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THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY 2015 is an Exemplary Collection of the Year’s Best Short Fiction

Review Summary: Award-winning editor John Joseph Adams and Guest Editor Joe Hill bring together a diverse collection of the years best Science Fiction and Fantasy.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Diverse cast of authors both new and well-established; strong character based narratives
CONS: Number of stories trend towards literary navel-gazing
BOTTOM LINE: John Joseph Adams has brought together a diverse collection of stories that cover a wide range of topics, ideas, characters and worlds.

While The Best American series has an illustrious history, 2015 marks the debut for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy. Wanting to start off on the right foot, the series brought in one of the hottest editors in the game: John Joseph Adams.

As editor for the Hugo award-winning prozine Lightspeed Magazine (as well as Nightmare Magazine and a number of other publications) John Joseph Adams has consistently proven himself to have his finger on the pulse of the genre; The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy is no exception. With the help of Guest Editor Joe Hill, John Joseph Adams has compiled an exemplary list of the year’s best short fiction.

In the foreward, Adams quickly discusses the criteria he and Hill used in choosing stories. Under ideal circumstances, this would have eliminated the possibility of selection bias, but with 24% of the stories in The BASFF coming from a magazine or anthology originally edited by JJA himself, I’m not so sure the process succeeded. Perhaps this is inevitable considering the consistently high quality of story put out by Lightspeed, Nightmare, and all the other publications JJA has had his fingers in over the past year.

What does this mean for the reader? If you enjoy JJA’s other edited works, then you’re guaranteed to love The BASFF. If not… well then this might be a bit of a slog.

Alright, enough about that. Let’s talk about the 10 Science Fiction and 10 Fantasy short stories that actually made the cut.

“How to Get Back to the Forest”
Sofia Samatar
FROM Lightspeed Magazine

Sofia Samatar was the only author to sneak two stories into collection. Her first story, “How to Get Back to the Forest”, kicks off the anthology with a story reminiscent of Margarat Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The prose is solid, but it’s the worldbuilding (the majority of which is left untold) that really drags the reader in. Samatar leaves many unanswered questions, which, in the end, made me feel as though I was standing at the perimeter of a Police crime scene trying to puzzle all the pieces together.

“Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead”
Carmen Maria Machado
FROM Help Fund My Robot Army!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects

Machado definitely wins style points for the creative tools she uses to tell this story. Framed within the context of a sister using a Kickstarter’esque site to fund her trip to the Land of the Dead, this story has a lot going for it (strong prose, unique idea). Unfortunately, what it lacks is an overarching narrative that makes much sense.

“Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable”
Cat Rambo
FROM Clarkesworld Magazine

Rambo explores the idea of individuality, all the myriad factors contributing to our unique personalities, and how our memories of a person, no matter how complete, can never be perfectly replicated in a surrogate. The story reminded me of the episode of Black Mirror, “Be Right Back”, which explores a similar theme.

“The Bad Graft”
Karen Russell
FROM The New Yorker

Reminiscent of Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, this story gave me chills. Russell masterfully ratchets up the tension with a slow build throughout “The Bad Graft”. It felt like being forced to watch a train-wreck in slow motion. Bonus points for telling an entirely weird story, by the way.

“A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i”
Alaya Dawn Johnson
FROM The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction

I don’t like vampire stories. There I said it. Now, to completely contradict myself, I liked this story. Kind of a lot, in fact. Alaya Dawn Johnson creates an intriguing world that feels much larger and robust than she lets on. Humans are used for food and services in the vampire equivalent of a health resort. Not a terribly original concept, but expertly executed. Johnson digs deep into the thought processes leading a victim to sympathize (and eventually love) their captor.

“Each to Each”
Seanan McGuire
FROM Lightspeed Magazine: Women Destroy Science Fiction!

This story can be distilled into one word: Mermaid-Soldiers (you can make anything one word with enough hyphens, right?). Let’s quick do some simple math: Take how much I dislike vampire stories and double it. Now apply it to mermaid stories. That’s a lot of dislike, huh? Okay, so on paper, I should hate this story, right? Wrong. Absolutely wrong. McGuire pens an intense story about what it means to be a woman in the military, isolation, and embracing the unknown. Amazing.

“Ogres of East Africa”
Sofia Samatar
FROM Long Hidden

Samatar is back with her second entry into The BASFF. Written alternatively as excerpts from an Ogre Encyclopedia, intermixed with journal entry from an intrepid young explorer, “Ogres of East Africa” implies an enormous world with endless possibility. The sections pulled from the Ogre Encylopedia are informative and entertaining. Unfortunately, the journal entries (which were, ya know, the part actually telling a story) weren’t nearly so engaging. Perhaps this was a case of trying to do too much with too little space.

“Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology”
Theodora Goss
FROM Lightspeed Magazine

Imaginary worlds brought to life by means of what I’ll dub technological magic, and studied by Anthropologists. An interesting jumping off point which Goss runs with. Weaving a compelling narrative alongside some complex character development. This one makes for a fun intellectual exercise.

“Sleeper”
Jo Walton
FROM Tor.com

Another world within worlds, exploration of personality, motive, and all that jazz. This is one of those stories I’d really like to see fleshed out into something longer. There’s a lot of room for “Sleeper” to grow, but Walton does a fantastic job sticking to the story she set out to tell. Simple prose, complicated ideas, huge world. Great potential.

“How the Marquis Got his Coat Back”
Neil Gaiman
FROM Rogues

If you read Gaiman’s debut novel, Neverwhere, and left wanting more, then this is for you. Gaiman’s first foray back into the world of Neverwhere in nearly 20 years. We get an interesting look into one of the world’s most enigmatic character, the Marquis de Carabas. Unfortunately, while there is a certain amount of character development, this story effectively boils down to a good old fashioned check off all the side-quests type adventure. Not Gaiman’s best work, and possibly not a worthy addition to The BASFF, if not for the value of Gaiman’s name on the cover.

“Windows”
Susan Palwick
FROM Asimov’s Science Fiction

The prose is beautiful and character introspection deep, but this is only science fiction in the absolute loosest definition of the term.

“The Thing About Shapes to Come”
Adam-Troy Castro
FROM Lightspeed Magazine

I like awarding bonus points for creativity and weirdness, but this tale might have been too weird for even my tastes. Imagine a world where humans inexplicably start giving birth to…shapes. Not babies per se, for they lack faces, appendages, or anything suggesting they are more than inanimate chunks of cube and sphere shaped flesh. And then, for equally mysterious reasons, it stops, and humans return to having normal babies. Yeah, like I said, weird.

“We Are the Cloud”
Sam J. Miller
FROM Lightspeed Magazine

One of my personal favorites in the entire collection. Filled with the type of fantastically simple prose that lets you sink deep into a robust world, complex character relationships, and a heartbreaking story about what it means to be alone in the digital age.

“The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever”
Daniel H. Wilson
FROM Carbide-Tipped Pens

Coming in hot on the heels of “We Are The Cloud”, Wilson manages to tell what I believe is the best story in The BASFF. A brilliant scientist with obvious social issues tries to raise his daughter after his wife, having had enough of his emotional unavailability, leaves. This is a great look into the mind of a person trying so hard to connect that you can’t help but root for him even as a slew of rogue black holes rip through the solar system. (Yeah, you totally read that right. Rogue black holes. So good.)

“Skullpocket”
Nathan Ballingrud
FROM Nightmare Carnival

“Skullpocket” has so much history the reader needs to understand before they can fully immerse themselves in this peculiar world that I wonder if perhaps a short story was the wrong medium. Grow this into a novel length piece and it’d be an amazing bit of world-building. As is, it felt cramped. A shame considering the story itself is very good, the writing doubly so.

“I Can See Right Through You”
Kelly Link
FROM McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern

A lot of time spent developing a character that simply isn’t very interesting or sympathetic. The prose is solid, but the twist at the end left me scratching my head and squinting up at the ceiling trying to figure out if I just “missed” the point.

“The Empties”
Jess Row
FROM The New Yorker

World more or less ends for mysterious reasons. Character sits around contemplating it all. One of the longer stories in The BASFF. Unfortunately, it’s also the one where the least amount of stuff actually happens.

“The One They Took Before”
Kelly Sandoval
FROM Shimmer Magazine

I think this was a story about Fairies, but I’m not entirely sure. The prose was solid, the world-building had potential, but the narrative was muddled. I spent a large portion of “The One They Took Before” in a state of confusion. That could be a reflection of me and not the story, however.

“The Relive Box”
T.C. Boyle
FROM The New Yorker

Another story that shared many similarities with an episode from the television show Black Mirror. An expansive character analysis studying the effects of a memory box that allows the user to relive experiences from their past. As one would expect, living in the past does not bode well for the future. Boyle tells a compelling, and at times heart-breaking, story. The ending, unfortunately, didn’t deliver the same emotional punch as what preceded it. Still a solid story overall.

“How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps”
A. Merc Rustad
FROM Scigentasy

Here I am awarding creativity/weird points again. “How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps” is an improbably successful story about what it means to be human (or not human). I had mixed feelings going into this one, but Rustad impressed in the end. Well written, engaging, and creative.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 ultimately brings together an impressive collection of authors exploring a wide range of characters, ideas, and worlds. If you’re a fan of John Joseph Adams and his tendency to lean towards unique, character driven stories, then you’ll certainly enjoy The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015.

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About Anthony Vicino (12 Articles)
Anthony Vicino has erected a word-fortress in the cyber-slum over at OneLazyRobotBlog.com where he writes about anything and everything SFF related. Stop over and see what he's scribbling on the wall.

1 Comment on THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY 2015 is an Exemplary Collection of the Year’s Best Short Fiction

  1. Oh Righty Then // October 8, 2015 at 6:37 am //

    I think it should be called
    DIVERSE AMERICAN SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY of the year.
    And probably drop the American as well.
    It’s a New Era and imagine how hurtful it is to all those who were not selected.

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