The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 6 Paperback – Mar 27 2012
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About the Author
Jonathan Strahan has edited numerous acclaimed anthologies, including The Locus Awards (with Charles N. Brown), The New Space Opera (with Gardner Dozois), and Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery (with Lou Anders).
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Two memorable stories that start the collection -- one clearly fantasy and the other sort of a hybrid -- revolve around bees. Eugenia Lily Yu's allegorical "The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" imagines map-making and empire-building wasps negotiating with delegates from a hive of bees to resolve a territorial dispute. In "The Case of Death and Honey," Neil Gaiman sends Sherlock Holmes to China, where black honeybees figure in his investigation of the greatest crime of all: the inevitability of death.
Other stories also stand out. Jeffery Ford writes of a weary priest at the end of the world, a talking fish, and the lives changed by the foot of a dead saint (or maybe she was a sinner, and maybe it isn't her foot at all) in "Relic." Paul McAuley tells an unconventional story about a common sf topic in "The Choice" as two young men decide whether and how to use an alien artifact they come to possess. "Malak" refers a robotic military craft with a twist; Peter Watts has imbued his robot with a type of conscience, the ability to assess collateral damage and (if not overridden) to take it into account when making tactical decisions. I would never have thought I'd admire a story about a troll, but Peter S. Beagle's "Underbridge," about a washed-up professor who befriends Seattle's Fremont Troll, made me a believer.
File these under interesting but odd: In Geoff Ryman's "What We Found", a young man tells of growing up in Nigeria before discovering the scientific principle that truth wears out over time. I can't begin to understand "The Server and the Dragon," Hannu Rajaniemi's story about a server (one of many seeding the universe) that has sex with a dragon, but I admire the way it is written. In "The Dala Horse," Michael Swanwick writes of a little Swedish girl with a toy horse who turns out to be something quite different than she first appears ... or is it is the horse that is different?
Funny is always difficult to do well. Cory Doctorow kept me laughing (and thinking about whether "smart" technology might be too smart) with "The Brave Little Toaster," his tale of a squeeze pouch energy drink that turns out to be a rhyming prankster. Dylan Horrocks contributes the very funny (and serious and bizarre and strangely touching) "Steam Girl," about a girl who tells (and illustrates) stories about a dimension-jumping steampunk heroine on Mars ... or perhaps she's telling (and drawing) true stories about herself. How does a colonist establish diplomatic relations with body-snatchers on an alien planet, particularly when the colonist is terrified of them and specializes in waste disposal rather than diplomacy? That's the question posed in An Owomoyela's amusing story, "All That Touches the Air." Karen J. Fowler's "Younger Women" is a cute story about a woman's reaction to the discovery that her daughter is dating a vampire.
Many of the stories are good but not exceptional. Ian McDonald contributes a fairly ordinary story of Martian adventure called "Digging." Ellen Krages writes about the first baby born on Mars in "Goodnight Moons." In the world Kij Johnson constructs in "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," an architect faces the daunting task of building a life-altering bridge over a dangerous divide between the two sides of the Empire, a mysterious flowage of mist in which monsters dwell. Robert Reed writes of a digital man, seemingly immortal, who travels the stars and encounters new life, all the while pining for the long-dead woman who created him, the "Woman in Room." Grown in Tower 7 with a variety of other freaks, an accelerated woman with unusual abilities discovers a secret and yearns for freedom in Nnedi Okorafor's "The Book of Phoenix." What starts as a first contact story turns into something quite different as the approaching aliens bypass Earth so they can focus their attention on the vastly more intelligent Venusians in "The Invasion of Venus" by Stephen Baxter. In "Old Habits," Nalo Hopkinson writes about ghosts who live in a mall, haunted by the life that surrounds them. Echoing Amadeus, "A Small Price for Birdsong" by K.J. Parker explores the relationship between murder, freedom, and musical genius. After America self-destructs, the mother and daughter in "After the Apocalypse" start walking toward a rumored camp in Canada -- Maureen McHugh's answer to The Road (featuring a parent who is less noble but considerably more complex than the "man carry fire" character in Cormac McCarthy's novel).
Strahan chose some stories that, while not necessarily bad, just didn't appeal to me. They were written by Caitlín R. Kiernan, Catherynne M. Valente, Ken Liu, Kelly Link, M. Rickert, Robert Shearman, Bruce Sterling, Margo Lanagan, and Libba Bray.
On the whole, I think there are better annual collections than this one (if only because they are more limited in scope), but the book still offers a chance to read some very good stories.
Edited by: Jonathan Strahan
4 out of 5 stars
Disclosure: I received a free eBook ARC galley from NetGalley.com in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis from Goodreads: The science fiction and fantasy fields continue to evolve, setting new marks with each passing year. For the sixth year in a row, master anthologist Jonathan Strahan has collected stories to captivate, entertain, and showcase the very best the genre has to offer. Critically acclaimed, and with a reputation for including award-winning speculative fiction, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year is the only major "best of" anthology to collect both fantasy and science fiction under one cover. Jonathan Strahan has edited more than thirty anthologies and collections, including The Locus Awards (with Charles N. Brown), The New Space Opera (with Gardner Dozois), and Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction, Jonathan Strahan
The Case of Death and Honey, Neil Gaiman, (A Study in Sherlock)
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees, E. Lily Yu, (Clarkesworld, 4/11)
Tidal Forces, Caitlín R Kiernan, (Eclipse Four)
Younger Women, Karen Joy Fowler, (Subterranean, Summer 2011)
White Lines on a Green Field , Catherynne M. Valente, (Subterranean, Fall 2011)
All That Touches The Air, An Owomoyela, (Lightspeed Magazine, 4/11)
What We Found, Geoff Ryman, (F&SF, 9-10/11)
The Server and the Dragon, Hannu Rajaniemi, (Engineering Infinity)
The Choice, Paul McAuley, (Asimov`s, 1/11)
Malak, Peter Watts, (Engineering Infinity)
Old Habits, Nalo Hopkinson, (Eclipse Four)
A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong, K. J. Parker, (Subterranean, Winter 2011. )
Valley of the Girls, Kelly Link, (Subterranean, Spring 2011)
Brave Little Toaster, Cory Doctorow, (TRSF)
The Dala Horse, Michael Swanwick, (Tor.com, 7/11)
The Corpse Painter's Masterpiece, M Rickert, (F&SF, 9-10/11)
The Paper Menagerie, Ken Liu, (F&SF, March/April 2011)
Steam Girl, Dylan Horrocks, (Steampunk!)
After the Apocalypse, Maureen F. McHugh, (After the Apocalypse)
Underbridge, Peter S. Beagle, (Naked City)
Relic, Jeffrey Ford, (The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities)
The Invasion of Venus, Stephen Baxter, (Engineering Infinity)
Woman Leaves Room, Robert Reed, (Lightspeed Magazine, 3/11)
Restoration, Robert Shearman, (Everyone's Just So So Special)
The Onset of a Paranormal Romance, Bruce Sterling, (Flurb, Fall-Winter 2011)
Catastrophic Disruption of the Head, Margo Lanagan, (The Wilful Eye: Tales from the Tower Vol. 1)
The Last Ride of the Glory Girls, Libba Bray, (Steampunk!)
The Book of Phoenix (Excerpted from The Great Book) , Nnedi Okorafor, (Clarkesworld, 3/11)
Digging, Ian McDonald, (Life on Mars)
The Man Who Bridged the Mist, Kij Johnson, (Asimov's, 10-11/11)
Goodnight Moons, Ellen Klages, (Life on Mars)
My Thoughts: One can't say a lot about an anthology, not without taking up pages and pages of notes. However, I'll comment on some of the stories that stuck in my head. Obviously, being as I am a Sherlock Holmes fan, I loved Neil Gaiman's theory about why Holmes really retired to be a beekeeper in "The Case of Death and Honey." Catherynne M. Valente has a wickedly sharp sense of humor, which comes through in her story utilizing the Coyote mythos, "White Lines on a Green Field." "All That Touches The Air," by An Owomoyela was an interesting take on the whole alien planet/human settler meme, asking the question ,"what if there were already a dominant species on the planet?" Nalo Hopkinson's "Old Habits," about ghosts in a mall, left me with goosebumps. "The Last Ride of the Glory Girls" was an excellent example of a Weird West tale, a genre I am finding that I quite like.
I should point out that I didn't love all the stories. I couldn't even finish Peter S. Beagle's story, because of bad things to do with a cat; I just quit reading it right there. "Catastrophic Disruption of the Head" just didn't make much sense to me. There were a few that didn't really make an impact on me one way or the other. But overall the stories were good. Taking into account that this was an ARC, the editing started out pretty good but was deteriorating fast by the end, which was sort of strange. I'm guessing that will be fixed by the final edition.
At any rate, for fans of sci-fi and fantasy this anthology will be a must-read - jam-packed full of great stuff.
What fantasy/science fiction I have read in the intervening decades has been tapped with the horror tar brush, so I have been, shall we say, out of touch with the genre for some few decades now. So it is that THE BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY OF THE YEAR: Volume Six, edited by Jonathan Strahan, contains a great number of authors who are award-winning in the field yet whose work I am encountering for the first time. My feeling with respect to anthologies of this nature is that, at least in part, they should provide an introduction to those who are looking to broaden their reading habits; this installment does that very well. By the time I finished reading it, my list of authors to check out was considerably swollen.
That is not to say that every author included in this generous collection was unknown to me. Neil Gaiman leads things off with "The Case of Death and Honey." One expects nothing less than perfection from Gaiman, and true to form, he delivers in this short but riveting story that involves bees and immortality and combines science fiction and detective elements. Peter S. Beagle is also here; he has been writing fantasy since I was in short pants. I confess to never having been enamored with his work (his stories have won every award existing in the field, while Beagle himself has earned the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement, so I am obviouslyde minimis in this regard), but his "Underbridge" is a very solid story, set in the Seattle of here and now, though it brushes up against events weird and wonderful. There are others --- Michael Swanwick ("The Dala Horse") and Cory Doctorow ("The Brave Little Toaster") --- who have been around for a while and are admirably represented here.
Having said that, the width and breadth of subject matter in the stories is quite broad and deep indeed. One sees patterns here and there. Weaponry technology goes astray in "Malak" by Peter Watts and to a somewhat different extent in "The Choice" by Paul McAuley, where the discovery of a buried artifact creates a ripple of disaster that engulfs two boys on the cusp of manhood. Of course, mythological creatures in modern settings are represented, most notably in the somewhat predictable but still interesting "Younger Women" by Karen Joy Fowler, and Catherynne M. Valente's "White Lines on a Green Field," which features a high school football hero who is much more than he appears to be.
There are three stories that stood out for me. Please note that your results may, and probably will, vary. "Old Habits" by Nalo Hopkinson is told from the viewpoint of a ghost who is present in --- one hesitates to say "haunts" --- a Toronto shopping mall. Hopkinson made it onto my "check out" list with this story, by virtue of the fact that she infuses it with any number of short twists and turns that keep the reader moving ever forward. It is a definite new take on a well-traveled genre. "What We Found" by Geoff Ryman put me in the mind of Philip K. Dick; indeed, Ryman has the Philip K. Dick Memorial Award, as well as the James Tiptree Award and several others. His style differs markedly from Dick's, but his subject matter does not; this story takes a different look at the Hawthorne effect from a very exotic but real-world setting. Then there is "A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong" by K.J. Parker. Set in a slightly alternative universe, this story combines elements of the fantasy and crime genres with music, intrigue, greed, jealousy and revenge. If there is a classification known as "fantasy noir," this tale should be included within it.
This sixth installment of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year is a panoramic view of the state of the genre, drawn from an extremely wide and diverse range of sources. In his entertaining and informative introduction, Strahan finds the genre at this point to be healthy; I would concur, but add that my feeling is that it might be on the verge of another popular breakthrough, and not just by virtue of hunger games or avenging superheroes, either. Check out this volume and see if you agree.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub
I had to skip a few of the stories, unfortunately, not because they were not good but because I had already read them somewhere else during the past year. This is an unfortunate risk with collections of this type. For this reason, I think it would be good if either Amazon or the publisher provided at least a table of contents, and maybe also a brief synopsis of each story, so that the buyer can decide if the volume overall has enough new material to be worth the money. Fortunately, in this case, this volume was well worth it for me. Almost every story was good, and I enjoyed even the fantasy tales despite being more of an SF aficionado. It is hard to pick a favorite, but in my opinion, 'Steam Girl', by Dylan Horrocks, was particularly noteworthy.