The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Nine - Lauren Beukes, Joe Abercrombie, Rachel Swirsky, K.J. Parker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Jonathan Strahan

(I received a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

4.5 stars. Usually, collections of short stories are hard for me to rate, as they always contain the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak. This time, I can say this was a different experience. There's no story in here I didn't like at all: at worst, I was slightly indifferent, and only to a few of them. This anthology's definitely worth the read (unless you don't like horror stories being mixed with SF/F, which is a point of view I can understand).

My favourites:

* Moriabe's Children: in which a parallel is drawn between deep-sea monsters and all-too-human monsters dwelling on the shore.

* Ten Rules for Being an Intergalactic Smuggler: Even though the world developed here isn't particularly original, I found this story pretty entertaining and fun to read.

* Tough Times All Over: A romp in a city full of thieves, smugglers, mercenaries and various other shady types, all running after a mysterious parcel that keep eluding them and passing to yet the next person in the chain.

* Cold Wind: Predators and preys from long ago, in a modern city that has forgotten who they once were.

* Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No.8): Psychopaths on a road trip, and the way they perceive their journey and the people they meet. Not the easiest story to get into at first, due to its writing style, yet this style then contributed to keeping me me enthralled all the way.

* I Met a Man Who Wasn't There: In which con-artists and magic collide, told from a somewhat jaded yet mischievous point of view.

* Grand Jeté (The Great Leap): A widower about to lose his daughter too decides to invest into forbidden technology to create what could amount to a golem. However, his own child isn't dead yet... and accepting the one who's going to "replace" her isn't so easy.

* Shay Corsham Worsted: A retired secret services agent tries to prevent an old weapon from becoming a problem... but the secret's been so well-kept that nobody seems to know what it was about anymore.

* Tawny Petticoats: Another story of con-artists in a fantasy world, where nothing goes as planned and everybody's trying to outwit the other parties. Fairly enjoyable.

* The Fifth Dragon: A story of love, friendship, choices and loss, as the moon's being colonised and gravity-related physical issues start getting in the way.

* Four Days of Christmas: Very short but to the point. The story of Santa toys, from their manufacturing to how they get rediscovered much later, their harshness-denouncing journey made creepier due to these being "jolly" toys.

* Covenant: A good twist on the theme of serial killers, repentance and irony of fate.

* Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology: A group of academics expand on the theme of "what if Cimmeria was real, and how it would have evolved in our contemporary world." A story where imagination becomes real, giving birth to a whole nation completely escaping its creators.

* The Scrivener: This story meshes fairy tales with subverted themes of writing and literary criticism.

* Amicae Aeternum: A girl has to leave, and wishes to spend her last night with her best friend, saying goodbye to all the things she'll never see or have again. Both very nostalgic and full of hope for the future.


* The Long Haul from the Annals of Transportation, The Pacific Monthly, May 2009: Marriage dynamics in an alternate world where the Hindenburg disaster never happened, and where airship became a norm in contemporary times.

* The Insects of Love: Mysterious and hinting at memory/time slippage. I would've liked it to be a little clearer on this latter part, though.

* Shadow Flock: A heist story, enjoyable but a little wanting in terms of a conclusion.

* Mothers, Lock Up Your Daughters Because They Are Terrifying: Adopted teenagers girl gather and perform black magic in their quest for identity. The apparently ineffective spell gives them what they want... at first.

* Kheldyu: Action, stealthy infiltrators, interesting techological evolutions, and an "ecological" plot.

* Calligo Lane: Fascinating space-bending magic based on origami. However, the plot wasn't really defined.

* The Truth About Owls: A tale about a young girl exiled from her country, having to adapt to a new life but also unable to fully embrace her own roots.

* Collateral: (Already read in Upgraded) In which an enhanced soldier has to face the consequences of her choices and training, and come to conclusions after sifting through what's right and what's wrong.

The ones I liked the least:

* The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family: Interesting, especially for the theme it wields, but it wasn't rooted enough in sci-fi or fantastical elements for me. (Not a bad story.)

* The Devil in America: The mix of slavery and ancient magic could've been interesting, but it was so disjointed that it made it hard to follow.

* Someday: I kept thinking "why not" when it came to this society's depiction of mating and having children, but in the end I couldn't decide what was actually the point.

Conclusion: A recommended read. A few of the stories lacked a properly defined plot and punchline, but this is something that was much more pronounced in other anthologies than this one.

NB. When I write "punchline", I don't mean "the most original one in the world"... just an ending. Leaving things too open-ended in short stories always seems weird to me.