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The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume…
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The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 4

by Neil Clarke

Other authors: Madeline Ashby (Contributor), Elizabeth Bear (Contributor), L. X. Beckett (Contributor), John Chu (Contributor), Aliette de Bodard (Contributor)24 more, Vanessa Fogg (Contributor), R. S. A. Garcia (Contributor), Carolyn Ives Gilman (Contributor), A. T. Greenblatt (Contributor), Daryl Gregory (Contributor), Simone Heller (Contributor), Naomi Kritzer (Contributor), Rich Larson (Contributor), Yoon Ha Lee (Contributor), Ken Liu (Contributor), S. Qiouyi Lu (Contributor), Ian McDonald (Contributor), Samantha Murray (Contributor), Linda Nagata (Contributor), Hannu Rajaniemi (Contributor), Robert Reed (Contributor), Alistair Reynolds (Contributor), Erin Roberts (Contributor), Kelly Robson (Contributor), Sofia Samatar (Contributor), Vandana Singh (Contributor), Lavie Tidhar (Contributor), Nick Wolven (Contributor), Alyssa Wong (Contributor)

Series: The Best Science Fiction of the Year (4)

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221737,677 (4.5)None
"A human detective and their partner, an enhanced chimpanzee, investigate a strange murder on the subway . . . a smart home goes into lockdown, turning a man's own home into his prison . . . at a robot factory, something has caused the machines to attempt to escape . . . mysterious seeds raining down from deep space could be the first sign of an alien invasion . . . a woman seeks to restore a broken AI, hoping it can help return humanity to better days . . ." -- Back cover. For decades, science fiction has compelled us to imagine futures both inspiring and cautionary. Whether it's a warning message from a survey ship, a harrowing journey to a new world, or the adventures of well-meaning AI, science fiction inspires the imagination and delivers a lens through which we can view ourselves and the world around us. With The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Four, award-winning editor Neil Clarke provides a year-in-review and twenty-nine of the best stories published by both new and established authors in 2018. -- Back cover. "Keeping up-to-date with the most buzzworthy and cutting-edge science fiction requires sifting through countless magazines, e-zines, websites, blogs, original anthologies, single-author collections, and more--a task accomplishable by only the most determined and voracious readers. For everyone else, Night Shade Books is proud to introduce the latest volume of The Best Science Fiction of the Year, a yearly anthology compiled by Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning editor Neil Clarke, collecting the finest that the genre has to offer, from the biggest names in the field to the most exciting new writers. The best science fiction scrutinizes our culture and politics, examines the limits of the human condition, and zooms across galaxies at faster-than-light speeds, moving from the very near future to the far-flung worlds of tomorrow in the space of a single sentence. Clarke, publisher and editor-in-chief of the acclaimed and award-winning magazine Clarkesworld, has selected the short science fiction (and only science fiction) best representing the previous year's writing, showcasing the talent, variety, and awesome 'sensawunda' that the genre has to offer." -- Amazon.… (more)

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So for the science fiction creative writing class I'm teaching this fall, I wanted a source of short fiction. A lot of the thinking behind my class has been motivated by contemplating what would have helped me at my students' stage of development. I know that when I first started mailing short sf out to magazine, I piled up rejections very quickly. Looking back, it's pretty obvious why. At age 20, my understanding of sf was largely informed by two things: film and tv (especially Star Trek) and sf novels I read when I was a kid (so mostly ones published before I was born). I had no sense at all of what science fiction in the year 2005 was like, and was just churning out sub-Star Trek stories. No wonder I got rejected! So I want my students to see what is happening in print science fiction now. We're only a week in, and it's clear they all have a strong understanding of the genre from film and tv... but even the writing majors have clearly read little written sf. To provide such an overview, I decided to assign the most recent volume of Clarke's Best Science Fiction of the Year. I've never read any of his anthologies before, but based on the stories from Clarkesworld that I've read, he has a sense of good sf that accords with my own, and he always has sensical things to say on Reddit.

I read the whole anthology the month before classes began. I was impressed. Often, when I review "best of" anthologies, I go story by story and mark each story "thumbs up" (feels like it belongs), "thumbs sideways" (I'm neutral), or "thumbs down" (I don't see why this is here), but at twenty-nine stories, this would get to be a very long review very quickly! But what I can say is that I would stack many of these up against what made the short fiction ballots for the Hugo Awards this year. S. Qiouyi Lu's "Mother Tongues," for example, is better by far than anything that did make the ballot in Best Short Story, with its clever use of the second person and typography. (It did make the longlist, but was pretty far down in fourteenth.) And even though I did really like the Best Novelette ballot this year, Ken Liu's "Byzantine Empathy" would have been a worthy addition to it. There were only two stories both on the Hugo shortlist and in this book, both strong: "When We Were Starless" by Simone Heller and "Nine Last Days on Planet Earth" by Daryl Gregory. I was also pleased to see Vandana Singh's "Requiem" here, which I nominated, but did not even make the longlist. The advantage that Clarke has over the Hugos is that he clearly reads everything, whereas the Hugos are biased toward free-to-access e-magazines. "Mother Tongues" is from Asimov's, which used to dominate the Hugo ballot but now barely gets a look in; "Byzantine Empathy" is from an original print anthology series; "Requiem" is from a single-author collection (an impressively deep cut, I felt).

I speaks highly that I put all but eleven of them on the syllabus for my class. I put every story I liked on the syllabus, and a few more that I didn't like, but felt were doing something interesting. Just some quick notes on a few other stories here:
  • Kelly Robson's "Intervention" (from the anthology Infinity's End) takes place in the same world as her Hugo-nominated Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach, and like it, is good at unspooling an sf backstory.
  • Alyssa Wong's dark "All the Time We've Left to Spend" (from the anthology Robots vs. Fairies) is a great example of exploring character through an sf lens.
  • There are two different stories about people being trapped in smart houses, Madeleine Ashby's "Domestic Violence" (from Slate) and Elizabeth Bear's "Okay, Glory" (from the anthology Twelve Tomorrows), but they're very different, and both very good.
  • Vanessa Fogg's "Traces of Us" (from GigaNotoSaurus, an e-mag that just does one story per month) is an interesting example of generic crossover, as it's both a romance and hard sf.
  • I wasn't super into Nick Wolven's "Lab B-15" (from Analog), but it's a great example of how to slowly reveal a plot, where each answer just leads to more questions.
  • Yoon Ha Lee's "Entropy War" (from the anthology 2001) isn't a proper story, but a set of rules for a dice game! I think I liked it, but I am curious to see what my students will think.
There's a wide diversity of storytelling styles and subgenres here, and it convinces me that short sf is a thriving field. I also really liked Neil Clarke's introduction on the state of sf in 2018. I'm glad my gamble paid off, and I will be picking up future (and past!) volumes in this series for sure.
1 vote Stevil2001 | Sep 7, 2019 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Neil Clarkeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Ashby, MadelineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Beckett, L. X.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chu, JohnContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Bodard, AlietteContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fogg, VanessaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Garcia, R. S. A.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gilman, Carolyn IvesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Greenblatt, A. T.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gregory, DarylContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heller, SimoneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kritzer, NaomiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Larson, RichContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, Yoon HaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, KenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lu, S. QiouyiContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McDonald, IanContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Murray, SamanthaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Nagata, LindaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rajaniemi, HannuContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reynolds, AlistairContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Roberts, ErinContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Robson, KellyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Samatar, SofiaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Singh, VandanaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Tidhar, LavieContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wolven, NickContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wong, AlyssaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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