My diverse reading (which extends well beyond SF/F) makes it unfeasible for me to catch everything of interest or of merit. I, thus, appreciate the multiple anthologies each year that offer their unique selections of noteworthy short stories. This marks the sixth year of Horton’s relatively young Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy series, but it happens to be the first one that I’ve read. It will be hard to fit in past years to catch up, but I’m going to strive to make it part of the future annual reading queue.
The extensive breadth and diversity of this collection strikes me foremost. The sources for the stories include a balance of major print and online magazines to smaller outlets and stand-alone publications, and the stories themselves extend through the many forms and combinations of science fiction and fantasy. A part of me wishes that literary outlets were also included in this mix, as genre elements are increasingly found within their pages. Yet another part of me recognizes that the literary world often ignores the genre, so the reverse is just as appropriate.
In terms of authors, both familiar, well-established names and newly discovered stars compose the ranks, and slightly over half are female. The equal inclusion of material from both print and electronic outlets is a strong positive for Horton’s collection, contributing to this diversity of authors and reflecting the celebration of new talent that shines online.
In his introduction, Horton stresses — and perhaps exaggerates — the international line-up of this year’s offering and the prevalence of non-Anglophone writing. Aside from authors from Canada and Britain (international but still Anglophone), the non-US authors featured technically hail from Argentina, Hungary, Thailand, Israel, China, Sweden, and Japan. However, several of these live in the US, having lived abroad when younger. Only two of the stories are actual translations from a non-Anglophone source.
Yet, regardless of the writers’ or texts’ origins, a modern, global, and non-Anglophone influence is increasingly visible in the SF/F field at large — and within this collection. So Horton’s conscious stress on this quality is not completely misplaced. Even among the US-born writers (the newer ones in particular), they tend to come from a non-Anglophone heritage and are first-generation US natives. I can only hope this trend continues, for SF/F is not just about speculating or inventing worlds, but also gaining a broader appreciation of this planet and experiences different from our own.
I had read seventeen of the thirty-five stories upon their original publication. I don’t view this as a negative or waste of time at all. Many of these were just as enjoyable the second time around, and in some cases, a story I had previously failed to appreciate gained something or struck a new chord upon a second reading. With such profound variety of source, theme, and sub-genre, it isn’t surprising that some stories included in the collection failed to resonate. Yet, even for the kinds of stories that I don’t typically enjoy, it was worthwhile to read examples considered noteworthy by another genre fan, both to note qualities that I appreciated and to reinforce aspects that I don’t. I only disliked one story (both when it was published and reading anew) — the selection by Turtledove from Analog. For those who did really like “It’s The End of the World as We Know It, and We Feel Fine”, I’d love to hear that point of view.
My personal favorites from this collection are: “Soulcatcher” by James Patrick Kelly, “Blanchefleur” by Theodora Goss, “Grizzled Veterans of Many and Much” by Robert Reed, “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly” by Benjanun Sriduangkaew, “Loss, with Chalk Diagrams” by E. Lily Yu, “The Dragons of Merebarton” by K.J. Parker, “They Shall Salt the Earth With Seeds of Glass” by Alaya Dawn Johnson, “Social Services” by Madeline Ashby, “A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel” by Ken Liu, “The Wildfires of Antarctica” by Alan De Niro, and “Kormak the Lucky” by Eleanor Arnason. I can’t speak about each of these, but I do want to briefly mention two below vis a vis the issue of reader expectation.
“Blanchefleur” by Theodora Goss was probably my favorite story in the collection. It was certainly the one that surprised me the greatest by how hard it hit me while also simply being an entertaining fantasy story. Goss isn’t new to me; though I recognize her as a good writer, the fairy tale or mythic style stories that she typically writes aren’t my genre of choice. “Blanchefleur” reminded me that superb reading experiences can come from unexpected avenues.
“A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel” represents for me high (perhaps unfairly too-high) expectations. When I see something written by Ken Liu, I immediately have high hopes to love the hell out of the thing from the word go. It took a while for me to appreciate its slow build from familiar character study within alternate history to unleashing the profound commentary running beneath the plot — both when reading this story originally and now a second time (more on this and another of the stories I list above in an upcoming review of Solaris 3 in progress with Cecily…). This is probably not the best story written by Liu in 2013, but that one is already in other collections, so I was really pleased to see this one selected here as an alternative showcase of Liu’s power and great ideas.
If you’ve already read this collection, let us know about your favorites, and if you haven’t, I hope you are able to find a copy and make some discoveries from its diverse pages.