The Long List Anthology: More Stories From the Hugo Award Nomination List by David Steffen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a breathtakingly good anthology, full of powerful stories that were definitely award-worthy.
"The Breath of War" by Aliette de Bodard is at the same time universal (the protagonist's concerns include family and personal risk) and particular. It raises the question of how our creations embody our own conflicts.
"When It Ends, He Catches Her" by Eugie Foster is that astonishing thing, a zombie story that I don't dislike, and it does something truly powerful and moving.
"Toad Words" by T. Kingfisher takes a fairytale trope and places it in a realistic context, to good effect.
"Makeisha in Time" by Rachael K. Jones addresses the suppression of women's stories via a girl who finds herself time travelling to other lives at random moments. Despite the detached present-tense narration and very little dialog, it manages to be moving.
"Covenant" by Elizabeth Bear is one of the best stories in an excellent volume, for me, with a serial killer who's had his brain repaired and his body changed to a female one confronting another serial killer, this time as the victim.
"The Truth About Owls" by Amal El-Mohtar is in a form I don't love, in which snippets of scientific fact are used to introduce each scene and have some tenuous connection to the fiction parts. It's otherwise well done.
"A Kiss With Teeth" by Max Gladstone I read in another anthology (The Best From Tor.com), and it was so good I read it again in this one. Even knowing how it turns out, the suspense and creeping horror are powerful.
"The Vaporization Enthalpy of A Peculiar Pakistani Family" by Usman T. Malik didn't completely work for me somehow. It's another science-fact-intro-snippet story, and the fiction part was a bit of a miss for me. A couple of homonym errors ("steppes" for "steps" and "leeched" for "leached") didn't help.
"This Chance Planet" by Elizabeth Bear is another excellent story (damn, that woman can write). Completely different from the other Bear story in this collection, but with the same emotional depth and insight into toxic relationships.
"Goodnight Stars" by Annie Bellet is post-apocalyptic (or maybe peri-apocalyptic), a genre which is not to my taste, but the author does a good job with it, making the story personal rather than epic.
"We Are The Cloud" by Sam J. Miller has the kind of broken-down-hopeless-existence setting that I usually avoid, but is well depicted and well imagined. The premise is that the rich are using the poor as nodes in a living server farm. I didn't feel the ending was as well prepared for as it could have been.
"The Magician and Laplace's Demon" combines SF and fantasy seamlessly, in a deadly fight between magicians and an AI.
"Spring Festival" by Xia Jia is a series of small vignettes drawing on Chinese cultural practices. Because it wasn't a single coherent story, it lost some impact for me, but it was interesting. The translator, Ken Liu, made a few copy editing errors along the way, including a comma splice.
"The Husband Stitch" by Carmen Maria Machado is a magical-realist story that, like many such stories, ultimately didn't make a lot of sense to me, though it's well-written.
"The Bonedrake's Penance" by Yoon Ha Lee is a tale of motherhood, independence, redemption and how difficult it is to create peace.
"The Devil in America" by Kai Ashante Wilson was another I'd read before in the Tor.com collection. This one I didn't reread, because I found it too harrowing the first time. It's very good; I just didn't want to repeat the intensity of the experience.
"The Litany of Earth" by Ruthanna Emrys is another from Tor.com, and this one I read again. It's always refreshing to see the Cthulhu Mythos treated in a way that doesn't require overwrought prose, and really this story uses the Mythos as a background to explore themes of oppression and collaboration.
"A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai'i" by Alaya Dawn Johnson is also about oppression and collaboration, but this time it's the vampire apocalypse. Pulls off the difficult feat of creating a sympathetic character who never actually does the right thing.
"A Year and a Day in Old Theradane" by Scott Lynch is his usual delightful combination of fantastical sword-and-sorcery with a clever heist. The setting is wonderfully strange.
"The Regular" by Ken Liu is a mystery story with spec-fic elements, the central one of which is highly unlikely if you think about it much (for reasons of data storage capacity). However, if you don't think too hard about that, the story is a good one.
"Grand Jete (The Great Leap)" by Rachel Swirsky is a beautifully rendered story of a dying young girl being translated into an android body, and all the conflicts that surround such a process, with an extra layer of immigrant Jewish culture for flavour. Like several of the other stories, it uses an art form (in this case dance) as a way to intensify the emotion of the narrative.
Overall, an encouraging collection, showing that SFF is far from finished exploring strange new worlds in innovative ways while telling powerful human stories.
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