The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eight by Jonathan Strahan is an excellent SF anthology.
In his introduction, Mr. Strahan briefly summarizes the history of SF short story anthologies and argues that one of their essential roles is to help shape the genre. Throughout this history, there have been editors who curated their story selections specifically to encourage SF to develop in desired directions.
Mr. Strahan proudly claims membership in this tradition. The stories he chose for the eighth installment in his annual Best of series suggest that SF is embarking on a very exciting new era.
What strikes me most powerfully about this collection is the diversity of the work, especially compared to the anthologies I grew up with in 1980s. Mr. Strahan clearly set out to find stories from all over the globe (although all these stories were written originally in English). The authors here represent a healthy cross-section of the world. The anthology is populated by characters with a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds, and the stories are informed by an array of cultural traditions that have only recently found their way into the SF genre.
In many ways, SF is the ideal genre to incorporate incredible diversity. These authors bring voices to the SF table that haven’t been heard widely enough to date. Their ideas and storytelling aesthetic are vibrant. I’m happy to see SF transcend its American roots and flourish in the wider world. Collections such as this make me eager to see how the genre will grow.
Moreover, BSFFY #8 is an anthology of very literate SF. The seeds sown by Harlan Ellison and tended by the literary SF writers of the late ’60s and ’70s are in good hands and bearing strong fruit.
All of the short stories in this anthology are well-crafted but my personal favorites are:
- “The Herons of Mer de l’Ouest” by M. Bennardo
- “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls” by Richard Parks
- “The Sun and I” by K J Parker
- “In Metal, In Bone” by An Owomoyela
- “The Irish Astronaut” by Val Nolan
If I have a quibble with this book, it’s the cover art. The title of the work is The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year but the cover art implies a hard science fiction focus. Once you get into it, though, it’s clear that this is not a hard science fiction anthology.
This is also the second anthology I’ve read to feature the story, “Some Desperado,” by Joe Abercrombie. It’s a fantastic story by the standards of any genre, but I rather wish that it hadn’t been included here. It fit well in Dangerous Women (edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois), but I was confused as to why this was being presented to me as SF in Mr. Strahan’s book. It’s clearly a Western—there are no SF elements in it at all.
I’ve since learned that this story is part of Mr. Abercrombie’s fantasy series, The First Law, set in the same world and featuring a known character. However, having never read anything else in this series, and given that it bears no explicit SF characteristics, “Some Desperado” feels strikingly out of place among the other stories in BSFFY #8.
That this is the only strange note struck by this collection (and even this strange note is very good) is testament to the high quality of the work on hand. I highly recommend this anthology to anyone interested in the variety of voices and styles encompassed by the SF umbrella.