Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Review: Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy

Review: Chunkster challenge entry

The Year's best science fiction and fantasy, 2011 edition: I tend to move toward "Best of" collections because they offer a variety or reading experiences, and I don't mind relying on someone else's expertise to guide me in my reading choices. With this collection, I was grateful for the wide variety of styles and genres; reading a whole collection of SF or fantasy stories doesn't appeal to me, buta alternating between the two forms of content is enjoyable and invigorating.

I notice, in terms of SF, a trend that says life is going to suck because of global warming, based on this volume and the collection After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh. I think the gloominess is exaggerated, but this is speculative fiction, and there's no crime in speculating things are going to get worse, rather than better, in human affairs.
Anyway, I have a "best of" concept of the best of these stories, and not surprisingly, I judge them on character development and depth rather than how they add to the canon of their genres. Of course, Neil Gaiman's story "The Thing About Cassandra" is great, and probably my favorite, but I liked several other entries too. "No Time Like the Present" by Carol Emshwiller combines the bad-stuff-is-coming with time travel and speculates on how time travelers might be received in a decaying society, or at least in high school -- not well. The narrator is a compelling character. "The Other Graces" by Alice Sola Kim is wonderfully metafictional; Kim plays with the concept of narrator and the "voices" that tell our stories. The Lady who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window by Rachel Swirksy reads like a condensed novel, and the main character -- a sorceress trapped after death -- is extremely compelling, complicated and tragic. "Stereogram" by Paul M. Berger makes you wonder about elves (the trick ending is presaged, but that doesn't ruin the impact of the story), and "Brading the Ghosts" by C.S.E. Cooney is unabashedly romantic. Paul Park's "Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance" is metafictional as well; the narrator, himself called Paul Park, weaves a tale that takes some time to develop, but when it does, you get a strong "a-ha" moment. A couple of the stories I found unappealing or confusing, but that may be just me -- with a compilation like this, a few stories probably mean more to fans of the genres than to dilettantes like myself.  Challenges: Chunkster, short stories. 


Vasilly said...

Great review. I don't read much speculative fiction but now I'm interested in a few of the short stories you wrote about.

Buried In Print said...

I was thinking that these would make great candidates for the Chunkster Challenge; you just keep reading "the next story" and, before you realize it, you've read a whole book with a tasty little page count. I've always just dabbled in collections like these before, but I bet I've missed lots of gems by picking and choosing.