Book Review: "The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year"
- by Ninja Ross, 6 August 2014
“The Best Science Fiction And Fantasy of the Year, Volume 8” - that’s the full, overly-long title for this collection of short science fiction and fantasy stories, collected by editor Jonathan Strahan. It features the talents of K J Parker, Geoff Ryman, Ted Chiang and Neil Gaiman, to name a few.
But it’s always difficult with anthologies. Sometimes you can get something near flawless, sometimes you can get something full of the most boring stories to ever hit paper with only a few shining gems.
It’s followed by "Zero for Conduct", by Greg Egan, which follows Latiffa, a young Afghan woman trying to further her research. It’s based closer to modern day and it’s more of a human tale, rather than exploring and huge, futuristic concepts. It’s not a bad read and flows quite nicely, with plenty of emotion. It seems like a difficult task to get much human emotion into a short story, but Egan does it pretty well.
The first story to really grab me, however, is "Effigy Nights" by Yoon Ha Lee. The city of Imulai Mokarengen, where this book is set, is full of life and ideas. The name of the city means “ink blot of the Gods,” which is a charming concept. There are a lot of ideas like this scattered throughout the story, including tea-of-moments-unravelling and philosophy beasts
The city is under attack by an army led by Jian of the Burning Orb and this peaceful city’s only hope is to bring its ancient stories to life. That’s not an entirely new concept, but it’s written so well it feels like it’s never been done before. Overall, the story feels like something written by China Mieville but with a little less density.
Another fantastic story, if not as good as "Effigy Nights", is "The Sleeper" and the "Spindle" by Neil Gaiman. It’s a reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, with a bit of Snow White thrown in because why not.
It has a lot of classic fantasy elements to it, but never feels cliché or boring. It’s Neil Gaiman, for crying out loud. While it’s nowhere near his best short story, it’s definitely one of the highlights of the book. It’s an interesting, creative take on the classic story.
“Water”, by Ramez Naam is another fun story. I previously covered Naam’s “Nexus,” which you can find right here on this site you are currently on. Trash Mutant. Right here.
While I originally called “Nexus” simple but fun, “Water” shows how much Naam has come along as a writer. It’s a fun read that has a tone similar to that of “Deus Ex,” the classic PC game. It has a lot to say about the use of invasive adverts and big corporations. Always a fun concept.
“Rag and Bone”, by Priya Sharma darkens things a little bit with a bit of a horror vibe. It’s a dystopian story in a Victorian setting about slavery and poverty. It’s grim and interesting but it also has some uplifting, human elements.
The book is full of these fantastic stories, but it does occasionally dip in quality in places. Stories like “Selkie Stories are for Losers” and “Sing” made the book difficult to enjoy at times.
These “bad” stories, however, aren’t actually terrible. This book is incredibly varied, with plenty of different styles and tones. A story one person may consider boring, others may consider fascinating. Not many anthologies offer this much variation, so my hat is off to Jonathan Strahan for keeping things diverse.
It’s certainly a fun read with a lot of interesting stories. I only picked a handful from the collection, but this book is full so many different ideas and themes that it has something for everybody. I promise you’ll love at least a few of these stories.
The anthology is out now and you can get it from the Solaris website, or at a book store near you. Did this interview pique your curiosity in this book? Let us know in the comments!