The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8 by Jonathan Strahan

Rating 8.5/10
Twenty-eight short stories which move fluidly in and out of science fiction and fantasy.

The eighth volume of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year anthology, compiled by multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan, is a collection of twenty-eight short stories. The average standard is high, and the stories, which are written by both established and emerging authors, move fluidly in and out of the rich array of sub-genres that science fiction and fantasy has to offer.

The origins of this anthology go back some way – it has been sixty-five years since Everett Bleiler and Ted Dikty assembled the first science fiction ‘best of the year’ annual featuring, among others, Ray Bradbury. And what this eighth volume offers most, in my opinion, is its great diversity – there is space opera, hard sci-fi, mythology of Celtic and Norse origins, folklore can be found everywhere, as can urban fantasy elements. There should be something in there for everyone to enjoy.

Anthologies are notoriously tricky to review so I will first simply say that I enjoyed twenty-seven of the twenty-eight short-stories (there was one that lost me completely) but there were eight that I found to be just that little bit special. And they were:

Cave and Julia by M. John Harrison
Harrison is the author of the acclaimed Viriconium fantasy series and in Cave and Julia he tells a beautifully written tale of ageing, memories and loss. I was so moved and impressed by the author’s work I immediately placed the Viriconium series on my to-read next list.

Water by Ramez Naam
The second short story that I think deserves special mention comes from H. G. Wells Award-winning author Ramez Naam. Water was a very, very interesting look at how the future may be (and it isn’t pretty) in a world where advertising has reached a level of advanced sophistication whereby adverts are able to impress upon human neural pathways. It read to me like a mini-1984 for the computer age and was all too – and scarily - plausible.

Rag and Bone by Priya Sharma
I first encountered Priya Sharma within the Alt Hist anthologies edited by Mark Lord. I thought her work good in there and this short story impressed me massively. The story features a rag and bone man in the very truest sense, is set in a dystopian Liverpool where human flesh has a sale price and the poor sell what they have to keep the rich healthy, rather like the Victorians did with teeth over a hundred years ago. It was reminiscent of Orwell (which I seem to say often but I believe 1984 is that influential) and in so few pages managed to evoke so many feelings.

The Sun and I by K. J. Parker
I don’t think any author can write a story without religion playing a role of some kind, be it major or minor. K. J. Parker’s The Sun and I is a fascinating look at religion, strong in plot and narrative, and one of the longest stories in the collection. It tells of a group of clever young men who invent a new fictitious religion in order to use followers to feather their nearly empty nests. But are the users themselves being used by an entity they believed could not exist? It is an interesting story on many levels from a two-time winner of World Fantasy Award winner.

The Pilgrim and the Angel by E. Lily Yu
E. Lily Yu was the 2012 recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a 2012 Hugo, Nebula and World Fantasy Award nominee. Her story, The Pilgrim and the Angel, was a favourite of mine and if I was asked to summarise it in just three words I think I would have to settle for “Scrooge in Egypt” and while this is far from as accurate as it really needs to be I hope it would go some way to providing an understanding for the feel of the story. I found it a genuinely moving tale of faith and family.

Entangled by Ian R. Macleod
Ian R. Macleod is yet another World Fantasy Award winner which shows the calibre of the authors on show. Entangled would get my nod for the story that provides the richest and most powerful setting as the author cleverly merges utopian and dystopian themes in a tale that really caught my imagination.

The Queen of Night's Aria by Ian McDonald
Now this story I liked a lot. I had visions of Flashman and War of the Worlds (both H. G. Wells and Jeff Wayne) flashing through my mind as I read this glorious account of what events may have occurred after those that unfolded in The War of the Worlds itself. This short story from Ian McDonald shows us what might have happened next through the eyes of duo of galaxy-travelling musicians. Quite brilliant.

The Irish Astronaut by Val Nolan
And then finally Val Nolan brings the anthology to a fittingly strong end with a tale of an American astronaut who travels to Ireland, in the hopes of coming to terms with grief and keeping a promise to a friend during the aftermath of a space voyage that went tragically wrong.

I would recommend this lovingly-constructed anthology to readers who would either like to read more from their favourite authors or else hope to discover new and exciting ones to read. The standard is high throughout and regardless of your own personal preferences you will much to enjoy within a collection of stories that are designed to make us think about the way we are, and the way we could be

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Solaris (8 May 2014)

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