The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8, by various authors

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Editor’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 13, 2014

Summary: (Taken from Amazon) The best of the year’s Science Fiction and Fantasy stories as selected by the multiple award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan. The series moves to its new publishing home, Solaris, with this eighth annual volume of the celebrated and popular series.

DISTANT WORLDS, TIME TRAVEL, EPIC ADVENTURE, UNSEEN WONDERS AND MUCH MORE!

The 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 multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume eight and 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 Robets, Ellen Klages, and many many more.

With this volume the series comes to a new home at Solaris, publishers of Jonathan Strahan’s award-winning original Infinities SF anthologies and the and Fearsome fantasy anthologies.

Thoughts: More and more I’ve come to appreciate short story anthologies, especially when they’re labelled the best of whatever genre I’m interested in. They may not necessarily be the best by my standards (though I confess I’d be hard-pressed to assemble such a collection if asked), but I can say with certainty that at least with this collection, every story between the covers was very good. The ones I liked less than others were largely a matter of personal taste rather than an indication of quality.

One of the things I noticed about this collection fairly early on is the diversity in both characters and authors represented. The stories are not dominated by white men, written by white male authors. It isn’t that white men don’t exist in any stories here, but instead they’re represented as often as women, as often as people of colour, and so there’s actually a fairly good range of culture and gender here. This is indicative of the wonderful shift that’s going on in SFF fandom at the moment, with more people striving for equality and greater representation. It isn’t necessarily that more women or people of colour are writing SFF than they used to (though I don’t doubt that is a factor), but people are taking more care to make sure that they get such work noticed instead of constantly being overshadowed. It’s great to see this reflected, and it made for a book filled with wonderfully diverse stories, not just in characters and authors but in a greater range for tone and content.

There are so many stories in here that are worthy of note. Ramez Naam’s Water was a disturbing and insightful look at the pervasive advertising in our lives and cranks it up to 11 by attaching the concept to cybernetic implants so that companies can directly stimulate your brain and make you crave their product at the chemical level. K J Parker’s The Sun and I was an amazing look at religion, and seemed to me like it was taking the Christian split from Judaism and sticking it in a fantasy world, with the added twist that the religion was made up and a money scam from the get-go. (Or was it?) Madeline Ashby’s Social Services was a very creepy near-future blend of sci-fi and horror, with an ambiguous ending that practically made me shake the book and demand to know what happens next. Yoon Ha Lee’s Effigy Nights was almost like a fairy tale in the poetic language used, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle was a rewrite of a fairy tale. Multiple fairy tales, technically, with the kind of unexpected twists and turns that you come to expect from Gaiman’s writing.

I’m not the only person, though, to point out that the earlier stories in the book are the ones that they find the most engaging, the highest quality, and that the stories tend to lose something as the anthology goes on. I won’t say that the worst were saved for last, exactly, but the last few stories were really not to my taste and were it not for the fact that I don’t feel right skipping stories when I’m trying to review anthologies, I would have just passed over them and not have felt any real loss for having done so. They weren’t bad, in terms of sheer objective quality of writing or skill at storytelling. They just weren’t for me, and it seems the same has been said by other reviewers.

But still, the vast majority of stories in this anthology were incredible, and I had a great time reading them. I found a few authors who were new to me and whose work I now want to take a closer look at, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m convinced more than ever that my introduction to K J Parker was just a coincidentally poor one and that I really do need to give their longer work another chance. This is a talented and skilled collection of authors writing an amazing collection of stories, and this is a book that should be gracing your bookshelves. Expect to have your mind blown open a time or two while reading.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

One comment on “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8, by various authors

  1. Pingback: April in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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