Tuesday, June 19, 2007

SF: thin on the ground; F: going gangbusters

kw: book reviews, science fiction, fantasy, anthologies, story reviews

The first volume of the newest "Best SF" collection: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume One edited by Jonathan Strahan. We are in the midst of a trend such as occurred in the 1960s, in which fantasy offerings overwhelmed genuine science fiction. These are the 24 stories in this volume; the notation [SF] indicates the ones I consider actual science fiction. In an instance or two, I explain why an apparent sci-fi story really isn't:

  • How to Talk to Girls at Parties by Neil Gaiman: Two guys crash a party; nearly all girls; all lovely; they speak, however, of strange things, and have names reminiscent of constellations and galaxies.
  • El Regalo by Peter S. Beagle: Little brother is a witch, and gets into big trouble; big sister, long annoyed with him, comes to his defense; almost accidental mastery of time allows them to defeat a jealous wizard.
  • I, Row-Boat [SF] by Cory Doctorow: This is SF if I, Robot is SF. A cute spoof on "Robbie", with a better-than-spoofy impact.
  • In the House of the Seven Librarians by Ellen Klages: Just how will a baby girl raised by feral librarians (the author's term), in a library that has slipped out of time, fare once admitted to a university? Lyrical and lovely.
  • Another Word for Map is Faith [dystopic SF] by Christopher Rowe: A pure anti-religion rant. Maps have become scripture. The physical landscape must be made to conform.
  • Under Hell, Over Heaven by Margo Lanagan: A large step beyond Dante (if much shorter) in its evocation of Thomist dogma taken literally.
  • Incarnation Day [SF, but barely] by Walter Jon Williams: Some of Williams's writing is even more sadistic than Ian Fleming's. Fortunately, this is not. A coming-of-age-as-a-software, mixed with a bit of Mark Twain's child-rearing advice ("Put the baby in a barrel, feed him through the bung. When he's 21, if he didn't turn out all right, drive in the bung"—my paraphrase).
  • The Night Whiskey by Jeffrey Ford: A unique liquor, distilled from berries that grow from corpses, allows visions of one's beloved dead...and sometimes a bit more.
  • A Siege of Cranes by Benjamin Rosenbaum: Defeat of a Kali-like monster by the most purely ad hoc magical melange I've ever read.
  • Halfway House by Frances Hardinge: On most levels this story makes no sense at all. On a purely emotional level, it seems a metaphor of depression and recovery.
  • The Bible Repairman by Tim Powers: To "repair" the Bible, the tinker burns out passages that offend or condemn its owner with a wood-burning iron. There's also quite a bit of blood magic. An ugly story.
  • Yellow Card Man [neither F nor SF] by Paolo Bacigalupi: Even uglier. I couldn't finish it. No sex or particular violence, just ugliness.
  • Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (Fantasy) by Geoff Ryman: A sort of coming-of-age story, but for a spoiled rich girl.
  • The American Dead [genreless] by Jay Lake: More ugliness, and no discernable point.
  • The Cartesian Theater [SF] by Robert Charles Wilson: Can a simulated person have a soul?
  • Journey Into the Kingdom by M. Rickert: An odd little ghost story, but sometimes it's hard to tell who is the ghost.
  • Eight Episodes [SF] by Robert Reed: Deliberately ambiguous. Is a particularly bad TV series the product of deranged geniuses or a clever ploy by aliens from the deep past?
  • The Wizards of Perfil by Kelly Link: Coming of age, from several viewpoints, of several youths.
  • The Saffron Gatherers [SF] by Elizabeth Hand: The emotional fallout for one person who sees but survives when "The Big One" hits San Francisco.
  • D.A. [SF] by Connie Willis: This girl is a cross between Card's "Ender" and one of the pre-"Starship Trooper" protagonists of Heinlein.
  • Femaville 29 by Paul Di Filippo: An odd tale of refugees magically rescued by their children.
  • Sob in the Silence [Horror] by Gene Wolfe: You just wish pedophiles would get their just deserts this harshly. The girl still dies.
  • The House Beyond Your Sky by Benjamin Rosenbaum: The editor's blurb calls it SF, but it is a cosmological fantasy that uses terms from the edge of astrophysical speculation (e.g. quintessence), whose coiners don't yet know what they mean.
  • The Djinn's Wife [SF] by Ian McDonald: Though the story is told using the tropes of fantasy writing, the Djinn in question is a subjective avatar of a machine intelligence (which may turn out to be fantasy after all). In this and other McDonald "Cyberabad" stories, the term "aeai" meaning "A.I." evokes the Hindi speaker's inability to pronounce the article "a" without making it into the word "yay" or "yeah".
By my count, eight [SF] out of twenty-four, or one-third. Set aside a couple of non-SF, non-F items, and nearly 60% are Fantasy.

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