The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eleven (2017) by Jonathan Strahan (Editor)

As the unreality readings spike, the ghost by her side becomes sharper and sharper,
– “A Salvaging of Ghosts” by Aliette de Bodard, (Loc 2088)

 

Jonathan Strahan’s latest collection of the best science fiction and fantasy stories of the year features 28 short stories from 2016. His selected stories include works of hard sci-fi, space opera, dystopia, alternate history, future noir, cyberpunk, steampunk, fantasy, grimdark, and reimagined fairy tales. Such a wide range of short stories makes this an ideal collection for readers who are looking for variety in their speculative fiction. And the talent on display is quite staggering.

Volume Eleven includes two Nebula Award-nominated short stories: “Things with Beards” by Sam J. Miller, and “Seasons of Glass and Iron” by Amal El-Mohtar. It also contains the Nebula Award-nominated novelette: “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” by Alyssa Wong. The remaining 25 stories are by Catherynne M. Valente, Naomi Novik, Paolo Bacigalupi, Joe Abercrombie, Rich Larson, Aliette de Bodard, Daryl Gregory, Alex Irvine, Alice Sola Kim, Seth Dickinson, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Delia Sherman, Genevieve Valentine, Geoff Ryman, Nina Allan, Caitlin R. Kiernan, N.K. Jemisin, Theodora Goss, Lavie Tidhar, Yoon Ha Lee, Paul McAuley, E. Lily Yu, Ken Liu, Ian R. MacLeod, and Charles Yu.

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In his introduction, Strahan writes about some of 2016’s SF&F short story trends including the “reaction to climate change,” “the novella boom,” as well as more exposure for “writers from Asian and African nations”. It was nice to see the editor including stories by some of these writers whose names and works I am now familiar with. This has led to a more diverse and entertaining reading experience for me, and gives us some idea of just how much quality there is out there. Continue reading

Europe at Midnight (2015) by Dave Hutchinson

“I still wasn’t sure whether England was in Europe or not; I had the impression that the English would have quite liked to be in Europe so long as they were running it, but weren’t particularly bothered otherwise.” (Loc 4053)

 

51lf7hhe8gl-_sx321_bo1204203200_This is the second book in the Fractured Europe series. The first book, Europe in Autumn, is a terrific read. I was led to it by blogger friends; one of the great things about the book blogosphere. It reads like a cold war spy thriller set in a near-future Europe filled with weapons that could’ve dropped out of a William Gibson Sprawl story. It’s also a very smart book that is peppered with moments of dry humor as well as containing some wonderful descriptions of food.

Europe at Midnight is not a direct sequel to Autumn; it can be read as a standalone story. But if you have read the first Europe book, Midnight will expand your understanding of it. It will also provide background to some of the events and places mentioned in Autumn. This was a bold move by Hutchinson, as he could easily have written a second book that picked up where the first one left off, continuing the adventures of Rudi the chef. Instead, he has opted for originality by broadening his fragmented Europe universe and bringing in new characters. Continue reading

Dark Night: A True Batman Story (2010) by Paul Dini & Eduardo Risso

“I guess I should tell you right now, this is not the kind of story I’m known for: fantasy, action, comedy – though I guess it includes little bits of all of them. Mainly the story is about him. Batman. Or if not about him, he’s a key player in the action.” (p.2)

 

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This is not a traditional Batman story, but it is a story about Batman. In fact, Batman is one of the characters although he doesn’t fight crime in here. Dark Night: A True Batman Story is a very personal story about Paul Dini, an American writer and producer who is probably most famous for his work on Batman: The Animated Series. He also co-created the character Harley Quinn with artist Bruce Timm.

It is an autobiographical tale focusing on the period in Dini’s life when he was working for Warner Bros. Animation in the 1990s. Walking home one night after a dinner date, he was mugged and violently beaten. It was a harrowing experience for Dini, one which left him with both physical and mental scars. This story can be interpreted as a way of exorcising some of the demons the mugging left him with. Continue reading

Batman: Night of the Monster Men (2017)

“Mother of — Those things’ll kill us! Get out of my way!” (p.47)

 

Co-written by Steve Orlando, Tom King, Tim Seeley, James Tynion IV. Art by Riley Rossmo, Roge Antonio, Andy MacDonald.

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Graphic Novel Cover by Riley Rossmo

The first crossover storyline from the DC Rebirth titles ‘Batman’, ‘Detective Comics’, and ‘Nightwing’. A massive storm approaches Gotham City, prompting Batman and his newly-formed team to evacuate some of its citizens. At the same time, something is stirring in the city’s morgue, something strange …

This is a Batman Rebirth tale for Halloween. It has huge, sumptuously-designed monsters running amok in Gotham City. Batman, needing all the help he can get, joins forces with a team of heroes including Batwoman, Nightwing, Duke Thomas, Gotham Girl, Spoiler, Orphan, and a reformed(?) Clayface. It is an interesting crew of characters carried over from the recent Detective Comics Rebirth storyline: ‘Rise of the Batmen’.

As the Bat-team pits their fighting skills and wits against the mutant monsters, Gotham’s citizens become increasingly aggressive in their evacuation site. Could this have anything to do with a briefly-glimpsed villain from Batman’s past? Or is it something from the storm that is affecting them? Continue reading

The Wolf in the Attic (2016) by Paul Kearney

“Above the silent rooms on the third floor there is an attic. I know this because I have stood outside and studied the house, the way you study a person’s face to tell if they are telling the truth or a lie.” (Loc 696)

 

the-wolf-in-the-attic-9781781083628_hrNorthern Irish writer Paul Kearney has written a number of novels beginning with A Different Kingdom in 1993. He went on to write The Monarchies of God series (1995-2002), and The Macht trilogy (2008-2012), which are both rated highly on book review sites and blogs. The Wolf in the Attic was released in May, 2016.

England, 1929. Anna Francis, a 12-year-old refugee from Greece, lives with her father in a big, old house in Oxford. She is taught by a home tutor and confides in her doll Penelope. After witnessing a shocking event in the fields near her house, she becomes mixed up in a strange adventure involving her father, a couple of well-meaning Oxford professors, the Romany, and a mysterious group known only as “the Roadmen”. Continue reading

The Sheriff of Babylon (2016) by Tom King and Mitch Gerads

“You hear?! Do you hear!?! We’re all cowboys! Pow! Pow! Pow!” (Vol. 2: p.41)

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Volume 1: Bang. Bang. Bang.

Baghdad 2003. Chris Henry, a military consultant from Florida, is training a new police force. When one of his trainees is found murdered, Henry teams up with experienced local policeman Nassir, and their investigation begins.

This is a brutal, powerful and emotional look at the early effects of the War on Terror in Iraq. Writer Tom King is ex CIA and has spent time in the country. He writes of what he knows. You can feel his experience coming across in the writing.

There is a gritty realism to a lot of the scenes and dialogue, and this is backed up by the artwork. It has a cinematic look to it, from the covers to the interiors. At times the artwork is shocking in its graphic detail. The reader is exposed to the blood and guts of violence, ranging from gunshot wounds to brutal beatings. This is not for the squeamish. Continue reading

The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories (2017) Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud.  And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
(Quran 15:26-27)

Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:

“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind.  The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.”
(Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)

the-djinn-falls-in-loveIn The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.

And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me. Continue reading