Best Of British Science Fiction 2022 edited by Donna Scott (book review).

Another year, another ‘Best Of British Science Fiction’ collection from Newcon Press, edited by Donna Scott. I think I’ve read them all and it’s nice to see it come around again. Each one collects stories by British writers or British-based authors from the previous year, so this 2023 edition features the best of 2022. Neatly, there are 22 stories and I’ve picked out some of my favourites here but, frankly, they’re all pretty darn good.

There are wealthy bad people in ‘Assets’ by Keith Brooke and Eric Brown. Ms Dakane, a rich bitch, squirts herself to Rome and wakes up in the body of a beautiful Somalian girl who has sold it to get money for her family. But Dakane wants to experience a different body altogether and the cost doesn’t matter. Complications ensue when she meets a man who knew the Somalian girl back in her native village. Many short stories end with a twist but I didn’t see this one coming. Neat.

‘The Marshalls Of Mars’ by Tim Major tells of Rich and Meryl Marshall who are en route to the red planet having won a contest. The journey is long and the relationship between husband and wife is extraordinarily harmonious, probably why they were sent. I liked the characters but couldn’t make sense of the story, though it was pleasant in a Ray Bradbury way.

Fiona Moore writes unofficial guides to popular Science Fiction shows as well as original short fiction. In ‘The Memory Spider’, Carrie is clearing out her late mother’s flat when she’s startled by a cleaning bot in the shape of a spider. Bots are standard fare in this near future and adapting their exteriors to personal taste is also normal. Mother was a famous dancer. Spider-bot has picked up some moves. A nice, low key, sentimental piece. The future is not all death rays and dystopias, we hope.

Amir is a scavenger who scouts for salvage in low Earth orbit some time in the future. There’s plenty of it. Most of the story takes place in The Heavenly Palace, a luxurious orbital habitat one hundred years ago, but a floating ruin now. Handy for holding a market though. Amir has had a run of bad luck and might even lose his ship, Domestic Entropy. The idea of buying and selling space age antiques is intriguing for any British fan of ‘Bargain Hunt’ and author Lavie Tidhar has some good ideas about what might be valuable. Amir has a talking dog called Woof so the title is appropriate: ‘Junk Hounds’.

‘The FenZone’ by Ian Whates is set in a near future where 6G is normal and we’re all very connected except an area of the Fens which is walled off. A while back, everything that went in there died, including humans. The authorities could do nothing so simply made it an exclusion zone. Have aliens taken it over? No one knows. This occurrence is seen through the eyes of a romantic gentleman and his relationship with a girl he picked up in a pub, the old way. This had the feel of a Silverberg story and so was good.

‘Wheel Of Fortune’ by Ida Keogh starts with Tessa Caruso in the projection room of The Sephiroth which is on an interplanetary voyage with a small crew. She is trying to access her memories. As she does, both she and the reader are in for a few surprises. A cleverly constructed little masterpiece.

Fleet Midshipman Peter Durante finds a slight anomaly in a cargo manifest but querying it gets him into trouble with those of higher rank, which is everybody. It was confusing at first but ‘A Quickening Tide’ by A.J. McIntosh and Andrew J. Wilson turned out to be a fine ripping yarn of skulduggery in the spaceways and well worth reading.

‘Call Of The Void’ by J.K. Fulton has Tamsin doing an EVA on the ISS so it’s near future SF. I feel the urge to jump every time I’m in a high place and didn’t know it was common, so this was reassuring. Liam Hogan’s ‘Last Bite At The Klondike’ is another enjoyable near future tale, this one about mining an asteroid. Both stories are full of technical detail about the realities of space travel and both end with a surprising human twist of wonder.

Parra is a renegade stealing solar power from Amparor Incorporated and on the run from bounty hunters when she comes across a mother and child in the wilderness, eking out a living. ‘Sunrunner’ by Robert Bagnall is set in a dystopian future yet it’s a beautiful story of artistic yearning and science. One of my favourites here.

A sophisticated AI that once controlled a slayer class spaceship now runs a small shop in the desert with few customers on the climate blasted surface of Earth. Ship/shop has a fascinating backstory and most writers would have made it the main story but this low key tale of its semi-retirement has more impact and more charm. ‘Amelioration Of Existence In Spite Of Truth And Reconciliation’ by E.M.Faulds is a little gem.

Jack is the name of the hero in ‘Eternal Soldier’ by L.N. Hunter and he really isn’t to blame. Having lost an arm in combat, he faces grim retirement on a small pension until the army offers him another choice. They lop off the other arm and he joins G-Squad, now fitted with two silverback gorilla appendages. The tech boys keep coming up with new innovations but so do the opposition scientists. The war gets ever stranger and the accountants are in charge. Wonderful black humour.

Science Fiction short stories tend to be shorter now and more intense, too, and more emotional. First person narration is favoured and the reader is usually plunged straight into a confusing situation. They are not easy reading and so they are not popular, like Agatha Christie, say. But make the effort and you are rewarded with images and insights, and sometimes laughs, that no other genre can give you. ‘The Best Of British Science Fiction 2022’ and its predecessors, provide a useful snapshot of SF today and an entertaining read.

Eamonn Murphy

August 2023

(pub: Newcon Press. 287 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £13.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-914953-55-2)

check out website: www.newconpress.co.uk

Eamonn Murphy

Eamonn Murphy reviews books for sfcrowsnest and writes short stories now and then. Website: https://eamonnmurphywriter298729969.wordpress.com/

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