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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. II , edited by Jonathan Strahan Book Review | SFReader.com
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. II , edited by Jonathan Strahan Genre: Mixed Genre Anthology Publisher: Night Shade Books Published: 2008 Review Posted: 2/3/2009 Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: Not Rated
The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. II , edited by Jonathan Strahan
Book Review by Billy Goodkind
Have you read this book?
There is a difference between skilled writing and good storytelling. Skilled writing uses evocative metaphors and creates fully rounded, three-dimensional characters. Good storytelling keeps you turning pages. The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Vol. II is the perfect illustration of this difference. Some stories are captivating, while others are simply well-written.
Thankfully, the anthology's opening story is The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate by Ted Chiang, which is both skilfully written and well-told. Broken into three smaller stories, framed in one meta-narrative, the story's takes the idea of time travel through a wormhole and places it in a fantasy setting. Chiang's narrator discovers that an alchemist in his city has constructed a wormhole that allows travel twenty years into the future. After hearing the story of three others who used the gate to various effect, the narrator decides to journey into the past to try and prevent the death of the only woman he ever loved. In Chiang's universe, both the future and past are immutable, and he plays with this quite cunningly. The resolution is perfect to the story and quite poignant.
Unfortunately, the very next story is The Last and Only, or Mr. Moskowitz Becomes French by Peter S. Beagle. Written by the author of the cherished classic, The Last Unicorn, this story is not only not particularly good storytelling, but also not even speculative. The titular character, Mr. Moskowitz, has a medical condition that makes him believe that he is becoming French. This is a take-off on the old-psyche-ward-patient-believes-he's-Napoleon disorder which is much beloved by screen writers everywhere. But if it's speculative then it's only by the slimmest of threads, and therefore shouldn't be in the book.
The same argument could be made of Dead Horse Point by Daryl Gregory. One of the characters has a medical condition similar to "Locked-in Syndrome", except that this character comes and in out of consciousness with less and less frequency. Again, the story is skilfully written and evocative, but you really have to bend the definition to call it speculative.
Other stories like Last Contact by Stephen Baxter and Kiosk by Bruce Sterling are speculative, but certainly not worth the cover price. Out of the lesser stories, By Fools Like Me by Nancy Kress deserves special mention. I've been a fan of Kress since I read "Trinity" in Gardner Dozois' Best of the Best anthology, but this piece was a disappointment. Not only is the central premise--that after humanity's apocalyptic fall, books are regarded as "sinful"--a cliché, but it illustrates a kind of failure to adapt to the times. The central repository of technology these days--and even more so in the future--are computers and the internet, not books. Today, books as we know them are being digitized for reading on Kindles and even cell phones. The paper book has lost a lot of its symbolic power, so writing a story about a future where it's believed that they've caused the Fall of Man is not only a cliché, but a poorly thought out cliché.
The anthology does have its high points. The Coat of Stars by Holly Black is a brilliantly retold fairly tale based an older tale collected by the Brothers Grimm. A TV costume designer returns to his old hometown plagued by demons from his past. He has been scarred by the suicide of his lover when he was sixteen, and when he finds out that the body in the bathtub was a simulacrum and his lover has instead been kidnapped by the Fairy Queen, he decides to weave a coat of stars to get him back. The characters are brilliantly painted and the setting immaculate. Definitely a must-read.
The Dreaming Wind by Jeffrey Ford, Holiday by M. Rickert, and Wizard's Six by Alex Irvine could all be thought of as high water marks in speculative fiction this year. Excellently written and gripping.
The final piece in the anthology is The Constable of Able by Kelly Link, which is also one of the finest. A mother and daughter who can capture ghosts in strings of ribbon live in luxury until one day Zilla, the mother, decides to give it all up and live as a maid in a postage-stamp sized town in the middle of nowhere. The story centres on the relationship between Ozma, the daughter, Zilla, and the Constable of Able, a ghost kept in Ozma's pocket. Zilla has a secret she doesn't know she keeps, and the house where they work is rich with ancient magic. The setting is unique and well drawn, and the characters fully realized. A highpoint in an anthology that is very off and on.
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