Two things struck me at the start of the latest ‘The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 28’. There is no longer an alternative yearly monopoly of short stories from ‘Analog’ and ‘Asimov’s Science Fiction’ and ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ as all three have a couple stories each. In fact, this year more seems to come from the now deceased ‘Subterranean Magazine’ which makes for a nice swansong. Have I had that that much influence when our own site is lucky to get name and website mentioned in the Summation, despite our hit rate being higher than the others combined?
The second, from the Summation, is that although publishers say short story anthologies don’t sell, there’s plenty of them out there. Let’s pick some examples from the thirty-eight stories in this volume. Oddly Ken Liu and Elizabeth Bear have two stories each in the mix.
Jerome Cigut’s ‘The Rider’ is an odd story in some respects in that it doesn’t really grab you until the poker game where AIs guide the players. Although I’m not entirely sure if its cyberpunk, it does show even AIs have to occasionally lick their wounds. It did make me ponder on whether in real life would AIs be the territorial as I thought that was only an organic thing as there’s plenty of RAM to go round.
Ken Liu’s ‘The Regular’ is a futuristic crime story that if re-written would probably work just as well in a non-SF reality. Liu’s story lacks passion but I suspect the writer is aware of this and uses it as a strength than weakness.
I’m less sure about Karl Bunker’s ‘The Woman From The Ocean’. A woman survivor from a returned stellar starship discovers the village that she ends up is more akin the medieval period, although she doesn’t say that, it is obvious from a British perspective. Thing is, I couldn’t see anything odd about the village, mostly because he doesn’t reflect this in the lead character in making her adjustments.
Like with previous volumes, you do end up reading looking for gems. This doesn’t mean the stories are badly written but often the spark of new ideas that will make you think doesn’t always make the connection. Around the 300 page mark, several stories in succession worked. Michael Swanwick’s ‘Passage Of Earth’ being one of them with a country coroner asked by his ex-wife to examine at alien life-form that looks like a giant worm, albeit not as long. The interplay and twists will keep you going to the last.
Ellen Klages’ ‘Amicae Aeternum’ shows the things you would miss as you prepare to go on a generation ship. The usually lengthy but this time much shorter written story ‘In Babelsberg’ by Alastair Reynolds has a delightful robot AI returned to Earth and matched into a human baby avatar on a book tour which crashes down on it when another one returns.
Rachel Swirsky’s ‘Grand Jeté (The Great Leap)’ has an interesting idea of a dying girl having her personality transferred into a life-like robot prototype beneath the line before announcing that it can be done. Oddly, Swirsky uses a Jewish family and doesn’t make any reference to golems.
Allen M. Steele’s ‘The Prodigal Son’ is the real payload of this anthology with believable characters involved in sending a spaceship to another planet. Written strictly as hard SF it blends a listless son developing an interest in his parents’ space programme, romance and antagonism all rolled into one and had to read straight through.
Greg Egan’s ‘Shadow Flock’ almost worked for me. A woman’s brother is kidnapped to ensure that she will reprogram some insect devices to commit fraud. All nicely done until the wrap-up which doesn’t deliver well on the solution. I do wonder if Bear realising he was reaching the word count decided it was quicker to do that way, forgetting the art of telling a short story is having a good ending.
I read Nancy Kress’ story ‘Yesterday’s Kin’ last month and not surprised to see it included here. If I hadn’t read it so recently, it would have made a good place to end.
Objectively, there is a wide mix of stories in this year’s volume so some of which would appeal to you. I would still like to see the criteria that editor Gardner Dozois uses as to what makes them the ‘best’ though, more so because there are too many with weak endings. Not a good idea for the short form. He gives a history of each writer’s credits at the beginning of each story so surely it wouldn’t be a stretch to include such comments on selection rather than a line plot précis. Still, this book is moving to a better assortment and includes new writers a well which should be encouraged.
(pub: Constable Robinson. 663 page enlarged paperback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-4721-1999-5)
check out website: www.constablerobinson.com