Sep 09 2020

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 edited by Jonathan Strahan

With Gardner Dozois’ passing, science fiction lost not only a brilliant writer but also one of the most prominent editors in the genre. Since 1984, he’d presided over the premiere collection of sci-fi’s shorter works via his Year’s Best collections, which numbered thirty-five at the time of his demise. Two years on, Jonathan Strahan and Saga Press have stepped into the void to present 2019’s best for eager fans who’ve missed these definitive anthologies.

Mr Strahan’s inaugural volume starts off strong, from an introduction that champions diversity to several shorts that absolutely kick ass in delivering on that promise. My belief in Charlie Jane Anders’ talent was finally vindicated with her story here, The Bookstore At The End Of America. The volume opener isn’t exactly a subtle tale but it is both entertaining and thoughtful, and I felt it much more deeply than I have her other, more celebrated works. The next story, Tobias S Buckell’s The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex is a must for fans of Nnedi Okorafor’s Hugo-winning LaGuardia, treading in the same far-future of extraterrestrial immigration. The Hugos are actually quite well represented here, with 4 of the 28 stories being nominees for either Best Short Story or Best Novelette. Tbh, I didn’t really care for any of those selected for this volume besides N. K. Jemisin’s terrific Emergency Skin, which has also been my favorite work of hers so far.

Continuing the theme of short stories that improved my opinion of the author compared to their prior works was Kali_Na by Indrapramit Das, whose debut novel The Devourers was firmly meh for me. In contrast, I was blown away by Kali_Na’s ideas of godhood and virtual avatars, a wonderful application of real-world sociology to the ways technology can transcend the mundane. I was also impressed by another Indian-set story that melded technology with psychology, Anil Menon’s The Robots Of Eden. While Saleem Haddad’s Song Of The Birds was set hundreds of miles away in Palestine, it was another excellent, and moving, examination of behavior modification technology. Crossing Asia in the other direction, we get to Han Song’s Submarines — translated for us here by Ken Liu, who also contributes an original story — about migrants on the Yangtze River. All four of these stories manage to evoke a sense of place that’s as vital to the narrative as their speculative natures are.

There’s a very similar feel to Sofia Rhei’s Barcelona-set Secret Stories Of Doors, as well as to the scathing critique of New York City’s upper class in E. Lily Yu’s Green Glass: A Love Story. Ted Chiang’s It’s 2059, And The Rich Kids Are Still Winning reads less like a story and exactly like a sociological treatise, only from the future. I almost forgot I wasn’t reading an article while enjoying it. Fonda Lee’s near-future comedy I (28M) Created A Deepfake Girlfriend And Now My Parents Think We’re Getting Married is also the kind of thing I could imagine reading on Reddit in ten years or less. Well, from the Twitter account AITA_reddit anyway; I’ve so far managed to avoid getting a Reddit account and am quite happy to keep it that way. Of the other far future stories, Rich Larson’s Contagion’s Eve At The House Noctambulus was my absolute favorite for sheer goriness (plus it reminded me of one of my all-time favorite books, Gideon The Ninth.) Honorable mention goes to Alec Nivala-Lee’s At The Fall, which was like Homeward Bound meets Finding Dory, only with AI.

Despite the vast majority of these books dealing with planet Earth and humanity’s secrets, there were several stories that traveled off into space. Of these, my favorite was Karin Tidbeck’s The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir, which deals with a very unusual form of interstellar travel. Overall tho, there was less of a focus on outer space and more on the planet we’re living in and what we’re doing to it, an understandable change of emphasis given the ways we’re beginning to reap what we’ve sown on this planet. Which isn’t to say that this is a depressing book: on the contrary, many of the stories here speak of resilience, resistance and optimism, in the finest tradition of the genre.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 edited by Jonathan Strahan was published yesterday by Saga Press, and is available from all good booksellers.

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