This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2020.
The common thread in most of the works here is disaster and how one recovers from it. Disasters range from extinction-level asteroid impacts to natural disasters to accidents and illness. Works raise two questions: “How did this happen?” and “What comes next?” These questions occupy many of the writers featured here, and the exploration of the recovery process will be particularly resonant for current readers; because all of the pieces included here were published in 2019, the 2020 edition of this series feels a little like a pre-pandemic time capsule. Selected works cover everything from climate change to medicine to ecology to geology to cosmology to chaos theory: proof that any subject makes a good story in the hands of a talented writer. Also striking is the way this collection as a whole jumps through time, with articles about dinosaurs and the geological K-t boundary alongside explorations of future technology. However, the articles focused on the present are the most personal and carry the deepest emotional resonance. This series remains a must-buy for most library collections.
This review was first published by Booklist on November 1, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** Multi-award-winning Uncanny Magazine has been the preeminent publisher of speculative short fiction, poetry, and nonfiction since 2014, and is renowned for offering its contributors tremendous creative freedom. Authors published by Uncanny are a roster of the greatest sf writers of the present era: Neil Gaiman, N. K. Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, Seanan McGuire, Naomi Novik, and many, many more. The works in this anthology are the best of the best in the genre, from science fiction to fantasy to weird tales to poetry, representing a stunning diversity of styles and perspectives, from the Hugo award-winning “Folding Beijing,” by Hao Jingfang to a female empowerment parable, “Monster Girls Don’t Cry,” by A. Merc Rustad. Language and family tie into technology and posterity in “Restore the Heart to Love,” by John Chu; “Clearly Lettered in a Mostly Steady Hand,” by Fran Wilde visits a nightmarish circus freak show; “And Then There Were (N-One),” by Sarah Pinsker is what happens when Being John Malkovich meets Agatha Christie. This anthology contains a gluttonous surfeit of narrative riches. The works in this collection are inventive, gorgeous, occasionally difficult, and immensely rewarding. Truly, the best of Uncanny.
This review was first published by Booklist on October 1, 2019.
**STARRED REVIEW** The works in this annual anthology are lyrical, emotional, moving, and insightful—proof that long-form science journalism boasts some of our best writers. Many selections offer dreary outlooks for the future: the effects of climate change, the rise of infectious diseases, species extinction. Despite this, many are uplifting—science will always carry a sense of wonder and the joy of discovery, and awe for our ability to look deeply into existence and grapple with what we find. The strongest theme of this collection is the humanity of science. These articles all focus to some degree on the human nature of scientific endeavor. Science is work done by people seeking to understand our world; it’s passionate and flawed, subject to whim and error, driven by socioeconomic pressures and cults of personality. Science impacts real people, and these outcomes must be accounted for. For all its vaunted objectivity, science cannot be separated from its human components. Nor should it be, as series editor Green argues in a fiery foreward about the inescapable political nature of science. These pieces challenge us to look deeper and to understand better, to see the beating human heart in the soul of science.
I finally got around to reading From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories written by a Who’s-Who roster of big name SF authors, all from the perspectives of side- and background characters in the original Star Wars movie. Most of them offer backstory or imagine what happened leading up to various scenes in the movie. Some imagine what was happening elsewhere in the universe.
This collection is a gimmick and it reads like one. The stories are all pretty good (some are excellent, none are bad) but very few of them would stand on their own merits. It’s an entertaining read, certainly, but mostly forgettable.
But it did get me thinking more about the Star Wars Expanded Universe and my ambivalence toward it. I love the movies but I’ve never bothered about the EU. There are a couple reasons why.
This review was first published by Booklist on October 26, 2018.
**STARRED REVIEW** If these annual best-of anthologies indicate where speculative fiction is heading, readers should be excited for the future of the genre. The 20 stories collected here aren’t necessarily the most popular of the year. Indeed, they are selected from a wider variety of publications than the typical mainstream sf magazines. These tales are the year’s most innovative and interesting, prime examples of artists seeking to push the boundaries of their art. This collection brings to mind Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions anthologies, starting in 1967, in the way it showcases cutting-edge work, ranging from hard-science fiction to fantasy, to dystopia. There’s also a stronger emphasis on the eerie horror than most best-of collections. According to Jemisin (The Stone Sky, 2017), guest editor for this installment, these are stories of revolution—some literally, while some revolt against the style and tropes of the genre, while others offer revolutionary reimaginings of the world and society. These are stories to take your breath away, to make you laugh, to bring you to despair, to give you hope, to creep you out, and even to break your heart. Some work better than others, but all are interesting, vibrant, and worthy.
This review was first published by Booklist on August 20, 2018.
There has been a craze lately for retro and golden-age science fiction, and Lost Mars fits right into that trend, presenting a collection of 10 classic short stories about Mars written between 1887 and 1963. It features works by H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, and J. G. Ballard as well as authors less well known to modern audiences. These stories are of the highest quality and illustrate how our evolving understanding of the Red Planet changed the way we wrote about it and how Mars came to occupy a prominent position in our hopes, dreams, and fears as the modern age dawned and grew. Editor Ashley (The Mammoth Book of Time Travel SF, 2013) offers a brief and thoroughly researched introduction which provides background information about both the major Martian discoveries of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries and the history of Martian science fiction from H. G. Wells through Andy Weir. It serves as a fascinating overview of the history of Mars in science fiction, from the birth of the genre through the beginning of the space age.
This review was first published by Booklist on September 1, 2016.
The 30 stories collected here come from an impressive cast of authors. All stories are set in Portland, Oregon (you don’t need to know anything about Portland to enjoy them), and partake, to varying degrees, of the unique brand of weird that defines that city. Some center around specific landmarks (Powell’s bookstore makes several appearances), some reference the history of the town, and some treat the city only as a general setting. These stories range from highly speculative to more mainstream, from upbeat to cynical, silly to serious; stories of love and loss, humor and pathos, from the bizarre to the poetic. There’s even an illustrated comic. Some are wonderfully pulpy, and some are more modern. “Transformation,” by Dan DeWeese, uses an alien invasion as critique of mindless conformity; “Yay,” by Bradley K. Rosen, is a Christmas Krampus story of madness and indigence; “Waiting for the Question,” by Art Edwards, is a gritty urban fantasia featuring Alex Trebek. All of the stories are very good, making this a fun and recommended collection.
I admit I waffled a bit over reading the George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois edited anthologies, Old Mars and Old Venus. These were put together as a nostalgic celebration of the Planetary Romance era of science fiction from the 1930s through the ’50s. Mr. Martin and Mr. Dozois grew up on that work, it forms the deep core of their love of SF, and it’s rather delightful how delighted they are to harken back to those times.
But I have no nostalgia for Planetary Romance. It’s not the SF I grew up on. I’m not intrinsically inclined to like these stories simply because they remind me of the bygone good old days.
I didn’t need them to be nostalgic, I just needed them to be good stories.
I admit, as well, that I was somewhat cautious about the premise of these anthologies: stories set on the versions of Mars and Venus we imagined before probes and exploration taught us otherwise—the canaled Mars of Burroughs and Bradbury; the hot, wet, jungle and watery Venus of Leigh Brackett and Roger Zelazny. I was skeptical of a premise that requires both authors and readers to ignore everything that science has taught us about these planets in the intervening 50+ years.
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.