Jonathan Strahan – The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eight

strahan-bestofsffvol8The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multi-award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan.

This highly popular series is released in the UK for the first time with this edition. It will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents. Previous volumes have included stories from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Bruce Sterling, Adam Roberts, Ellen Klages, and many many more.

Over the last almost four years that I’ve been running A Fantastical Librarian, I’ve come to appreciate the art of short form more and more. But most of my short fiction consumption comes from reading anthologies and listening to podcasts such as Escape Pod, PodCastle, Lightspeed and Clarkesworld; most of the fiction published in magazines completely passes me by. And when the email about a review copy for The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year volume 8 arrived, it plugged that gap nicely, especially given the fact that I was in the process of putting together my nominations for this year’s Hugo’s. What I found in this continuation of Jonathan Strahan’s series of ‘Best of the Year’-anthologies with a new publisher, was a fantastic set of stories, some of which didn’t completely work for me, but all of them interesting. Below I’ll call out some of the stories I really liked and talk in more detail about my favourites. 

Greg Egan’s Zero for Conduct surprised me a lot, especially given the fact that Egan is often remarked on for the fact that his stories are hard Hard SF and can be somewhat inaccessible for the casual SF reader. And while I certainly ran across some scientific concepts that I didn’t completely grok, I realised I found the way Egan used these rather lovely, rather than confusing. And I loved the idea and setting for the story. The science is important to the plot, but the narrative is all about Latifa’s story. Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle was a delightful retelling of Sleeping Beauty from the evil Fairy Godmother’s perspective. Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Fade to Gold was as amazing on re-read as it was the first time and it’s on my Hugo Ballot. Ian R. Macleod’s Entangled was a fascinating look at a society in which humans have evolved into hive-minded creatures and what it is like to be stuck on the outside. An Owomoyela’s In Metal, In Bone is a searing look at war, at its effects on its victims and how often those who wish to help them become victims of circumstance themselves.

Ted Chiang – The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling
I loved this dual story of a father trying to parse a new technology in which people record everything that happens to them, creating a virtual memory, leaving nothing to be forgotten or misremembered and a story of a village boy learning to read and write and moving from an oral tradition to a written one. The questions it asks about memory and the way humans tend to distort their own memories to make their behaviour or past more palatable are fascinating, as is the look at how new technology is so often seen as a threat to civilisation and humanity itself, be it writing, the printing press, the internet or in this case a virtual memory. I liked this one so much I nominated it for a Hugo.

K J Parker – The Sun and I
This is my second K J parker story after A Rich Full Week from Swords and Dark Magic and it reminded me that I definitely, really need to check out Parker’s novels, because I love their writing. There is a dry wit to this story of a religion set up by a group of con men who find out that the joke is on them as their made-up religion turns out to be so successful and popular, that there is no getting away with the money and they end up running a true Church. It also asks some difficult ethical and moral questions, especially one of the most fundamental ones in life—whether good done in the name of evil is still good and evil done in the name of good isn’t still evil. The narrator’s voice is strong and the story just made me smile from beginning to end. I also nominated this one for a Hugo.

Sofia Samatar – Selkie Stories are for Losers
I love this story about a woman not wanting to be like her Selkie mother. I think this is a theme that will resonate with many people as most of us do not want to be like our parents. And it’s a story of friendship and love. It’s a mixture of Selkie legends and the story of the unnamed narrator and Mona. It’s really hard to explain more about it, because it’s a really short story, but I loved its flow and language.

Madeline Ashby – Social Services
What I really liked about Madeline Ashby’s Social Services was its combination of strange technology, human nature, and its creepy ending. Lena is a sympathetic character, a social worker who wants to truly help her clients be better and living in a difficult situation at home. Ashby drops hints throughout the story that something is off, but at the same time the ending was unexpected and really, really creepy, which I loved. To say more would ruin the twist, but this was absolutely one of my favourites from this collection.

Robert Reed – Mystic Falls
I first heard Mystic Falls in audio form on the Clarkesworld podcast and I really liked it a lot. However, liking the audio version doesn’t always equate to liking a story in print, however odd that may sound, but in the case of Mystic Falls I liked the story even better. It again plays with memory, but adds artificial intelligence and computer viruses in the mix. The narrator is quite matter-of-fact about some things, and I loved the dryness of his voice. The story is serious and emotionally engaging, but at the same time is witty and clever and made for a wonderful read.

Not having read any other year’s best anthologies for 2013 – I think Strahan’s is one of the first to be published and it’s only coming out in May – it’s hard to draw a comparison, but I know I enjoyed my time spent with these stories. Strahan wrote an interesting foreword to the collection. However, I would have loved to have learned more about why he selected these stories over others, what his selection criteria were, whether it’s a gut instinct thing or a rational decision. Still, regardless of the how and the why, this is a wonderful collection of stories and if you want to catch up on some of 2013’s best short fiction, Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year volume 8 is an excellent place to start.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.