The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016
Rich Horton, ed.
Trade Paper $19.95
This is the, what, fourth? year’s best science fiction and/or fantasy anthology I’ve looked at this year. Fifth if you include the Datlow best horror anthology. I’ve still got a couple more to go if I finish this project. (The others were the Clarke, Strahan, and Afshararian volumes.)
I’m starting to see the drawbacks of trying to read all the year’s best anthologies. The further I go in this project, the more duplicates show up. The result is that, for this year’s selections at least, there are fewer new stories I like with each of these anthologies I read.
Horton talks in his introduction about his preference for good writing. There’s nothing wrong with that. I like a well-written story, one in which the prose enhances the tale. Unfortunately, for me at least, my preferences diverge from Mr. Horton’s in this area. All the beautiful words strung together in pleasing arrangements aren’t by themselves enough. In a story something has to actually happen. Prose pyrotechnics alone are not enough.
There were four stories in this book I didn’t finish. I normally try to read an entire book if I’m going to review it. I decided to make some exceptions here. The first time I stopped reading was about two, two and a half pages in; I wasn’t in the mood to wade through that much gratuitous profanity that particular evening. The next three were, in my opinion, overwritten and/or deadly dull. There comes a point, different for every reader, where the author isn’t so much telling a story as showing off.
Of the ones I did finish, one or two really didn’t have much in the way of fantastic elements. What was there was more window dressing than anything else. At least in my opinion. The rest didn’t really do much for me one way or the other.
Please don’t think I’m saying that a well-written, highly literary story has to be dull. That’s not true at all. Case in point, “The Two Paupers” by C. S. E. Cooney. This is by far the best story in the book, and I’m including the stories that were duplicates from the other anthologies. This is a story about a man touched by faerie (although called something else) who is under a compulsion to create statues which end up coming to life if he doesn’t destroy them first. The woman in the next flat steals his most recent creation. She should have wondered a little more about why he’s destroying them. The love story between them was great. Cooney eschews the standard tropes of two hearts beating as one and instead gives us two people who care very deeply for each other but for reasons of their own don’t dare let the other know how they feel. “The Two Paupers” is part of a larger series, and I bought two more of Cooney’s books when I finished. Cooney’s work blended literary style with credible characters to tell a compelling story. Of course, she lists Gene Wolfe as a mentor, so this shouldn’t surprise anyone.
So, to sum up, of the year’s best anthologies I’ve read this year, this one was the one I found fewer stories to like. I don’t know if reading it sooner would have changed that. It’s still a solid look at what’s going on in the field. Depending on how closely your tastes align with mine, you might want to give it a try.