The Best SF&F Volume Twelve contains 29 short stories of genre fiction selected by Jonathan Strahan. I was so impressed with last year’s Volume Eleven that I didn’t hesitate to buy this new Volume Twelve when it was released in March 2018. It is another high-quality collection in which every story deserves to be read. Authors include Charlie Jane Anders, Samuel R. Delany, Greg Egan, Dave Hutchinson, Caitlin R Kiernan, Yoon Ha Lee, Max Gladstone, Alastair Reynolds, and many more.
In his introduction, Strahan offers some of his highlights of the year including the resurgence of “the novella,” which suggests that readers are keen to read more short fiction. Strahan recommends Tor.com for the regular “free” short stories it provides. He also comments on the continuing quality of such monthly publications as Lightspeed, Asimov’s, Interzone, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies and more.
29 stories are a lot to get through and I admit that this volume took me a long time to complete. As with most short-story collections, some stories are more enjoyable than others. It should be remembered that my opinions are 100% subjective; a story I love may be your idea of a waste of valuable reading-time. So, I will offer my reasons why I enjoyed the stories I’ve highlighted below, as well as try to keep my summaries spoiler-free.
Highlights of the Collection
“Probably Still the Chosen One” by Kelly Barnhill
Corrina was only eleven when she found the portal to Nibiru. Its location under the kitchen sink never bothered her at the time. Now she is back home after a year of adventures and the High Priests have promised to return for her. A clever and funny portal fantasy which looks at what happens after “the chosen one” returns home. There’s a touching message about holding onto your dreams but not letting them control your life.
“My English Name” by R. S. Benedict
A creepy but very readable tale of a creature that wears a human skin. It must avoid physical contact with others for fear of being discovered. This is all very well until love enters the equation. There are some great observations on fitting in and standing out, especially within different cultures.
“Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance” by Tobias Buckell
The title of this story brought back memories of that Robert M. Pirsig book I never managed to finish when I was a teenager. It tells the tale of a starship maintenance robot and what it finds attached to the exterior of its ship after a battle. The story raises questions about responsibility, free will, and builds up to a wonderful twist at the end. I really enjoyed this one.
“Crispin’s Model” by Max Gladstone
Part-time artist’s model Deliah Dane lands a new job posing for eccentric artist Crispin. He has a number of conditions including the work not be viewed by the model, even after it is finished. Can Deliah resist the temptation to sneak a look? This is an imaginative take on Lovecraft’s classic horror short story “Pickman’s Model.” I enjoyed the characterization as well as the creeping sense of dread.
“Come See the Living Dryad” by Theodora Goss
Set in the Victorian era, this is a fascinating murder mystery revolving around a woman with a rare genetic disorder. It switches between timelines as the woman’s great-great granddaughter attempts to discover the truth about her ancestor. This atmospheric tale drew me deeply into its world.
“The Faerie Tree” by Kathleen Kayembe
A young girl takes a strong dislike to her sister’s new husband. When tragedy strikes, she risks the price of the faeries’ help. This story has a wonderful narrative voice and contains some frightening scenes.
“The Worshipful Society of Glovers” by Mary Robinette Kowal
In this dark fairy tale, young glove-making apprentice Vaughn is prepared to risk bargaining with a faerie to help his sick sister. I enjoyed the world-building as well as the characters and found this hard to put down. The central idea of stitching magic properties into gloves is adroitly realized by the author.
“Concessions” by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali
After the ‘Creed War’ has devastated the land, Bilqis–a doctor and expectant mother–has to make some hard choices for her future child. This is a dystopian tale with well fleshed-out characters and a nice narrative voice. Science versus magic is a major theme.
“Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim
Wow! A very memorable and moving story which is difficult to describe without giving too much away. It’s a tale of love, family, responsibility, and carnivals. I loved the world-building in here as well as the characters. The concept of time and what we make of what we’re given is handled beautifully by the author.
Full Contents List
1. “The Mocking Tower”, Daniel Abraham (The Book of Swords)
2. “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue”, Charlie Jane Anders (Boston Review)
3. “Probably Still the Chosen One”, Kelly Barnhill (Lightspeed)
4. “My English Name”, R. S. Benedict (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
5. “Zen and the Art of Starship Maintenance”, Tobias Buckell (Cosmic Powers)
6. “Though She Be But Little”, C.S.E. Cooney (Uncanny)
7. “The Moon is Not a Battlefield”, Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars)
8. The Hermit of Houston”, Samuel R. Delany (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
9. “The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine”, Greg Egan (Asimov’s Science Fiction)
10. “Crispin’s Model”, Max Gladstone (Tor.com)
11. “Come See the Living Dryad”, Theodora Goss (Tor.com)
12. “Bring Your Own Spoon”, Saad Z. Hossain (The Djinn Falls in Love)
13. “Babylon”, Dave Hutchison, 2084
14. “The Faerie Tree”, Kathleen Kayembe (Lightspeed)
15. “Fairy Tale of Wood Street”, Caitlin R Kiernan (Sirenia Digest)
16. “The Worshipful Society of Glovers”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny)
17. “An Evening with Severyn Grimes”, Rich Larson (Asimov’s Science Fiction)
18. “The Chameleon’s Gloves”, Yoon Ha Lee (Cosmic Powers)
19. “The Smoke of Gold is Glory”, Scott Lynch (The Book of Swords)
20. “Sidewalks”, Maureen McHugh (Omni)
21. “Concessions”, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Strange Horizons)
22. “The Martian Obelisk”, Linda Nagata (Tor.com)
23. “The Secret Life of Bots”, Suzanne Palmer (Clarkesworld)
24. “A Series of Steaks”, Vina Jie-Min Prasad (Clarkesworld)
25. “Belladonna Nights”, Alastair Reynolds (The Weight of Words)
26. “Eminence”, Karl Schroeder (Chasing Shadows)
27. “The Lamentation of their Women”, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com)
28. “Confessions of a Con Girl”, Nick Wolven (Asimov’s Science Fiction)
29. “Carnival Nine”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies)