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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume 4 Paperback – March 1, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Strahan's introduction calls 2008 a good but not exceptional year for short fiction, and in accurate reflection, all 29 stories collected here are good, but few are great. The standouts are memorable in a variety of ways: for sheer power of narrative voice, Pat Cadigan's Truth and Bone; for human connections to inscrutable aliens, Damien Broderick's This Wind Blowing, and This Tide; for humor amid life-and-death peril, Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear's Mongoose. Hard SF fans should seek out the imperiled far future Earth of Stephen Baxter's Formidable Caress, while a sense of wonder and menace permeates Peter Watts's The Island. A few stories don't feel as strong as they might have been, but there are no real wrong turns. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
As for previous volumes of this annual, Strahan picks a stellar array of stories, the best of an apparently very good year. With authors including Nicola Griffith, Damien Broderick, Peter S. Beagle, Diana Wynne Jones, and Robert Charles Wilson, it’s impossible for a reader to go wrong, and there’s something here for every taste, as well. From Griffith’s unnerving story of emotions and chemicals, “It Takes Two,” to Beagle’s “By Moonlight,” a variation on the old Scots ballad “Tam Lin,” this year’s best contain both the simple things we take for granted about being human and the most luminous impossibilities that we might imagine. There are intelligent dinosaurs, steampunk gyrocopter air-chases, magic, alternate universes, technology that’s almost magic, and everything else one could ask of a collection of the fantastic. And if they’re not enough, a list of stories that “would appear in this volume if space permitted” concludes. --Regina Schroeder
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Top Customer Reviews
A couple of stories have a dark, almost gothic, mood, but just because the protagonist is afraid of shadows doesn't make it fantasy. Others were vaguely surreal, in the manner of Mark Helprin, which, while interesting, is also neither fantasy nor SF. On the bright side, if you find these sorts of stories not to your taste you can always just skip over them and there were some that I wound up wishing I had done exactly that as I was still waiting for the plot twist that would make it all worthwhile when the story ended. The quality of the writing itself is also a bit spotty for a "Best of" collections, with a few stories reading more like someone still learning their craft, That said, this volume is a great way to sample a lot of writers you may not have encountered, or see some familiar names working outside of, or on the edges of, their usual genres.
Challenge: count the number of Teenage-Girl protagonists.
++ = Excellent story, would unhesitatingly include it in my own "year's best"... if I had one.
+ = Thought it was good, certainly worth reading, maybe not a definite pick for my own "year's best"...
o = Not bad, but had little effect on me.
- = Actively disliked it.
-- = Wish I hadn't read it!
"It Takes Two." Nicola Griffith. Jet-setter and stripper find love, but not the kind anyone expects. The sci-fi love is less surprising than the uncommon viewpoint. +
"Three Twilight Tales." Jo Walton. Three discrete fairy tales, all with moonlight magic. Interesting structure: three tales, loosely connected. Prose so beautiful, it hurts. ++
"The Night Cache." Andy Duncan. Teenage girl's treasure hunt begins (unwitting) in a bookstore and goes to more mundane places from there. There's a spiritual quest in there somewhere. o
"The Island." Peter Watts. A lonely, increasingly dysfunctional crew, laying interstellar highways, encounters a star of unknown properties. Brain-exploding hard science fiction; also, devastating human truths. ++
"Ferryman." Margo Lanagan. Hell's ferryman teaches his daughter the family business. Sorrowful and sincere. +
"'A Wild and a Wicked Youth'." Ellen Kushner. A boy and his buddy come of age, with their swords. Barely even fantasy: it's set in an alternate world much like high-medieval Europe, but there's nothing out-of-this-world about it. Still, a good one. +
"The Pelican Bar." Karen Joy Fowler. Teenage girl is sent to special boarding school. This is definitely not Hogwart's. +
"Spar." Kij Johnson. Sex with an alien in zero-g! This is truly out-there. +
"Going Deep." James Patrick Kelly. Mariska and mother are AUs apart. Nothing shocking here, just your good old-fashioned well-written plot & character. +
"The Coldest Girl in Coldtown." Holly Black. Oh, she wants to be a vampire soooooooo hard! Way, way better than Teem Edwurd. ++
"Zeppelin City." Michael Swanwick & Eileen Gunn. Zeppelins, goggles, and steam-powered mechanical brains -- yes, it's steampunk... but there are Marxists! That's an interesting twist... +
"Dragon's Teeth." Alex Irvine. A beautiful Queen sends a hearty Man on a dangerous Quest to slay a mighty Dragon. A whole world, spanning coast to coast and mountains in-between, opens up to a single mind. Brilliant and profound. ++
"This Wind Blowing, and This Tide." Damien Broderick. Think like a dinosaur. No, seriously. Crunchy hard sci-fi with a soft and silky core. ++
"By Moonlight." Peter S. Beagle. A rogue tells a disillusioned priest about his romantic adventures in Faery. I have some inexplicable prejudice against Faery stories, but there's enough narrative complexity here to keep me interested. +
"Black Swan." Bruce Sterling. A hacker opens new worlds for a straight-arrow, with his laptop. Sterling's prose alone is enough to transport you to another world. ++
"As Women Fight." Sara Genge. Gender-bender: man and wife fight, then switch bodies. Felt clumsy in places, but the idea is fascinating. +
"The Cinderella Game." Kelly Link. Two kids play Cinderella, but roles get reversed, with a touch of lycanthropy. Amusing/melancholy. +
"Formidable Caress: A Tale of Old Earth." Stephen Baxter. A man, on a future Earth where time is fractured, slowly figures out the end of time. Baffling at first, because it's so hard to imagine. But give it time -- it's astonishing. ++
"Blocked." Geoff Ryman. There might be aliens, or global warming, or peak-oil. It's all just too much to deal with; let's just forget about it and gaze mournfully at one another. o
"Truth and Bone." Pat Cadigan. Teenage girl has a special power -- incorrect use is
inevitable. It's a long-ish story, but the writing carries you along without you noticing. +
"Eros, Philia, Agape." Rachel Swirsky. The Greeks had different words for different kinds of love. But a robot and his lover cannot distinguish. This story has everything: plot, character, pacing, lyricism, humanity. Another one on the long side, but you'll read it in one sitting if you can. ++
"The Motorman's Coat." John Kessel. A near-future man sticks to a very old-fashioned business model. Very subtle, this one - I may have to read it again someday to make a final judgement. +
"Mongoose." Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear. A famed hunter tracks Lovecraftian terrors on a remote space station. Engrossing. +
"Echoes of Aurora." Ellen Klages. Metamorphosis of a woman's love for her girlhood
treehouse. Enchanting! +
"Before My Last Breath." Robert Reed. A coal-company geologist (and others) find a really big secret with multiplicitous implications. What more could you want from good sci-fi? ++
"JoBoy." Diana Wynne Jones. Find your inner dragon! The tale is a little condensed - still, an interesting take on dragons. +
"Utriusque Cosmi." Robert Charles Wilson. Teenage girl gets swept away on magnificent trip across universes. Old-school sense-of-wonder sci-fi, incredibly awesome. ++
"A Delicate Architecture." Catherynne M. Valente. A bitter world has its way with a sweet girl. This one tastes like a decadent, heavy chocolate cake. +
"The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles." Kij Johnson. This is the story of a cat who explores a wide, wide world in old-time Japan. A more-or-less traditional quest, but with cats. Amusing and heartfelt. +
The Pelican Bar and It Takes Two were originally published in Eclipse 3. Mongoose saw print in Lovecraft Unbound. The Island by Peter Watts (easily the best story here) was in The New Space Opera 2. Readers should check the table of contents against their library.
I am also beginning to think I would prefer a single genre anthology as it were, all scifi or all fantasy. The juxtaposition didn't always work well. Of the other stories, there were a few that ended in medias res as far as I was concerned, no doubt striking a chord with the editor but not with me, for example, Dragon's Teeth and This Wind Blowing, and This Tide. I did quite like the feel of Three Twilight Tales by Walton and By Moonlight by Peter Beagle.
A mixed bag then, but that probably means something for everyone and not everything for any one reader.
One warning: if you're strongly opposed to the gay lifestyle then you might want to skip this one, as some of the stories have gay main characters. Personally I didn't mind those stories as they were well written, but I'll admit I was bewildered by the one called, "Spar." I just couldn't see the purpose of an entire story about a human female - alien blob sex orgy. I skipped most of it so maybe I missed it's redeeming quality? Oh, well.
I recommend it if you love Sci-fi and find it discounted, but not at full price.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
You can buy anything Strahan edits and count on it being well worth your time....Read more