Year’s Best SF #18. (ed David G. Hartwell. Tor, 2013)

yearsbestsf18Usually first out of the starting blocks ahead of the other three Year’s Best volumes, this year’s offering from Hartwell has only just made it out before the end of the year, well behind the others. But there are changes – a new publisher (Tor), a new size (Trade Paperback), and Hartwell is the solo editor (no Kathryn Cramer).

So, with my shelving feng shui ruined once again, with a nice run of 17 previous years’ similarly-sized and presented paperbacks sitting nicely on a bookshelf, I now have to find space for a new trade paperback series. And 2013 had been going so well … the things up with which I have to put.

So what of the volume? Well, there are 28 authors, and 25 are Household Names, at least in this household.

Here are the contents, with my take on those stories I myself have previously read included. I’ll work my way through the volume filling in the gaps – I’m not entirely sure when, but by golly I’m barely into my second half-century, so there are decades ahead….

Megan Lindholm. Old Paint.
Originally in Asimovs, July 2012.

When I read it last year I was impressed :

Excellent story from Lindholm.

She sets the story in the USA about 50 years from now, the protagonist a teen daughter of a strict single mother, who live in social housing along with her brother. The US is in a bit of an economic downturn, but cleverly the story enables us to contrast this with the struggles the mother had in the 2030s. And not only is there the relationship between the girl and her brother and their mother, but also the historic relationship between their mother and her grandfather.

All of this is explored through the death of the estranged grandfather, who leaves, along with a very modest sum of money, a vintage car. Of course the car is hi-tech by our standards, with an impressive AI, but is hardly state of the art to the teens.

Taking the car back to their house, the story explores the impact the car (a station wagon) has on the family, and throws a light on the reliance of AI controlled cars, the various relationships, live and historic, and ends quite happily ever after, up to a point, in a tender and affecting way. Sort of a nod to the Disney/Pixar Toy Story and Cars, with a bit of Wall-E thrown in. And Herbie.”

Paul Cornell. The Ghosts of Christmas.
Originally online on Tor.com – and still there

The first of a couple of stories from Tor.com, one of a number of places to get high quality SF online.

Robert Reed. Prayer.
Originally online on Clarkesworld – and still there

Another great online source, and Reed an author always worth reading. Mind you I realise I haven’t read as much from him of late. Must rectify…

Yoon Ha Lee. The Battle of Candle Arc.
Originally online on Clarkesworld – and still there.

Hmm Hartwell identifies this as being from Lightspeed…

Gene Wolfe. Dormanna.
Originally online on Tor.com – and still there

A second story from Tor.com, from an author whose ouevre I expect to fully catch up on when time permits. Dude, I am so going to hoover his ouevre. (I am hoping the British verbiated product name, and the French word make sense).

Eleanor Arnason. Holmes Sherlock : A Hwarhath Mystery.
Originally online on Eclipse Online – and still there

The move to having a lot of high quality short SF online has had some deletrious effects. Strahan excellent series of ‘Eclipse’ anthologies got up to four print volumes (not without a bit of gender issue brouhahaha), but this was replaced by an online series which itself soon ceased.

Sean McMullen. Electra.
Originally in Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2012.

Every book in this volume is clearly SF and nothing else’ according to Hartwell in his introduction (slightly paraphrased), but this is an alternate history with a touch of Lovecraftian horrors, which, as far as I see it, makes it not clearly SF. But he’s got the book editing deal and I haven’t, so it’s his call. Here’s what I said last year :

Napoleonic alternate history with a touch of the cthulhian terrors. A young officer, a code breaker, is despatched to a rural retreat in the English countryside, where some strange experiments are taking place which could revolutionise combat communication – taking it far beyond the use of semaphore signalling. There’s evidently a novel in this setting in the pipeline.

C.S. Friedman. Perfect Day.
Originally in Fantasy & Science Fiction, March/April 2012.

When it appeared last year I wrote :

Humorous short which looks at a potential (very near!) future world dominated by apps, advertising and a consequent lack of free will.

From the same issue as the previous story in this anthology, and the pair of them wouldn’t have come close to my top 28 short SF stories for 2012.

John Barnes. Swift as a Dream and Fleeting as a Sigh.
Originally in : Edge of Infinity

From an outstanding volume, which could have furnished several stories in my Year’s Best. When I read it last year I wrote :

Another strong story, with the nature of the omniscient narrator not revealed immediately, as humanity’s concerns, and the concerns and loves of individuals are seen through the lens of a creature with a much longer view, and a much bigger picture. Excellent.

Naomi Kritzer. Liberty’s Daughter.
Originally in Fantasy & Science Fiction, May/June 2012.

When it appeared last year I wasn’t moved :

A slightly less effective story than Kritzer’s ‘Scrap Dragon’ in the Jan/Feb 2012 issue.

The setting is an interesting one – a string offshore artificial islands set up by Americans wishing to secede from the tax and governmental burden of the mainland. And whilst there aren’t taxes, there is bonded-labour, and an issue around this is the crux of the story.

Where the story suffers is in it zipping through quite quickly, with a feel of a YA story, both due to the teenage protagonist and her issues with her dad – mind you, maybe I’m even less enamoured by stories with teen protagonists, as not only are my teen years long gone, today marks my youngest son leaving his teens behind!

After a missing person is found (quickly), it transpires that there is a mystery behind the disappearance, but no sooner has the mystery been raised than it is resolved. And the story finishes with somewhat of a non-sequiter, with the sudden appearance of a letter from the girl’s mom (the absence of her mom not being a really strong issue in the story).”

Indrapramit Das. Weep for Day.
Originally in Asimovs, August 2012.

I enjoyed this one last year :

Das is a new author to me, and this story is an impressive introduction. He posits a world that has one hemisphere permanently turned to face the sun, one turned away. I’m sure the more scientifically minded would post huge objections as to why this would be impossible for intelligent life to develop, but as a social scientist I’m more interested in the society he portrays.

The society is in effect that of Victorian England, with a steampunky vibe about it. The narrator is a woman looking back on a childhood train journey that she took when she was eight. The journey was with her older brother and parents – her father a captain of industry and very much a Knight of the Realm, in that in this society, as a young men he was part of forays into the inhospitable night-side of the planet, where he slew one of the ‘Nightmares’ that live there, and threaten them.

Or, rather, one of the creatures that live in the night-side and whom they feel threatened by, as the story looks at how the society chooses to destroy that which it does not understand and thus fears. It’s a nicely different conceit, and handled well.”

Pat Cadigan. In Plain Sight.
Originally in : The Future is Japanese

Cadigan’s ‘The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi’ in the aforementioned ‘Edge of Infinity’ was a cracking story, and hopefully this one is up to that standard.

Lewis Shiner. Application.
Originally in : Fantasy and Science Fiction, Nov/Dec 2012

When I read it last year I wrote :

    Short but perfectly formed Dilbert-like vignette in which a jobseeker in a US where that is no easy thing to be, makes a surprise re-connection when applying for a job online

Kathleen Ann Goonan. A Love Supreme.
Originally in ‘Discovery’

In an issue of a magazine edited by Ellen Datlow, that’s as good enough a recommendation as you can get in SF.

Andy Duncan. Close Encounters.
Originally in : Fantasy and Science Fiction, September/October 2012.

One of the better stories of last year and I noted then:

A heart-warming take on the the final years of one Buck Nelson who evidently achieved some degree of fame/notoriety for his visition by men (and women) (and dogs) from Mars (and Venus), and who spent time out on those planets, and had his lumbago cured.

Nelson died in 1982, and the story is based around them, with him giving short shrift in his remote farmhouse to a reporter that comes a-calling. Duncan gets into the character of the crotchety old farmer extremely well, and manages to stay just the right side of maudlin sentimentality at the end.

Mind you I read the story before our fambly was joined by our dog, and had I read it as a dog-owner, the ending might have had me reaching for a handkerchief.

Aliette de Bodard. Two Sisters in Exile.
Originally in Solaris Rising 1.5

British publisher Solaris, with editors Jonathan Strahan and Ian Whates, have been kicking some SF ass of late, and with imprint Solaris showing how Gollancz is keeping up with the game, issuing this e-book 1.5 volume between print volumes 1 and 2 of Solaris Rising.

There were several good stories in this volume and I liked this one, noting :

Another in de Bodard’s satisfying future Xuya sequence. First up was ‘Shipmaker’ (Interzone #231 Nov/Dec 2010), then ‘Shipbirth’ (Asimovs, Feb 2012), and more recently ‘Ship’s Brother’ (Interzone #241, Jul/Aug 2012).

The aforementioned stories having looking at the birth of spaceships powered by/linked to human minds, de Bodard takes us to the other end of the lifecycle, as warrior Nguyen Dong Huong, whose The Tortoise in the Lake is her fourth ship in her relatively short life, has the task of accompanying the Northerner vessel ‘The Two Sisters in Exile’ to its funeral.

Her visit to the Northerner planet is a surprise to her, as is the age of the ‘Two Sisters in Exile’, and the implication s of that longevity, and the response of the Northerners to its death. The story has literature and poetry and feelings at its core, rather than warp speed, photon torpedoes and the like, and along with Jay Lake’s short SF featuring humans facing human issues in future settings, one of the kinds of SF that I look forward to reading.

Ken Liu. Waves.
Originally in Asimovs December 2012.

One of the issues of ‘mov’s which I missed betwixt print, kindle and print versions (tried the Kindle, returned to print!)

Catherine H. Shaffer. The North Revena Ladies Literary Society.
Originally in Analog

I’ve been eschewing Analog in recent years, but I suppose I shall give it a try again as it’s under new editorial direction.

Paul McAuley. Antartica Stars Here.
Originally in Asimovs, October/November 2012.

When I read it last year I noted :

    Near-future post-icecap-melt story, that looks at some of the risks to the previously inaccessible wilderness of the Antartic. Telepresence is opening up the region to tourists, and somebody has to take action to prevent the despoiling of the continent. The narrator is one-removed from this action, with the really interesting characters being those who do take action, but for the reader this is indirectly relayed via the narrator/observer.

Not a story that gives me any strong memories from that summation, so not a story I’d have picked as a standout.

Gwyneth Jones. Bricks, Sticks, Straw.
Originally in Edge of Infinity.

Another strong story from a strong anthology. This is what I noted :

    A clever story that looks at the exploration of the solar system via telepresence rather than in person, and to explain much more would be to give away too much, but suffice to say it provides an interesting perspective. And the reason for the title is a neat one when explained. Quite some way ahead of the tired scientists-stranded-on-a-moon-and-have-to-think-of-a-clever-way-to-escape trope. After all this is a collection that looks to the Fourth Generation of SF, as opposed to that First Generation trope, which is still used today becomes close to tripe rather then trope. (hmmm ponders whether the British word tripe is that well known…)

Gregory Benford. The Sigma Structure Symphony.
Originally online on Tor.com – and still online

Another top author whose output is sadly diminished (or else his output isn’t making it’s way to me!)

Deborah Walker. Glass Future.
Originally in : Nature

Previous issues of Year’s Best SF from Hartwell/Cramer got a larger number of stories into the small volumes by dint of putting in a fair number of short short stories from Nature magazine. #aproposofnothing

Tony Ballantyne. If Only..
Originally in : Nature

Previous issues of Year’s Best SF from Hartwell/Cramer got a larger number of stories into the small volumes by dint of putting in a fair number of short short stories from Nature magazine. #justsaying

Mind you, in putting a volume like this together, surely you’d put short short stories in between longer stories, rather than running one after another?

Michael Swanwick. The Woman who Shook the World Tree.
Originally online on Tor.com – and still there

A further story from Tor, one of several in the volume written in response to a specific painting. Unless they’re all truly amongst the best stories of the year, I’d have put the best one in this volume and left the reader to read the others online.

Linda Nagata. Nahiku West.
Originally in Analog

I picked this up in another of the year’s best anthologies and wrote :

Nahiku West is one of a pair of tethered orbitals, and in surviving what should have been a fatal accident when traversing between the pair, one Key Lu signs his own death warrant, and the technology (the ‘quirk’) that he has embedded is illegal, upon pain of death.

This sets in train a murder mystery, with some quite clever elements to the backstory and setting, all of which are put in place and brought to a conclusion in quick time – imagine a five minute version of Blade Runner!

Joe Pitkin. Houseflies.
Originally in : Cosmos

In terms of an author or a source, I haz nothing in my brain to draw upon!

Nikki J. North. Branches on My Back : Sparrows in My Ear.
Originally online on James Gunn’s Ad Astra – and still there

As per previous story!

Bruce Sterling. The Peak of Eternal Light.
Originally in Edge of Infinity

When I read it last year I did enjoy it and wrote:

    The restriction that stories have to work to in this volume is of a humanity constrained to the solar system, but Sterling laughs in the face of this restriction in providing the most unique story in the volume. The story starts out in ‘The Anteroom of Profound Regret’, where a husband is due to meet his wife for the structured conjugal rights that is the norm with marriages on Mercury. Sterling looks at modernity and futurity in an altogether smart way.

Conclusion

This year Hartwell picks 5x stories from Fantasy & Science Fiction, 4x from Tor.com, 3x from Edge of Infinity,  2x from Asimovs, 2x from Analog, 2x from Clarkesworld, and the remainder from a couple of magazines and anthologies, so mostly well established sources.

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