The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Twelve (2018) Edited by Jonathan Strahan

 

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Background

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. Continue reading

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Good Omens (1990) by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

“Anyway, if you stop tellin’ people it’s all sorted out after they’re dead, they might try sorting it all out while they’re alive. ”

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Cover Artwork by Graham Ward

“She was beautiful, but she was beautiful in the way a forest fire was beautiful: something to be admired from a distance, not up close.”


 

Wow! Is this book already almost thirty years old? I remember buying the first paperback edition back in the days of Gaiman’s Sandman comic book series. In fact, the author used the Sandman’s letters page to announce Good Omens’ release. I remember that, too. So, this is what getting old feels like.

Good Omens is a black-comedy about Armageddon set at the end of the 1980s. Its main characters are an angel, a demon, a witch, a witch-finder, the antichrist and his friends. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse also feature. It was written by Neil Gaiman, (Sandman, American Gods, Coraline, The Graveyard Book) and Terry Pratchett, (The Discworld series). Continue reading

January is “Vintage Science Fiction Month”

This is a yearly reading event held by the Little Red Reviewer, which she started in 2012. She also stresses this is “Not-a-Challenge!” Basically, it’s a chance to read some of the many older science fiction works that are out there. Then write or comment about them on the web. It’s also a great chance to interact with fellow bloggers and science fiction and fantasy readers.

Here’s the Little Red Reviewer:

“My definition of Vintage is anything before 1979, and my definition of Scifi is pretty loose: scifi, sci-fantasy, sword and sorcery, robots, magical swords, near future, far future, pulp scifi adventure, satire, War of the Worlds, Jules Verne, Mary Shelley. . .”

Continue reading

Age of Assassins (2017) by R.J. Barker

He turned, swinging his club. Fifteenth Iteration: the Oar. Bending at the hip and bringing my body down and round so it went under his swing. At the lowest point I punched forward, landing a solid blow between his legs. He screeched, dropping his weapon and doubling over.

Girton Club-Foot is a young apprentice-assassin. He and his master Merala are given a mission to discover the person or persons behind a rumored threat to the throne. The target of this threat is young Prince Aydor, a boy of similar age to Girton. To catch the would-be royal assassin, Girton must go undercover as a squire-in-training, keeping his fighting skills hidden from the other trainees.

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Daily life in the medieval court proves almost as challenging as his hunt for the assassin. Girton needs a friend if he is to fit in but up until now his unique apprenticeship has limited his social life. He is not like other boys of the same age, yet he must convince everyone he is. The deeper Girton digs in his investigations, the greater the risk he appears to be putting himself in. Continue reading

Witchmark (2018) by C.L. Polk

‘Magic was rare, a dangerous curse. It brought no one good fortune.’

This debut novel by C.L Polk introduces us to Miles Singer, a gifted surgeon lately returned home from a WWI-like war. Miles lives in Aeland, currently at war with the kingdom of Laneer. His ‘gift’ is the ability to wield magic, specifically to help with his healing work. The problem is he must keep this a secret or risk personal disgrace and the threat of being locked up in an asylum.

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Polk builds a fascinating world to set her story in. Refraining from dumping huge blocks of exposition, she instead reveals the details of Miles’ world piece by intriguing piece. There are echoes of Edwardian England with its class divisions, manners, and fashion. Instead of electricity they have something called ‘aether’ which is a kind of magical element. Technology is limited, and there are some wonderful descriptions of the way people ride bicycles in the city, in groups almost like flocks of birds. Continue reading

The New Voices of Fantasy (2017) Ed. by Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman

‘The New Voices of Fantasy collects the work of nineteen authors of fantasy that Peter S. Beagle and I firmly believe will soon be much better known. […] All of the stories in this book are recent, published after 2010.’ – Jacob Weisman from his Introduction.

 

Short-story collections can often be a mixed bag of good stories as well as not so good ones. After reading The New Voices of Fantasy, I can say that every story in here is worth reading if you have an interest in fantasy or modern fairy tales. Peter S. Beagle is an author I really admire, so seeing his name attached as one of the editors drew me to this volume. I’ve highlighted the stories that stood out the most for me and would love to hear which stories you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy.

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Continue reading

A Different Kingdom (1993) by Paul Kearney

After enjoying Paul Kearney’s 2016 Oxford-based tale ‘The Wolf in the Attic’, I sought out this earlier work by him. ‘A Different Kingdom’ was first published in 1993, and republished by Solaris in 2014. It tells the story of Michael, a young boy growing up on a rural farm in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. In the woods near the farm, Michael begins to witness things he can’t explain. Are there strange creatures living in the woods, or does Michael just have an overactive imagination?

‘It is a last breathing space, a final look around at the soon-to-be-felled woods, the rush-choked bottom meadows, the fields with the wild flowers that have seeded for a thousand years and which knew the feet of the Druids.’ (Loc 118)

 

This is a fairly dark fairy tale which includes some of the standard tropes found in many fantasy stories: a young “hero” sets out on a quest to find a lost family member, he travels through a strange land, and is both helped and hindered by the characters he meets on his journey. He must stay ahead of the dark forces pursuing him, leading to a final confrontation with the “villain” of the book. What separates ‘A Different Kingdom’ from other, similar stories is Paul Kearney’s writing.

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