d have put it down as being a story in the reject pile of one of the top publishers, rather than a Year’s Best story. In a near-future totalitarian state, a government surveillance drone is captured by a farmstead which it has been sent to monitor for any breaches of the rigid rules and regulations under which they are licensed to operate. The drone is captured by the farmsteaders (but is unable to send a message back to base and it’s absence is not spotted by base), and the humans, through little more than giving it a guided tour of the farm (which has gone way beyond what is officially allowed) are able to persuade the drone’s AI that it has been working for the wrong side, and that it should turn it’s back on it’s programming and come to work for them. The anthropomorphism of a basic AI required to control a drone didn’t work for me at all in this story, whilst it did in the opening story, because the robots those AIs were controlled were very much designed for human interaction and taking on human roles. Gailey is an established author and Hugo/Locus/Nebula winner/nominee, but this is the first story of theirs that I have read. [22nd Nov 2021]

Meg Elison. The Pill.
Originally published in Big Girl Plus… (PM Press)

Near-future, and a new pill enables people to shed the excess the pounds (or, to be more specific, to pass the excess pounds), and any stretched skin, to achieve a perfect bod. The protagonist is a fat girl, from a fat family, whose mother is one of the people who trials the drug. There’s a scary couple of nights when mom starts evacuating all that fat and skin, but once through that, it appears to indeed be a miracle cure. We follow the girl as she loses her father to the drug (there is a 10% chance of death when taking it), and her brother takes the drug but does not find happiness or a ‘new self’, and she continues to resist the increasing pressure to conform as the number of overweight in society rapdily reduces. There’s a haven for her though – places where the overweight can live, worshipped by those with a fetish for the hefty. It’s a well-observed story, with the family member all sympathetically well-drwan, and some neat turns of phrase. [27th Nov 2021]

Nadia Afifi. The Bahrain Underground Bazaar.
Originally published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, 11/12/20

Charlie Jane Anders. If You Take My Meaning.
Originally published in Tor.com, 2/12/20.

Max Barry. It Came From Cruden Farm.
Originally published in Slate Future Tense, 2/29/20.

Pat Cadigan. The Final Performance of the Amazing Ralphie.
Originally published in Avatars Inc.

Gene Doucette. Schrödinger’s Catastrophe.
Originally published in Lightspeed Magazine, 11/20

Andy Dudak. Midstrathe Exploding.
Originally published in Analog: Science Fiction and Fact, 3-4/20

Timons Esaias. GO. NOW. FIX.
Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, 1-2/20

Sarah Gailey. Drones to Ploughshares.
Originally published in Motherboard Vice, 4/02/20

Ozzie M. Gartrell. The Transition of OSOOSI.
Originally published in Fiyah Lit Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction Issue #13

A.T. Greenblatt. Burn or The Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super.
Originally published in Uncanny Magazine, 5-6/20

Rich Larson. How Quini the Squid Misplaced His Klobučar.
Originally published in Tor.com, 1/15/20

Yoon Ha Lee.The Mermaid Astronaut.
Originally published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies 298

Ken Liu. 50 Things Every AI Working with Humans Should Know.
Originally published in Uncanny Magazine, 11-12/20

Usman T. Malik. Beyond These Stars Other Tribulations of Love.
Originally published in Wired, 12/11/20

Maureen McHugh. Yellow and the Perception of Reality.
Originally published in Tor.com, 7/22/20

Marian Denise Moore. A Mastery of German.
Originally published in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora

Ray Nayler. Father.
Originally published in Asimov’s Science Fiction, 7-8/20

Tochi Onyebuchi. How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary.
Originally published in Slate Future Tense, 8/29/20

Suzanne Palmer. Don’t Mind Me.
Originally published in Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families, and Friends (MIT Press)

Vina Jie-Min Prasad. A Guide for Working Breeds.
Originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution

Alastair Reynolds. Polished Performance.
Originally published in Made to Order: Robots and Revolution

Karl Schroeder. The Suicide of Our Troubles.
Originally published in Slate Future Tense, 11/28/20

Sameem Siddiqui. Airbody.
Originally published in Clarkesworld Magazine, 4/20

Nick Wolven. Sparklybits.
Originally published in Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families, and Friends (MIT Press)

Neon Yang. The Search for [Flight X].
Originally published in Avatars Inc.

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