The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Thirteen. (ed Jonathan Strahan, Solaris Books, 2019)

In the sad absence of a Dozois’ annual anthology, I’ve been and gone and bought the dead-tree version of Strahan’s F&SF anthology (I did buy an Amazon Kindle, but haven’t got the hang of it).

In the introduction Strahan announces that this is the last volume in this series, which would be disappointing news, but it is more than compensated for by his telling us that he will have a new Year’s Best SF anthology series starting next year, which is good for me as I won’t miss the &F.

So what about the SF&F in this volume? Or to be clear, what about the SF in this volume, as I will skate over the &Fantasy and the &Horror and the &Speculative fiction…

Update : I started reading this volume in April 2019, got halfway through the volume and reviewing the stories and put it to one side. I picked it up again in September 2021 and those stories reviewed have dates against them.

S. Qiouyi Lu. Mother Tongues.
First published in Asimovs, January/February 2018.

You can have this story poured into your ear by Escape Pod and indeed read it online there. It’s a shorter story, and it’s on a theme that has been done before : giving up a skill, or knowledge, in return for payment. Here, as the title suggests, an immigrant feels she has no choice but sell her mother tongue in order to pay for her daughter’s college (she’s a single mother and the father isn’t on the scene in terms of financial support). The technology that will take her lingual expertise is one that is destructive, so selling her command of that language means losing it. We find out what her mother thinks, but her telling the daughter is left to after the story finishes. Nice enough, and the different languages are treated cleverly in the story, but TBH a better story would do away with the SF and explore the three generations of the family on their different journeys in terms of language, integration etc. But that would be a horse of an entirely different colour.

Alyssa Wong. Olivia’s Table.
First published in ‘A Thousand Beginning and Endings’, pub Greenwillow Books 2018.

A ghost story, from an anthology of stories based on Asian folktales and myths. I liked the overall vibe and setting in the first couple of pages but once it became clear it was a ghost story I made like Scooby Doo and Shaggy and made my escape. Yoiks!

P. Djèlí Clark. The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington.
Originally Published in : Fireside Fiction, February 2019 and still online there.

In addition to reading this story online, you can read some thoughts by the author on using speculative fiction to recover black history. An intriguing approach and a good read.

Tade Thompson. Yard Dog.
Originally in : Fiyah #7

S.L. Huang. The Woman Who Destroyed Us.
Originally in : Twelve Tomorrows

A story that felt rather some way short of a Year’s Best SF story. A mother feels that whilst the treatment her son has had done that has taken him off the autistic spectrum and into ‘normal’ functioning has indeed work, he has lost something else that she as a mother can feel keenly. The premise was so-so, and the dramatic plot so-so.

Analee Newitz. The Blue Fairy’s Manifesto.
Originally in : Robots vs Fairies (ed Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe)

Possibly an SF story but I skipped it.

Yoon Ha Lee. The Starship and the Temple Cat.
Originally in : Beneath Ceaseless Skies (and still online there).

A great story, go ahead and follow the link above and read it. I particularly enjoyed the far-future world-building, and complementing a galactic sweep with a rather intriguing protagonist : not just a temple cat, but a dead temple cat. Not sure about tearing up, as many of the commenters on the online story mentioned, but, then again, as a dog person, if it had been a posthumous canine, then maybe the waterworks would have followed for me.

Carmen Maria Machado. A Brief and Fearful Star.
Originally online on Slate and still online.

A young girl and her mother are living on a prairie farmstead. We find out early on in the story that her mother will be dying soon, and the story, what there is of it, is about the girl, her mother’s memories and how the girl herself is somehow linked to those memories, and memories of even earlier times. Nothing is explained, and the sfnal element, the titular bright star, is not/was not a harbinger of anything that will explain to the reader, leaving the story a thoughtful one.

Kelly Robson. Intervention.
Originally in : Infinity’s End (ed Strahan, 2018)

I did get ‘Infinity’s End’ last year, having read and really enjoyed previous volumes in the series. But the first half dozen stories didn’t really grab me and the volume was put back on the shelves. I did read this one, and remember it as an OK read about a spacer who takes the decision to turn her back on her work cohort and work in a creche with kids – which is seen by her contemporaries t be not a cool thing to do at all. I’ve never been a big fan of stories which children/young people in them, and less so as I get even older!

Jeffrey Ford. The Bookcase Expedition.
Originally in Robots vs Fairies (ed Dominik Parisien and Navah Wolfe, 2018)

Evidently a fairy story and ergo not SF so I skipped this one.

Alix E. Harrow. A Witch’s Guide to Escape : a practical compendium of portal fantasies.
Originally published online on Apex Magazine and still online.

Note to self : come back to read this.

Update : well, I didn’t come back to read it, but the story appeared in Nebula Awards Showcase 54 almost two years later, and I read it and really enjoyed it. As a fantasy story involved witches, I would have given it shriftage of the short variety, but the witch is also a librarian, and it’s set in a children’s library, and those are things that have been close to my heart for over half a century.

Garth Nix. The Staff in the Stone.
Originally in : The Book of Magic (ed Gardner Dozois)

Clearly fantasy so onto the next story…

Elizabeth Bear. Okay, Glory.
Originally published in Twelve Tomorrows and reprinted online on Lightspeed Magazine and still online.

A daily log by a somewhat reclusive CEO of a tech firm, who finds that whilst a man’s home may be a castle, when the house AI is hacked and he is locked in by ransomware hackers, it very much becomes a prison. As the days, then the weeks pass, he tries various ploys to best the AI and to get out or to get help in, reflecting on the fact that his personality and reclusiveness mean that nobody out there is likely to spot the predicament he is in.

Vandana Singh. Widdam.
Originally published in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 2018.

A near future where climate change is even further beyond where we are now, but rapacious companies and corrupt governments and the ultra-rich continue to plunder the planet. There are three interlinked vignettes, three rounded characters in interesting and extremely well-described settings (Delhi, Mexico and Stockholm), with some clever tech. Dinesh is eking out a living in a heavily polluted Delhi, with the desert threatening the city. He has coined the phrase ‘World-Destroying World Machine’ (or WDWM or Widdam), seeing those responsible for the plunder of the Earth and the AI-controlled mega creatures doing their bidding as being a single entity. Val is in New Mexico, where lack of water is challening the indigenous way of life, who stumbles across one of the might ‘saurs’, an autonomous AI who has gone rogue. And Jan is the son of the man who invented the code that drives the saurs’ AI. It’s all pretty bleak, but there are chinks of light, and the ending is a positive one, as the code is complemented by an anti-code written by the same author, and perhaps, just perhaps, small community-based solutions are an answer. You might think having politicians read the story might be a good idea, but no, what they would take out of the story would be the technology to more effectively plunder the planet. [30th Sept 2021]

Kelly Barnhill. Dreadful Young Ladies.
Originally in : Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories.

Not SF.

Brooke Bolander. The Only Harmless Great Thing.
Originally online on Tor.com and still online.

Winner of the Nebula Award for the Best Novelette of the Year. I read the story in Nebula Awards Showcase 54 and wrote : “I didn’t recognise the American references to spot this as a form of Alternate History, or fully appreciate what was happening, and found it a tad confusing due to the non-chronological structure, and also found the conceit of intelligent, but luminous elephants a tad difficult to engage with. One to come back to at a later date, perhaps.” [30th Sept 2021]

T. Kingfisher. The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society.
Originally online on Uncanny Magazine #25, and still online.

Not SF.

Simone Heller. When We Were Starless.
Originally published online on Clarkesworld Magazine, and still online there.

Also chosen by Neil Clarke in his take on the Year’s Best SF. In my review of the story when I read it in Clarkesworld Magazine I noted “Heller is an author new to me, but a name I would be looking out for now if I was still in the habit of reading a lot of short SF in it’s original appearance.” Read the Full Best SF Review here. [30th Sept 2021]

Zen Cho. If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again.
Orignally online on the B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog and still online.

Not SF.

Rich Larson. Meat and Salt and Sparks.
Originally online on Tor.com and still available.

Also chosen by Clarke in his take on the Year’s Best SF where I noted “A near-future detective whodunnit but with a twist, of course. The woman who pulled the trigger is on video and in custody, but who has been whispering into her ear 24/7 for some months, on account of her renting out herself to a third party who has been vicariously controlling her. The main detective is a little out of the ordinary – an uplifted chimp. It turns out though that the mystery of whodunnit isn’t really the point of the story, which is to look at the alienation amongst humans, as seen through the eyes of the chimp, and the killer, who is….. (ok, probably not quite so much of a surprise as it might have been, but a story that I enjoyed)” [30th Sept 2021]

Daryl Gregory. Nine Last Days on Planet Earth.
Originally online on Tor.com and still online.

Also chosen by Clarke in his take on the Year’s Best SF where I noted “Do follow the link above and read the story first as spoilers await. Gregory provides nine glimpses into the life of someone who has lived through interesting times on Earth. Starting in 1975, as a ten year old boy, young LT witnesses a meteor storm that will change Earth’s future. At first it is an impressive sight, but once the meteorite start to bombard Earth, it’s a different matter. The meteorites are in fact alien artefacts, seed pods which split open, and Earth is to face decades of challenges in dealing with the wide variety of alien plant life which threaten to overwhelm the native flora and fauna. We follow LT through his life, seeing through his eyes how this alien infestation affects us. We see him grow and mature, marry and adopt, see how his pet alien plant gets on (-groot-) and into his nineties as his mind begins to wander. A great idea, well handled. ” [30th Sept 2021]

Dave Hutchinson. Golgotha.
Originally in : ‘2001: An Odyssey in Words’

Only a few pages long. The Lupo arrived on Earth a few years ago, an ‘aquatic’ race from many, many of light years away, and Father Donal is suprised to find himself as the chosen Earth representative to accompany one of their clerics for a walk along the beach of his parish in the West of Ireland. Donal tries to avoid theological discussions, as being for more senior representatives (maybe an ecumenical matter). However, the purpose of the walk is for the alien to see Blackfin, a dolphin who washed up on the beach, apparently dead, a while back, but who recovered some days later (no rationale for this is given) and was put back in the ocean. And once the Lupo and Blackfin start talking to each other, Donal realises that the Lupo and their God of those who Swim, now has an alliance, who has presumably told the alien of what those who walk on land have done to the oceans and it’s denizens…. Hmm, a dolphin risen from the dead, able to communicate easily with an alien species and tell tales on humanity, to an alien from a spacefaring race which still has religion – my suspension of disbelief was stretched so much and then it went ker-twang! [30th September 2021]

John Crowley. Flint and Mirror.
Originally in ‘The Book of Magic’ ed Gardner Dozois.

Not SF. Mind you, neither was his novel ‘Little, Big’ and some decades on I can still vividly recall being entranced by the first half of it.

Andy Duncan. An Agent of Utopia.
Originally in ‘An Agent of Utopia’

Not SF. Mind you I reckon I might like this one based on a quick glance of a couple of reviews I’ve seen of it. Maybe when I’m less focussed on SF I’ll return to it.

Maria Dahvana Headley. You Pretend Like You Never Met Me, and I’ll Pretend Like I Never Met You.
Originally published online on Lightspeed Magazine and still online.

Not SF.

Ken Liu. Quality Time.
Originally in Robots vs Fairies, but online here.

I was looking forward to a Liu story, but was a bit disappointed. It starts well, with a non-standard recruitee to a tech firm sparking up a relationship with another inductee who is a bit of a character. But the story then moves into exploring some robotic ideas – he develops a robot that is inspired by rats, but which scuttles through pipes and nooks and crannies doing good things (like seeing of rats!). Flush with this success, he then works on a robotic nanny that can take the chore out of raising a baby. But both end up having drawbacks. And ultimately, that’s all the story offers. [1st October 2021]

Ursula K. Le Guin. Firelight.
Originally in The Paris Review #225

Not SF.

Conclusion

So, half of the book read soon after publication, the other half a couple of years later! Looking back at the review, I’d single out Yoon Ha Lee, Alix E. Harrow, Phenderson Djèlí Clark and Daryl Gregory as my faves.

Matching volumes for this year were Rich Horton’s ‘The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2019 which I didn’t purchase or read, and Neil Clarke’s ‘Best Science Fiction of the Year Volume 4.

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2 thoughts on “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Thirteen. (ed Jonathan Strahan, Solaris Books, 2019)

  1. I’m very happy to find reviewers that focus on the SF side, which seems to be getting less love in many places. I’m already missing Gardner Dozois’ column in Locus. So please keep it up!

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