The second volume of Prime Books’ annual anthology series collecting some of the year’s best novella-length science fiction and fantasy. Novellas, longer than short stories but shorter than novels, are a rich rewarding literary form that can fully explore tomorrow’s technology, the far reaches of the future, thought-provoking imaginings, fantastic worlds, and entertaining concepts with all the impact of a short story as well as the detailed depth of a novel. Gathering a wide variety of excellent science fiction and fantasy, this anthology of “short novels” showcases the talents of both established masters and new writers.
I love the novella format. It's long enough to fit a proper story, yet so short that there's no time to dilly-dally - everything comes out concentrated and punchy. Thus, I read a lot of them. This anthology contains a few I had read previously: Nnedi Okorafor's Binti, which is excellent, and feels like an episode of the kind of new Star Trek show I desperately want. K.J. Parker's The last witness, a kind of whodunnit, though it is fantasy, with a scathing narrator and a world you fortunately can spend more time in by seeking out the author's other novellas. Both of these are great examples of why I have huge faith in everything published by tor.com.
Then there were the novellas that were new to me. I'll just mention a few of them:
Aliette de Bodard's The citadel of weeping pearls is the first piece of science fiction I've read from this author, and it's beautiful. Very immersive - but because I feel like it doesn't have quite enough of a plot skeleton under all the velvety detail, it wasn't my favourite in the anthology.
I had been planning to read Usman Malik's The pauper prince and the eucalyptus jinn for a long time, and now finally did. In a way, having read it, this feels like it must have been a several hundred page long epic - a dense family story that takes you back and forth between dusty Lahore and Florida, from dust and chai to quiet university halls.
Carter Scholz's Gypsy begins like this:
The launch of Earth’s first starship went unremarked. The crew gave no interviews. No camera broadcast the hard light pulsing from its tail. To the plain eye, it might have been a common airplane.
...And that is how to hook me as a reader, apparently. The story is dreary and immensely sad - and beautiful - bringing to mind a plethora of lonely spaceship scenes from various films. After reading this, I immediately went off hunting for more Carter Scholz.
My favourite story in the anthology is Bao Shu's What has passed shall in kinder light appear (translated by Ken Liu). The basic premise is strangely simple - it turns the modern timeline around, telling a story of human culture where someone grows up with smartphones and grows old with rapidly deteriorating levels of technology. Add in cultural and political events, Chinese ones, and it still doesn't sound that clever, but then add the magical narration, and there it is. That's the sound of story clicking with this reader. (Soon I have to pick up Ken Liu's books to put to rest my suspicion that it's his voice that captures me when he translates Chinese fiction.)
Anyway, The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas 2016 is an anthology worth every penny, especially if you haven't read the tor.com published bits of it. (And if you have - you likely really want to read the rest of this...!)