For 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.