by Jonathan Strahan
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
A must-have collection of the best short science fiction and speculative fiction of 2019, showcasing brilliant talent and examining the cultural moment we live in, compiled by award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan.
With short works from some of the most lauded science fiction authors, as well as rising stars, this collection displays the top talent and the cutting-edge cultural moments that affect our lives, dreams, and stories. Authors include past award-winners Rebecca Roanhorse, Ken Liu, Carmen Maria Machado, Aliette de Boddard, Kim Stanley Robinson, Yoon Ha Lee, and Ted Chiang.
An assemblage of future classics, this anthology is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the vast and exciting world of science fiction.
Gardner Dozois’ Year’s Best collections were a staple of my childhood, mostly because it was some of the only science fiction my local library could be relied on to buy every year. If this inaugural volume is anything to go by, Jonathan Strahan is a worthy successor. This is an anthology of 28 stories from 2019, delightfully diverse and spanning a wide range of themes.
“Everybody needs books, Molly figured. No matter where they live, how they love, what they believe, whom they want to kill. We all want books.”
Charlie Jane Ander’s “The Bookstore at the End of America” serves as a not particularly subtle introduction to a group of stories about how the stories we tell divide us, unite us, and bring us hope. Almost all of the stories were new to me even if the authors weren’t. The only exception was S.L. Huang’s bombshell “As the Last I May Know,” about one child and a nation’s “ethical” solution to nuclear warfare, which won the Hugo for short story this year. Also as unsurprisingly exceptional – even though I hadn’t read it before – was N.K. Jemisin’s “Emergency Skin,” which handles a topic (climate change and apocalypse) others cover in this anthology with unbelievable skill and a frankly unparalleled storytelling ability. Despite the subject matter, it’s surprisingly hopeful, as is Malka Older’s “Sturdy Lantern and Ladders” about a behavioral researcher who job is to provide stress relief for a research octopus.
For new-to-me authors, I was particularly taken by Indrapramit Das’ “Kali_Na,” about an AI goddess and a poor, lower-caste Indian girl. On the less than hopeful and more rage-filled side (this is 2020, we all need a little bit of screaming into the void at this point), Alice Sola Kim’s “Now Wait For This Week” is a not-particularly-subtle Groundhog-Day-like take on sexual harassment. Karin Tidbeck’s “The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir” is one of the few outright adventure-type stories, following a human grease monkey on a strange interstellar cruise ship. I’d also add Tegan Moore’s “The Work of Wolves,” from the point of view of an Enhanced search and rescue dog who’s puzzled by her cold relationship with her handler, to that pile.
I was especially touched by Caroline M. Yoachim’s “The Archronology of Love.” One of my favorite styles of science fiction is plopping down relatable characters in different-but-not-so-different places and times, using that lens to reinterpret our lives. This story is a heart wrenching tale of a woman who’s lost her husband and the future they were planning to share and now has to unravel the mystery of the failed colony, all the while dealing with her nearly grown up son.
Overall, even if some of the stories weren’t to my taste, they were for the most part high quality. I also appreciated the long introduction listing the editor’s favorites from the year, regardless of length or format. While I’d already read or added most of them to my TBR, I found a few new gems. This is definitely a worthy successor to one of my childhood favorites and I will definitely be picking up next year’s edition!