I picked this up for “market research,” really. What sorts of stories are considered to be “the best” for audiences over the past couple of years?
This is a really excellent collection from some of the best writers that modern short SF/F has to offer. Well worth your time & energy if you love short fiction!
A few notes about the individual stories:
Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail by Leigh Bardugo – Beautiful in its whimsy. Also, I know it was inspired by Penticton because the author’s note says so, and that’s my stompin’ grounds (part of the Okanagan Valley.) Also, Bardugo shouted out our own native cryptid, the Ogopogo.
Teenagers from Outer Space by Dale Bailey – Well written, but I could have taken or left this one. It had a lot of similarities with two other stories in this anthology, which strikes me as an odd editorial choice. I would have avoided that, myself.
I’ve Come to Marry the Princess by Helena Bell – Weird fabulism in which a lot happened that seemed to make no sense. Still, it had me right to the end, which was ambiguous. If you like ambiguous endings, don’t read the author’s note at the end of the book, where what happened is explained.
Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home by Genevieve Valentine – An excellent science fiction story that does what sci-fi does at its best; use hypothetical technology to make us question the path we’re on and the logical conclusion of certain gray ethics.
The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight by E. Lily Yu – A fractured fairy tale that reminded me of several deconstructed feminist fairy tales I read in the 80s and 90s. Except this one goes a little deeper. Worth the read.
When They Came to Us by Debbie Urbanski – One of the two stories that had similar elements to Teenagers from Outer Space. Still excellent, if somewhat cynical and creepy in its cynicism.
Vulcanization by Nisi Shawl – One of my favourite stories in the collection. It’s basically a revenge fantasy on one of the most evil bigots in human history. Cathartic.
Openness by Alexander Weinstein – A disturbing tale that explores the inevitable conclusion of our current social media, and considers loss of privacy and whether complete openness is, in fact, ideal. Inspired a half-baked idea that might become a story, so that’s always a plus!
Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass by Jeremiah Tolbert – A story about frustration and feeling left behind. Not sure I agree with the conclusion of the story. Is the world wondrous just because it’s suddenly filled with satyrs, pirates and unicorns? Just because they’re asking you to work for gold instead of dollars, doesn’t make it magical in my opinion (you’ll understand when you read it.)
The Future is Blue by Catherynne M. Valente – Maybe my favourite story in the book. Worldbuilding bar-none! (It has a prayer invoking Oscar the Grouch. Seriously, how can you beat that?)
This is Not a Wardrobe Door by A. Merc Rustad – This one spoke to me very strongly. Who says we have to give up our magical fantasy worlds just because we grew up? (But I kinda want to be Merc when I grow up, so.)
On the Fringes of the Fractal by Greg Van Eekhout – A deeply weird story that was part of an anthology of stories inspired by the music of Rush. Rush is awesome, of course, and their music can be deeply weird, so this was a great choice. Reminded me of Philip K. Dick or Kurt Vonnegut when they’re at their best.
The Story of Kao Yu by Peter S. Beagle – A poignant story by a master. I find myself wondering if it was inspired by the character of Judge Bao? (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, find the movies on YouTube. Whodunnits in Ancient China. And apparently he’s a traditional character of folklore. I can’t get enough of it.)
The City Born Great by N.K. Jemisin – I am absolutely here for this story about the true identity of cities, where they embody themselves in the characters of people. Reminded me of a song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers that my peers and I all listened to in the 90s. Delicious!
Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0 by Caroline M. Yoachim – A darkly funny story that uses the format of a Choose Your Own Adventure. Laughed my ass off. Reminded me of some bad TTRPG games I’ve been in with terrible GMs. The author’s note says it was inspired by real-life adventures in health care. I can relate.
Successor, Usurper, Replacement by Alice Sola Kim – A story I found deeply disturbing as a writer. Clearly written by writers for writers. The characters make this story, which is excellent, but I’m not sure it will move non-writers like it did me. You could extrapolate it to all creatives, I think.
Caspar D. Luckinbill, What Are You Going to Do? by Nick Wolven – I understand from the author’s note this was intended to be satire. It wasn’t funny. It was creepy as hell, though. Makes me wonder, if we could actually do this, would people finally start caring about the horrible suffering in the world?
I Was a Teenage Werewolf by Dale Bailey – Pretty good! Had a Stephen King quality to it, though I saw the ending coming a mile away. Also had a similar feel to Teenagers from Outer Space. I think it’s weird that two such similar stories from the same author were chosen for this, when someone else might have been given a chance. I mean, it’s a good story, but…
The Venus Effect by Joseph Allen Hill – A darkly funny story about something that’s going on in the world right now that is not funny at all. Because a lot – too many – stories are ending this way. I thought this was a flatly brilliant treatment of the subject that makes a poignant point under the veil of dark comedy, which makes the tragedy manageable, and points out its absurdity. Well done!
Regardless, pick this up if you want to see how it’s done, and if you like artsy, literary science fiction and fantasy. Quite an impressive collection, well worth my time! Read it when you’ve got time to think.