The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016, Edited by John Joseph Adams and Karen Joy Fowler

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016For those who are interested in the best that Science Fiction and Fantasy has to offer as a literary form. This is an equal mix of F and SF stories, and John Joseph Adams truly understands the difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction, which is refreshing. In Fantasy the impossible happens. In Science Fiction the impossible but theoretically plausible happens. The stories started out a little rough but quickly got into some AAA level stuff about a quarter of the way in, including a few new personal all-time favorite short stories from any genre.

It’s wonderful to see this published along side The Best American Short Stories. I’ll be picking this yearly collection up every year, and so should you.
Standout stories: Interesting Facts, No Placeholder for You My Love, The Duniazát, Things You Can Buy for a Penny, and Three Bodies at Mitanni.

Individual story reviews:

Meet Me in Iram, by Sofia Samatar: F, 2/5
Narratively unique but otherwise not particularly interesting.

The Game of Smash and Recovery, By Kelly Link: SF, 3/5
Enjoyed this one. I like it when authors write outside of their usual genre like this. It’s dedicated to Iain M. Banks at the end, which automatically made me rethink it as a Culture story, which it isn’t. But it very easily could exist in that universe.

Interesting Facts, by Adam Johnson: F, 5/5
A new all-time favorite. Heartbreaking and human, with mind-blowing prose that literally changes the way you read the story AS you’re reading it. Fantastic fantasy.

Planet Lion, by Catherynne M. Valente: SF, 2/5
Alien lion analogs act out some soap opera drama when they come in contact with advanced colonist tech. A real eye-roller, with a neat tech concept near the end that is its only redeeming quality.

The Apartment Dweller’s Bestiary, by Kij Johnson: F, 1/5
20 very short non-stories written in second person about imaginary creatures in apartments, often detailing whether or not “your” boyfriend or girlfriend likes or gets along with them.

By Degrees of Dilatory Time, by S.L. Huang: SF, 4/5
I liked this one. Near future transhumanistic tale about adaptation and the process of healing being more than a physical one.

The Mushroom Queen, by Liz Ziemska F, 4/5
Creepy little fantasy story. Reminded me a lot of Jeff VanderMeer, but that might just be the Mushrooms talking.

Daydreamer by Proxy, by Dexter Palmer: SF, 3/5
Short little comedy about what seems like the worst place to work.

Tea Time, by Rachel Swirsky: F, 2/5
Great writing for literally being a piece of fan fiction.

Headshot, by Julian Mortimer Smith: SF, 4/5
Realistic near future democracy concepts. Very thought provoking.

The Duniazát, by Salmon Rushdie: F, 5/5
Fantastical alternate mythical history. Beautiful prose.

No Placeholder for You, My Love, by Nick Wolven: SF, 5/5
Fucking hell, that was brutally good. An SF romance/tragedy mixed in with Simulacron 3. Fantastic writing, and a compelling story.

The Thirteen Mercies, by Maria Dahvana Headley: F, 4/5
Great writing. I want to know more about this world. Brutally grimdark fantasy that’s just one click off our world.

Lightning Jack’s Last Ride, by Dave Bailey: SF, 4/5
Loved the way this one was written. Feels like a story straight out of the prohibition era, transported to the slight future.

Things You Can Buy for a Penny, by Will Kaufman: F, 5/5
Such a perfect cautionary fairytale. I wanted to hate this one when I started it, but it very quickly won me over and became another high peak in this collection.

Rat Catcher’s Yellows, by Charlie Jane Anders: SF, 4/5
An almost perfect little SF story.

The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History, by Sam J. Miller: F, 3/5
Solid oral history of a paranormal event that took place during a police raid on a gay bar during the late sixties.

Three Bodies at Mitanni, by Seth Dickenson: SF, 6/5
This story exemplarily embodies everything about what SF can accomplish as a literary form. An absolutely fantastic cerebral, philosophical, moral human story.

Ambiguity Machines: An Examination, by Vandanna Singh: F, 2/5
It was okay. The stories within the story were fun.

The Great Silence, by Ted Chiang: SF, 2/5
Really surprised that this wasn’t better. Ted Chiang almost never disappoints, but this one kind of left me wanting.

Gutshot, by Amelia Gray

Gutshot, by Amelia Gray

Gutshot, by Amelia Gray

“Here, the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, and that road is paved with handjobs.”

I’ve found that these FSG Originals are at the very least, always something unique that you might not find published elsewhere. They have the feel of something published by a much smaller press like Tin House, Two Dollar Radio, or Coffee House Press. This means that they’re usually going to be divisive as well. But, when their niche lines up with yours, it’s like a curator personally picking books for you.

With the exception of Ted Chiang, story collections are always going to be a little hit and miss from story to story. At worst Amelia Gray’s stories are uncomfortable and unsettling, with great prose. At best they’re uncomfortable, unsettling, hilarious, disturbing, and moving, with great prose. Great prose is the common denominator.

There are 4-5 really great stories in here, and 1 fantastic one. There are about 30 or so that relied way too much on their gimmick to accomplish anything worthwhile as stories. Think Chuck Palahniuk trying to gross you out, and forgetting to you know, tell a story. But if you’re like me, you’ve already been desensitized to that sort of thing, and you’re un-gross-outable. So you’re just left with no story.

Amelia Gray

Amelia Gray

‘Go For It and Raise Hell’ is a high point and you should go read it right now. It reads like a character introduction from The New and Improved Romie Futch, which had fantastic secondary characters. You should go read that book right away. I was also really surprised by ’50 Ways to Eat Your Lover.’ The way it hid the story in the least interesting part of each sentence was brilliant and really snuck up on me. It accomplished so much in 50 sentences. ‘The Swan as Metaphor for Love,’ was another one that really worked for me. It illustrated how from afar something can be much more appealing than the up-close reality.

The stories that are good, are really good. Gray does this thing with her writing, where there’s just a hint of something else going on in each story and the reader has to sort of weed it out for themselves a bit; they have to meet the story halfway. When it works, it really works.

All-in-all this is an uneven collection, but the gems are hidden in here, and the stories are short enough that you can slam one out in a couple minutes flat. I’d say go for it. The good stories are worth digging through the rest.

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

There are 2 kinds of difficult novels: those that you don’t enjoy while reading, but you genuinely enjoying having read, and those that you only enjoy while reading because the small picture stuff is infinitely better than the novel as a whole. Infinite Jest is one of the latter, and I think that’s why people never really stop reading it; it’s only good while you’re reading it. You finish and then start right over again, trying to piece things together until you create something in your mind that slightly makes sense of it all.

This thing is a real love/hate affair. There are moments of true brilliance that are exceptional achievements, and the characters are fantastic, the world-building absolute top-notch, but if you have to leave the “ending” up to your audience to imagine in their collective heads instead of – I don’t know – WRITING IT, you wrote yourself into a corner and didn’t/couldn’t write your way out.

Yes, I’ve gone back and read the first chapter after finishing it. Yes, I understand the chronology. Yes, I’ve read all the theories online. I get what probably happened, but how did it happen? Why did it happen? How did those strings and threads of story and plot actually come together? The answer is: they didn’t. If I have to construct a way for all of this brilliant stuff to come together myself, it means that the author never did. It’s just a hand-wavy sort of “oh and then stuff happened and then the end” cop-out.

David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace

There are threads in this book that insinuate all kinds of things, meaning that you can find evidence to setup any sort of ending that your heart desires, and it’s just as valid as anyone else’s theories, because there is no actual ending. Think Hal in that first chapter is actually Mario pretending to be Hal? They’re both described as hire hydrant shaped, maybe it was. Think John Wayne was an AFR plant all along, AFR agents and John Wayne are both described by the same quotes from The Terminator, maybe he was. Or maybe none of that, because there isn’t an ending, so we do not and will not ever know what actually happened. DFW created a piece of entertainment that once read, leaves the reader only wanting to read it again and again and again and again. It is an Infinite Jest.

Again, the brilliant stuff is so brilliant that I still enjoyed it immensely, and have to give this 4 out of 5 stars, and I get that postmodernism is all about ontological vs. epistemological approaches to fiction, but good lord at least have it slightly wrap up just a tiny bit!

The New and Improved Romie Futch, by Julia Elliott

 

 

Julia Elliott

Julia Elliott

Synopsis:

Meet the South’s newest antihero: Romie Futch. Down on his luck and pining for his ex-wife, the fortysomething taxidermist spends his evenings drunkenly surfing the Internet, then passing out on his couch. In a last-ditch attempt to pay his mortgage, he becomes a research subject at the Center for Cybernetic Neuroscience, where “scientists” download humanities disciplines into his brain. Suddenly, Romie and his fellow guinea pigs are speaking in hifalutin SAT words and hashing out the intricacies of postmodern subjectivity. With his new and improved brain, Romie hopes to reclaim his marriage, revolutionize his life, and revive his artistic aspirations. While tracking down specimens for elaborate animatronic taxidermy dioramas, he learns of “Hogzilla,” a thousand-pound feral hog with supernatural traits that has been terrorizing the locals. As his Ahab-caliber obsession with bagging the beast brings him closer and closer to this lab-spawned monster, Romie gets pulled into an absurd and murky underworld of biotech operatives, FDA agents, and environmental activists.
Part surreal satire, part Southern Gothic tall tale, The New and Improved Romie Futch is a disturbing yet hilarious romp through a strange New South where technology can change the structure of the human brain and genetically modified feral animals ravage the blighted landscape. In Romie Futch, Julia Elliott has created an unwitting and ill-equipped protagonist who nevertheless will win your heart.

 

A glorious postmodern southern gothic tale of a mid-south middle-aged burnout divorcee taxidermist who hits rock bottom and answers a classified ad to become a guinea pig for some experimental neurological enhancements. It’s incredibly good writing, while being effortlessly engaging, humorous, poignant and actually kind of endearing too.

The New and Improved Romie FutchJulia Elliot’s impressive prose evolves as the novel builds, expertly juxtaposing the realities and habits of uneducated southern life with the transformative power, and self reflection that accompanies an acquisition of knowledge. She crafts characters that drip with such potent realism, I swear these are actual people – some of whom I absolutely know from the mid-size mid-south town I currently reside in.

It’s a smidge of Flowers for Algernon, a little bit of Moby-Dick, and possibly even some Max Barry thrown in, and the whole thing is romantic and realistic while simultaneously bringing the fantastical to life.

P.S. Have a dictionary handy, and you may want to brush up on your Baudrillard, postmodernist theory, and various mythologies.