The Year's Best SF 14

in Reviews

Confession: short stories are not really my thing. What I love best in my stories are complex world-building and character development, which are really the realm of long-form fiction like novels and TV shows. And the length itself is part of what I like - a great short story can be quite arresting, but I prefer the opportunity to really settle into a fictional world and learn to feel at home. I’m a long-term sort of lady that way.

Well, the point is, I’m a lot less familiar with short stories, and especially less familiar with thinking critically about them, so I don’t really know how to write a review of an anthology. But I’m going to try listing the stories I read and writing a little paragraph about each one.

“Exhalation” by Ted Chiang: See, already I’m in trouble. This story is remarkable, but I can’t say much about the premise because that would ruin the story. The narrator is curious about the nature of his own existence, and the reader learns about that nature and the inevitable future it implies, during the course of the narrator’s self-examination. I don’t know how to describe the story better than that, but from the 2nd or 3rd page, I found myself nearly holding my breath in anticipation.

“Oblivion: A Journey” by Vandana Singh: This is the story that prompted me to read the collection, after Singh’s novel Distances won the 2008 Carl Brandon Parallax award. Maybe I’ll just quote the editors’ description: “It presents an Indian posthuman future, in which synthetic and naturally born people mingle across the colonized galaxy.” I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to call it “an Indian future,” so much as the main character was born on a world with an Indian cultural heritage - and subsequently finds himself playing out an ancient Hindu revenge myth, without learning its lessons until far too late. I found it sad and compelling.

“Mitigation” by Karl Schroeder and Tobias S. Buckell. I first encountered Buckell’s work in So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction & Fantasy, an anthology I admit I gave up on trying to write a review for. It’s very good, you’ll just have to find out how good yourself. Anyway, the setting of “Mitigation” is a pretty standard post-global-warming future, which I admit sort of turned me off at the beginning. Maybe I’m just jaded, but stories about the terrible things that will happen if we keep on the way we are usually feel like preaching to the choir to me, and I’ve never been one for much preaching. But really, “Mitigation” is a good heist story with a twist, and I’m glad I finished it.

“Pump Six” by Paolo Bacigalupi: Ok, Paolo Bacigalupi is a white American dude, but I loved The Windup Girl and I’ve heard great praise for his collection Pump Six and Other Stories, so I thought, well, here’s Pump Six, clearly I should read it. But the story triggers the same knee-jerk “oh, more of this” reaction that “Mitigation” did, and since basically the point of the story is “look at this possible bad future!” I never did have another reaction to it. Meh, I guess.

And, there you go. “Exhalations” is my favorite by far, but if you pick up the collection, you surely shouldn’t miss “Oblivion: A Journey” either. As far as I can tell, all the stories I didn’t talk about are written by white people from the US, plus a Canadian or Brit here and there, and while I’m sure they are good, they’re not what I’m committed to promoting. If I’m wrong, please let me know.