Best Of British Science Fiction 2020 edited by Donna Scott (book review).

These ‘Best Of British-’ collections from Newcon Press always feature a lot of good stuff so I was pleased to get another for review. This one opened strongly with ‘War Crimes’ by M.R. Carey. Lieutenant Husnara Begum of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers is woken by an alert because someone has moved in London.

England’s capital is trapped in a stasis effect so that shouldn’t happen. The cuddly, sharing utopian future wouldn’t suit me but there’s a touch of horror to the scenario that reminded me of Stephen King’s short story ‘The Jaunt.’ I really liked this one.

Lavie Tidhar’s story ‘Blue And Blue And Blue And Pink’ is about pilots going into some forbidden zone to fetch contraband. It was well-written, intriguing and, ultimately, exasperating because nothing was explained. This modernist approach is perfectly legitimate but not to my taste. It’s even worse when you really like the story and get let down at the end.

In Ian Watson’s ‘Brave New World, By Oscar Wilde’, a pair of time travellers go back to fetch Oscar into a future where he is revered so that he can produce more great works. They return to 1897 to recover him from Berneval-le-Grand on the north coast of France, cleverly plotting his disappearance so it will pass without too many questions. In fiction, we can let dear old Oscar, Van Gogh, Lovecraft and others who died at a low point know how they came to be loved. Alas, in life, we can’t.

‘Mudlarking’ by Neil Williamson and ‘Infectious’ by Liz Williams both address present concerns. Williamson’s is about a resource agent in future Glasgow who suspects a colleague of corruption and follows him. Things are not what they seem. It’s a believable tale of what the future might be like with a touching human story at the core. I like the use of ‘footering’ because my dad used to say it. ‘Infectious’ is about a future where infection control is taken very seriously but the idle super-rich make a game of it. One hopes they’re not this bad but it might be an even more believable scenario.

Aberystwyth has been nuked in ‘Cofiwch Aberystwyth’ by Val Nolan and a Dutch Vlogger is touring it with his assistants. Mila specialises in danger because that’s what his followers love. An interesting tour of the town with lots of information about how nice it used to be and a disturbing vision of future nationalism in our once united kingdom. I enjoyed the story despite not liking the protagonist.

‘What Happened To 70?’ by C.R. Berry fits into his time travel series but works as a standalone, too. I’m not sure it would stand up to serious mathematical analysis but the notion that the number 70 ceases to exist and only one person can remember it made for an interesting narrative.

‘Rings Around Saturn’ by Rosie Oliver is SF in the classic tradition with two salvage hunters chasing a derelict ship in Saturn’s rings. It’s underpinned by solid science and the ending reflects how society has changed since the 1950s when these kinds of stories were common fare. I really liked it.

I also enjoyed ‘The Good Shepherd’ by Stewart Hotston. A self-aware AI running cameras and traffic in London notices that something strange is happening on its patch and sets out to solve the mystery. It consults with the AIs that run Tokyo and other major cities for advice. Several modern films and TV dramas raise awareness of just how many cameras there are nowadays in cities, a number set to increase with new doorbell technology. Wouldn’t it be lovely if they were all run by benevolent AIs so we sheep could safely graze? Nice story.

There are some clever short shorts including ‘Panspermia High’ by Eric Brown, ‘Variations On Heisenberg’s Third Concerto’ by Eleanor R. Wood and ‘Here Today’ by Geoff Nelder. As usual, with ‘Best of British Science Fiction’, you get an eclectic mix and a good overview of what’s happening in Science Fiction shorts today. No single reader will like everything but it’s all quality stuff.

Eamonn Murphy

September 2021

(pub: NewCon Press, 2021. 280 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK), $16.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-91295-099-7. Ebook price: £ 6.49 (UK), $ 8.92 (US))

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