Review: Apex #106

Apex #106, March 2018

  • “Irregularity” by Rachel Harrison (science fiction novelette~)
  • “We Are New(s)” by Bentley A. Reese (science fiction short story)
  • “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places” by Cassandra Khaw (fantasy short story)

Again I have to apologize for not making this review shorter, which is especially ironic with this issue where the shorter, the better.

In the recent past of “Irregularity,” aliens have invaded the system and been repulsed, Because “it was decided that computers on their own couldn’t keep humanity safe,” space stations have been manned by a crew of two who work seven days a week, twelve hours a day, jacked into a machine, monitoring the stars. The protagonist spends a lot of time thinking about his estranged girlfriend, suffers a blast of what he thinks is feedback, starts bleeding and going crazy, and things only get worse for the brief remainder of the story.

Long review, short: The actual “I’m a lonely person having a miserable time here in this terrible place doing this awful job” is apparently the main intent and is effectively conveyed. It’s just that, to me, the structure it rests on is unbelievable and the person going through it is unappealing.

Long: This “novelette” (labeled “7500 words” and in the adjustment range, though I get 7440 words) initially made me think of, and is very much like, one of George R. R. Martin’s less successful early stories, “The Second Kind of Loneliness” though it later made me think of the less appealing parts of Moon but, really, is like any number of “madness on a space station” stories. The reason it made me think of “Loneliness” goes beyond that to its implausibly contrived nature. Rather than reprogram our AIs we make humans do work AIs are much better suited for? Work of 84 hour weeks? Giving top security clearance to the deceitful protagonist who was washed out of pilot training for his lies? Giving the crew the power to impair and shut down the system’s defenses? The narrative contains some attempted explanations, one quoted in the synopsis and another which mentions that it’s cheap (which is why we don’t spend billions on defense) but they don’t work for me. Other than deceitfulness, self-pity, living in the past, and having a “pliable” brain (which is enough to make him unappealing) the protagonist isn’t characterized much but more than his girlfriend who is nothing but a rich, entitled cypher, while his coworker is just a name. Speaking of names, his is Nyle Crane. Not everyone knows Frasier, perhaps especially not those in the UK, but a large percentage of readers will be unable to get “Niles Crane” out of their heads. Also, its written in an obtrusive present tense for no discernible reason which (along with the close third-person) makes the ending (which would be dissatisfying under any circumstances) even more problematic. Those are some of the things that bothered me but may not bother you. If not and you are one of many who enjoy dark, paranoid, space station stories, you may enjoy this.

Of the two quite short pieces, the SF one, “We Are New(s),” is “A Clockwork Orange: 2092” when London comes a-walkin’ and 11,219 eyes observe a street boy and a “posh gurl” meeting. A thoroughly dystopian, misanthropic (or mis-something, anyway) piece about the media making us do it, about “interest.” A little long and a lot unappealing to me (and present tense, again) but effective enough. Very similar to, though scuzzier than, Rich Larson’s “Razzibot” in this month’s Analog. The fantasy, “A Priest of Vast and Distant Places,” completes the present tense trifecta, and puts a second-person cherry on top. That said, this is an odd tale in which you are a priest of the plane who, in psychic conversation with it, basically asks, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own home?” as a good sky pilot should. This is not plainly written, of course, but not overwritten, and is hardly sunny, but not terribly dark. A fairly interesting (if static) story that may have its fans.


Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up (2018-03-04)

Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up image

[Edit (2018-03-09): Okay, I’m updating this with the BCS stories (see end of post) Friday instead of “Wednesday or Thursday” but it is before the next Wrap-Up.]

BCS seems to be in a different timezone, producing yet another large “science fantasy” issue for the “science fantasy month” of February even though this came out on March 1st from my perspective [which still doesn’t explain anything as the first issue would have had to have come out on Jan.31, then]. It has three stories, including a short story, a novelette, and a longish novella. I was unable to get to those and need to try to cover some other things but I’ll get back to them and update this review, probably by Wednesday or Thursday and definitely before the next Wrap-Up, so check back soon if you’re interested. In the meantime, I’ll cover the other five stories of this week which, if you count BCS‘ science fantasy as SF, is remarkable for being all SF.

The very short stories include “WATCH: The Shocking Assassination of President Guy Fieri” which is another of Terraform‘s minor topical pieces about a “streaming” executive who deals with mystery algorithms while her fight for streaming ratings leads to rudderless shifting down to the lowest common denominator. “Lava Cake for the Apocalypse” is one of three stories of the five which deal with the humanity of earth being under threat or extinct. For the young year, this is at least the eighth of what I’ve suddenly started calling “listories” (stories written in list form, often proclaiming their listitude in their titles). This is another minor tale which has a New Worlder collecting ingredients for a recipe from Old Earth during a conflict between the two. Finally, “What Monsters Prowl Above the Waves” is one of those non-human first-person tales where strange things are taken for granted and normal things seem weird. In this, humanity is gone and a sea creature has made a gizmo which enables it to explore the surface where it makes an odd friend. I want to like this and it is likeable but the odd friend could only exist like that for a brief time after an apocalypse and this seems to be a long time after. Aside from that, neither critter behaves entirely believably. A nice idea, though.

Breakwater” is the third tale of humanity in peril and the second to deal with sea critters. This is a somewhat science fantasy-ish novelette of humanity polluting the sea until Things rise from the deep to smite us. We don’t know what they are but we fight each other with hydrosonic weapons and follow the protagonist scientist through a battle on a research facility she and her husband (killed in the war) built before the military took it over and weaponized it. The last two thirds are utterly predictable in general and are only surprising in detail because of the implausibility of some things. For instance, while the protagonist is fighting for survival, exhausted, and suffering from pneumonia, the story suddenly turns into a lesbian romance. If this had been a stream of consciousness narration you might have had something reasonable like “oh crap gonna die oh crap gonna die nice ass oh crap gonna die…” but to actually construct a narrative about seeing dead bodies here and there and trying to find an escape pod while a giant structure collapses on you and to spend a large chunk of it thinking about how hot the other woman is, hitting on each other, making dates, and so on, just seems ludicrous. This isn’t “must preserve the species” irrational non-verbal sex drive or fleeting instants of thought but an actual drawn out dating game. All that aside, it’s pretty crisply written and the action moves it along briskly so it’s not a bad read. Too reminiscent of the recent, much better story “Sweetlings” in some ways, though.

The Independence Patch” deals with a child who is one of those who are miscalled “Andys” but has actually been a cyborg since birth, with a brain and consciousness as much mechanical as biological. It does a really nice job of two difficult things at once: making this protagonist convincing as a cyborg and convincing as a teenage boy. Given that, it’s easy to be interested in the human angle and the technologically extrapolated angle. Since many people are already lobotomized without their phones, it’s a clearly relevant extrapolation but manages to feel substantial and to avoid any feeling of “trendiness.” There are only really a couple of problems with this: first, it lacks a hipbone-legbone plot that actually moves in a necessary way but is just a few scenes pasted into a scrapbook, though those scenes are important and work to convey the character; second, while the protagonist is nicely drawn, he doesn’t grow up so much as he counts down. Things happen to him and have their effects which change him but the focus is on his internal timer. Otherwise, the scenes which depict him dealing with teachers and their unwanted distaste or pity, finding and losing love, while impatiently awaiting his “independence patch,” which can free him from certain parental controls and privacy invasions (and what that actually means), is all a very enjoyable read with good voice, good phrasing, good insights, and I recommend it.

As an odd aside, since part of this cyborg’s internet connectivity mechanism manifests as silvery tendrils amidst his hair, I can’t help but think of A. E. van Vogt’s Slan, which is also about a young person coming to terms with his world, in which he has certain (in this case, mutant) advantages over “mostpeople” and certain disadvantages from being in a new minority. In those ways, this is an almost identical story. In virtually every other way of melodrama, scope, action, writing style, etc., this is almost completely different, for better and worse.

Edit (2018-03-09): here’s the BCS stuff:

BCS #246’s short story is “Gennesaret,” which is a broken-backed tale whose first part is about a minority figure struggling desperately to preserve her life, child, and culture from those who would assimilate and those forcing them to do so and whose second part shifts abruptly into an apparent satire of patronizing liberals. Both halves are naked and simplistic and add up to less than the sum of the parts. The novella is “The Emotionless, in Love,” which is a sequel to “Blood Grains Speak Through Memories.” I didn’t like the earlier tale of eco-fascist nanotech (“grains”) being used to keep humanity socially and technologically stagnant for, so far, thousands of years. This one deals with the same milieu and an even crazier and deadlier “anchor” (nanotech-driven human enforcer of the status quo), who is also broken to the point of disrupting that status quo, and the son of the previous story’s main character whose capacity for emotion was broken by his mother. Literally. It’s marginally better in ways, though worse in others. This one’s 28,000+ words are way too many and give us the joy of reading the words “grain” or “anchor” once for every forty-eight other words. It is full of simplistic psychology, unconvincing character interactions, and comic-book ultra-violence but at least the latter gives it a little pep. If you liked the last, you may like this; if not, not; if you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s safe to skip.

The most interesting story of the issue was “Do As I Do, Sing As I Sing,” which deals with “cropsingers” who go into months’ long magical trances singing to the crops, without which the plants won’t grow and the people will die. In Guerre’s village, the current cropsinger is ailing and visitors arrive to tell the villagers the replacement they were training hasn’t survived that process. Guerre is chosen as the next cropsinger, much to the outrage of her brother, Acco. Sometime after she goes off for training, he leaves for the big city and, almost immediately after her return as a successful cropsinger, he returns, with an invention to replace cropsingers. The remaining third of the story details this sibling rivalry.

The earlier part of the story which introduces Guerre and her situation is very well-written and interesting. While there is a latent problem or two, the first noticeable one is the lack of any sense of mortality in Guerre’s fairly cursorily covered training. Her predecessor died and one of the fellow trainees dies but there’s never any fear she will. Much more significantly, this is the second story in this issue with two parts strung together: seven-year-old Guerre’s childhood and training, and fourteen-year-old Guerre’s “maturity” and return. In that second half, the convenient plotting/timing rears its head and the story descends to stereotypical gender roles in which Acco is male, urban, scientific, transformative and almost evil while Guerre is female, rural, magical, traditional and supposedly good. This also raises some of the latent problems: while people can certainly behave like Acco, why he does so is under-motivated, reducing him to a prop. Further, it becomes obvious that he is fundamentally sadistic throughout but also that she is masochistic, which the story never addresses. On the plus side, there are some interesting subtleties, especially socially and holistically, in the critique of Acco’s science and Guerre perhaps muddies her virtuous waters in an arrogant and stealthily controlling way but, again, science is more a prop than something treated fairly and Guerre’s actions aren’t addressed as negative. The early strengths of this story are worth a recommendation but the whole is not. That said, many readers will have no problem with the characters and thematic issues (and may not agree with me on even the structural issues) and they will likely enjoy it.

And, now, because I can’t get it out of my head: a musical moment, because Guerre “never wanted to be no cropsinger; never wanted to write no cropsong.”

Review: Clarkesworld #138

Clarkesworld #138, March 2018

“Tool-Using Mimics” by Kij Johnson (2200 words)
“The Persistence of Blood” by Juliette Wade (mundane secondary world novella)
“Unplaces: An Atlas of Non-existence” by Izzy Wasserstein (science fantasy short story)
“The No-One Girl and the Flower of the Farther Shore” by E. Lily Yu (fantasy short story)

Number 138 is a very unusual issue of Clarkesworld, reading almost like there was a black hole of science fantasy athwart February and March which shredded BCS from its fantasy moorings and Clarkesworld from its science fictional foundations. There is also a giant mass within this issue itself, as “The Persistence of Blood” is a 26,000 word novella (much larger than last month’s) orbited by a Phobos and Deimos and “X”os of the other three very short stories.

Taking “Blood” first, until “screens” and a skimmer suddenly appear near the very end, it’s only clear that we are not on Earth and the translated 19th Century English milieu feels more like fantasy despite nothing supernatural occurring. There is something wrong with the upper classes and they must breed their women to death to preserve the Race. Selemei has had five children and nearly died from the last one. Another famous lady has died. Selemei puts it into her husband’s head that they should pass a law allowing women who have nearly died to “retire” from breeding. Events transpire which make the passage of such a scandalous bill even more difficult and require her to take a more active hand despite it not being a woman’s place.

There are some good qualities to this piece and many problems. First, this is a novella by length and can’t be expected to have a novel’s worth of subplots and characters but, at least if it’s not going to have an action-oriented plot and elements of speculative excitement, it must have more than a short story’s worth and doesn’t. There are seemingly hundreds of names and dozens of figures but only at most two characters and really only one. There may be innumerable details to the society and some off-stage subplots but there is only a single “through-line” of a single perspective. That and the essentially familiar background (which is simultaneously cluttered with confusing secondary world details) and the dated theme make the initial stages extremely dull and I expect many readers will not persevere. If they do, they may find that there’s a vague taste of Cherryh, that Selemei is a fairly good character and her family is sympathetic, that the society does have some interesting details, that the “events” I mentioned above are effectively emotionally handled, and that the story does effectively convey how taboos and conventions can shackle minds and lives. Even then, I doubt many will be satisfied with a story which rightly decries a lack of sexual freedom but seems bizarrely content with its milieu’s extreme classism and which painstakingly details every step of its way, down to the undressing and examination and redressing of a doctor’s visit, only to have an “it’s the middle of the tale, but we may now envision the end” sort of ending. Some will love this, I don’t doubt but, if it doesn’t sound thrilling to you, you can safely steer clear. (If you want a much shorter and more entertaining version of the “cutting edge” core of this story, I recommend a 1972 Loretta Lynn composition which was released in 1975.)

The rest of the tales were less significant. “Tool-Using Mimics” is neither a story nor speculative but is a pile of “maybe, perhaps” sections of feminist-sea-creature metaphors. “Unplaces” is an SF/F mix which has an Anne Frank-figure hiding from the fascists in Kansas while its “Imaginary Anthropology” sometimes makes imaginary places real though it doesn’t always keep real places from becoming imaginary. “The No-One Girl” is a fantasy which decries the veil of Maya/vanity of Ecclesiastes and takes a larger perspective after a boy steals the flower the title character was going to use to win a prize.

Summation: February 2018

Demonstrating my usual quick wit, some time after posting the last “Summation of Online Fiction” which happily proclaimed my new coverage of print zines, I realized the title no longer applied. I could change it to “Summation of Short Fiction” but shorter’s better and I hopefully won’t ever have to change the one-word title again.

With that fixed, it’s the “February” subtitle that’s the problem this time. I’ve ironically read more March stories than February in February (47 vs. 38/171Kwds, not to mention the four late-January stories that were covered in the first “Weekly Webzine Wrap-Up” of February). I’ll hang on to the March stories until that “Summation,” so this post covers everything from January 27-February 25. This was a below-average month in the quantity of noted stories but they’re of especially high quality.

Risking a bit of lese majeste, I’ve also read and reviewed some of the stories selected for the various “year’s bests” that I’d missed or which weren’t previously available on the web and have listed the ones I liked below the usual lists.


Science Fiction

  • Umbernight” by Carolyn Ives Gilman, Clarkesworld #137, February 2018, novella


Honorable Mentions:

Science Fiction

  • Penitents” by Rich Larson, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #245, February 15, 2018, science fantasy short story
  • The Starship and the Temple Cat” by Yoon Ha Lee, Beneath Ceaseless Skies #244, February 1, 2018, science fantasy short story


  • I Don’t Bite” by Nicole Tanquary, Grievous Angel, February 6, 2018, short story

Reviews of the Above:

Belated 2017 Recommendations:

Belated 2017 Honorable Mentions:

Reviews of the Above:

Review: F&SF, March/April 2018

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction,
March/April 2018

“The Satyr of Brandenburg” by Charlotte Ashley (fantasy novelette)
“The Next to the Last of the Mohegans” by Joseph Bruchac (science fantasy short story)
“Likho” by Andy Stewart (science fantasy novella)
“The Beast from Below” by William Ledbetter (science fantasy short story)
“Hideous Flowerpots” by Susan Palwick (fantasy novelette)
“A Swim and a Crawl” by Marc Laidlaw (short story)
Plumage from Pegasus: “The Varley Corps Wants You” by Paul Di Filippo (time travel short story)
“A Dog of Wu” by Ted Rabinowitz (science fiction novelette)
“The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” by Wole Talabi (science fantasy short story)
“Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” by G. V. Anderson (“science fantasy” short story)

This issue of F&SF takes special delight in genre-bending. I don’t care for that in the abstract, but many do and, either way, it has some good stories.

First, there are several mostly short, mostly light, mostly minor stories. “The Varley Corps Wants You” takes as its point of departure the appalling toll 2017 took on our creative talents (and it’s disheartening to realize how many more he could have added in late 2017 and even this year). In the story, the reason for this is that people from the future have applied eugenics incautiously and bred creativity out of their gene pool, leaving their utopia rather lacking. So, akin to Varley’s Millennium (in this story, though I think the original “Air Raid” version was so much better), they’ve gone back in time to nab our artists. What the artists do when they get there concludes the story. This has a couple of practical implausibilities (even granting the time travel) but is a reasonably interesting short, light bit. “The Beast from Below” might have been science fiction had it been a 1950s movie but is some kind of fantasy about a giant irradiated mutated armadillo with a very weak “romance” between Mayor Mable and Sheriff Harry. I find the casual comment about Japan in the context of a radiation “comedy” to be odd, at best. Comic storyteller Billy tells us about another of the fixes his eccentric inventor friend Arlin Sweetwater got himself into in “The Next to the Last of the Mohegans.” It doesn’t pay to mess with the Little People, even with SF tech, as Arlin will attest after calling Billy to help get him out from the inside of a tree (which is the least of Arlin’s troubles). Feels like a part of a series but apparently isn’t. “The Satyr of Brandenburg” is the second of a series (following “La Héron”) and somewhat suffers from it. It’s longer than the others of this group, and perhaps darker, but still feels fundamentally light. This is set in a sort of Sardinia in 1700 but one in which the “Otherworld” is a known thing and from which Heron comes. The story mostly addresses her relationship with ex-nun Alex while she competes in a dueling tournament under the auspices of the Marquess of Soleminis. Its ending is too quick and easy and the premise doesn’t appeal to me but some may enjoy this.

There are also a few mostly short, mostly dark, not entirely successful stories. “A Swim and a Crawl” is a surreal, rather than fantastic, tale and seems to be making a statement on the human condition with its protagonist trying to transit from the sea to the peaks, though the apparent suicidal beginning is at odds with that idea. It’s basically a writing exercise conveying the sea and a cliff, otherwise. “Down Where Sound Comes Blunt” is impossible to review (or even categorize properly) without spoiling it. It’s bizarrely similar to “Ice,” which I read last month in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, in that both deal with the child of an explorer heading off to frozen lands to search for their missing father and encountering strange critters there. In this case, it’s a science fictional take on fantasy “selkies” and I can’t say much more. Suffice to say, it is also like “Ice” in that the setting is effectively evoked but I wasn’t as impressed by the rest of the tale and had logical and aesthetic issues with the ending but some may enjoy it. “A Dog of Wu” ultimately does some things pretty well but is fatally undone by initially talking about a “Way” developing as a result of a “Drift” and focuses on “Milano” who is a follower of “Wu” without defining or giving meaning to any of these people or things for at least half the story, so we have nothing to root for or against, no parameters of success or failure, nothing to connect with. Eventually, it seems we’ve had a bit of a radiation accident and a shadow government of biochemically/genetically controlled people have been produced to follow the ideology of the Way and partially control things in a dystopian fashion. It conveys the idea that the only walls you need are those in your mind (which is to say it’s all fine, if conventional, SF stuff) but it’s too little, too late.

Of the better stories, two are quite similar in a way. “The Harmonic Resonance of Ejiro Anaborhi” and “Hideous Flowerpots” both deal with humans in pain and the outpouring of love and/or understanding of the “other” that can heal this. “Resonance” takes a young girl as the focal point but applies her, and her find of a magic alien gizmo in Nigeria, to a social story of her father and others protesting at an oil company that is damaging their environment. Through experimenting with the gizmo with her friend, she has learned that their consciousnesses can fuse while in contact with the device and each other. The climax comes when government troops at the protest turn violent. “Flowerpots” takes a middle-aged art gallery owner as its focal point and delves into her self-loathing, despite all her measures of success, which causes her to lash out at others. She meets a woman who leads a sort of support group which possesses a similar, unrationalized device, to the one in “Resonance.” The crisis here is more personal, dealing with the pains of love and hate and, while not expressed this way, of being born again. Similar to Palwick’s recent “Remote Presence,” this is an ecumenical tale which doesn’t address any particular religious or spiritual label and doesn’t use words like “charity” but conveys a general power of love and understanding. The primary running symbol of the “hideous flowerpots” is good and plays into the story’s substantial humor which never undercuts its serious intent and I much prefer its ending which is physically as easy but psychically more ambiguous, harder earned, and indicative of hard things to come compared to the easier one of “Resonance” (though “Resonance” has elements (opening segment, temporal setting) which may show that it knows it’s an idealistic tale). So I honorably mention “Resonance” and highly recommend “Flowerpots” but both are good and some might reverse the two.

Finally, perhaps an even stronger story is “Likho” (sequel to, or at least kindred story of, “Wormwood Is Also a Star”) which is another story that is very hard to pin down. It’s basically a very tense and compelling tale of Sonya and her guide sneaking into the sealed off regions around Chernobyl so that she can investigate a mural that has generated urban myths of its magical properties, related to the tale of some children who were left behind in the disaster and magically protected, only to meet tragic fates anyway. So it opens with a pretty thorough blend of SF & F and things only get fuzzier as Sonya follows her guide in taking “Yaga” and tripping though some of the rest of the story which particularly features the troubling apparition of the title figure (who runs ambiguously throughout the story). In more literal terms, it involves getting caught up in a tiny subset of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and encountering the scientific labs where the children did much of their suffering. “Likho” basically does everything right that “Wu” did wrong and was absolutely captivating and intense. I had my arms clenched together, with the “real world” falling away as the story took over, especially when the protagonist was with the Ukrainian freedom fighters and the Russian-sympathizing captive. It has a conventional plot element or two and an odd word choice or two but was very good and is also strongly recommended.

Review: Asimov’s, March/April 2018

Asimov’s, March/April 2018


“Dix” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (scifi novella)
“Artisanal Trucking, LLC” by Mary Robinette Kowal (science fiction short story)
“Queen of the River: the Harbor Hope” by James Van Pelt (science fiction short story)
“Emojis” by Rudy Rucker (science fiction short story)
“A Threnody for Hazan” by Ray Nayler (science fantasy novelette)
“Love Songs for the Very Awful” by Robert Reed (science fiction short story)
“Seven Months Out and Two to Go” by Rachel Swirsky & Trace Yulie (science fantasy novelette)
“The Billows of Sarto” by Sean Monaghan (science fiction short story)
“The Waiting Room: the Pedia’s Story” by James Gunn (science fiction short story)
“Attack on Terminal: the Pilgrims’ Story” by James Gunn (science fiction short story)
“In Event of Moon Disaster” by Rich Larson (science fiction short story)
“Because Reasons” by Alexandra Renwick (science fiction short story)
“Bury Me in the Rainbow” by Bill Johnson (science fiction novella)

This issue of Asimov’s is the second consecutive one with stories by Rusch and Rucker and the second with a double-barrelled shot of Gunn (sixth with at least one Gunn). The average quality is reasonable and there’s one or two notable stories but little sticks out significantly either way. One thing that does stick out is that, while there’s nothing here that’s strictly fantasy, there’s quite a bit that isn’t strictly SF in one sense or another.

Two stories are essentially fantasy. “Seven Months Out” features a woman who’s lost her husband, is expecting a baby, and works on a ranch where some of her cows are also expecting. Almost half the story is her hallucination, vaguely rationalized by maybe-aliens. Some few may respond to its thick (indulgent) emotional content. “A Threnody for Hazan” spends much more (too much) effort reinventing the wheel of a surreal spiritual time machine which lets a protagonist become a wall or road in WWII (which turns out to have more resonance than might be expected) but what it really wants to do is describe the relationship between an interesting and strange couple and to address all the awful things that make up history and humanity. It’s not bad but probably would have have been better if it had been a straight fantasy.

Four are essentially mainstream and come in light and heavy flavors. Of the two lightly science fictionalized ones, “Artisanal Trucking, LLC” doesn’t need to take place in a very near future of self-driving vehicles, while making noises about authenticity and self-determination, in order to tell a story about running over a dog and dealing with its orphaned puppies. “Because Reasons” doesn’t need to send a person to Mars in order to have the other talk about her feelings about that friend abandoning her: another country would do. Despite being yet another relationship “listory,” the list elements convey a voice and backstory that make for a reasonably engaging read. For the heavy ones, if a starship captain crashes her improbably designed vessel onto a colony world full of weird alien critters which orbits a temperamental star and becomes pilot of the  “Queen of the River,” it has to be SF, right? Well, yes, but it’s also all contrived to produce an underplotted tale of a Mark Twainish paddleboat trip. It feels like a piece of something bigger but the critters were fun. There are similar, lesser critters in “The Billows of Sarto” which is almost identical to the author’s earlier “Crimson Birds of Small Miracles.” We have diseased characters wandering to strange planets to deal with death and experience the magical phenomenon of alien lifeforms. Just replace “crimson birds” with “billows” but either could be replaced by a bunch of parrots just as the alien world could be replaced by a tropical island. Aside from that, the improbable relationship of the two characters is especially flawed, despite a failed attempt at a preemptive strike: “He barely knew a thing about her, but…”

Two more pieces are arguably thickly cloaked medieval bits but the “pieces” and “bits” are more significant. “The Waiting Room” is a fragment of a prologue to “Attack on Terminal” which is, itself, a fragment of a prologue to the Transcendental books. Riley, his AI implant, and some fellow pilgrims are trying to travel to the Transcendental Machine. A brief attack by alien barbarians punctuates what is otherwise just Riley’s looking at and thinking about his fellow travelers.

Dix” is indubitably an SF novella but of a TV sci-fi sort where technobabble problems and solutions fail to provide tension and the reader spends most of the tale waiting for the other shoe to drop but there’s only one shoe. A ship was stuck in foldspace for 5,000 objective years and has recently emerged. The protagonist and her captain find the first officer dead of an apparent suicide and have to deal with the threat this may pose.

Next are a pair of actual SF stories featuring bent brains. “Love Songs for the Very Awful” is one of Reed’s recent run of dyspeptic tales with anticlimactic endings but has elements of interest. A scientist has escaped from her small town and is running an experiment which models personalities by permanently implanted brain meshes. A sociopathic sort of a person is among the first test subjects which means that, when the tech has advanced and people are modifying their personalities, he can’t modify his. The tale deals with those two characters’ relationship with each other and his with another woman later. In the other tale, Scott’s “Emojis” don’t just go viral, they are viral. At the behest of his boss, he infects himself without knowing he’ll be contagious. So the whole world gets little empathy-based icons floating in their visual field and they can be used for advertising, too. So Scott decides to take it a step further. Entertaining enough but not as momentous as it seems like it should be.

Fans of Simak and/or anthropology might be most likely to enjoy “Bury Me in the Rainbow” which is a “stand-alone sequel” to “We Will Drink a Fish Together” (which I have read and recall enjoying but can’t recall otherwise). In this one, Tony takes over for the recently deceased Sam and is in a power struggle with a calculating and aggressive woman who thinks Tony is too trusting of the aliens who are offering some of Tony’s tribe passage on their ship. The off-the-cuff, incidental characterizations and observations are probably the best part of this. The story’s not overwritten or exactly padded and there are a lot of details and complicated parts but the basic story doesn’t seem to require this very long (34K) novella which resolves fairly predictably and clearly indicates another installment is coming. It’s done well enough and of enough substance to merit some attention, though.

Finally, I recommend “In Event of Moon Disaster.” Laurie and Sol are alone in a region of the moon after something has struck the surface. Laurie had gone out to investigate and has now returned. Sol lets her in and she goes to sleep. Then there’s a knock at the airlock. Laurie’s banging on the ship and wants to come in. This story riffs on all sorts of things from “The Brain Stealers of Mars” to “Knock” to “The Cold Equations” and “Think Like a Dinosaur” and more but you don’t need to be familiar with any of that to be weirded out by and interested in this story which also displays a grasp of twists and scale. Since this is set in one continuum, I don’t know if it also means to be addressing one of my biggest gripes with the “many worlds” conjecture but, if so, I like that, too.

Expanded Collated Contents of the Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, Links)

By request, this is an expanded edition of Collated Contents of the Big Year’s Bests (2017 Stories, with Links!). That post collates and links to the stories selected by Clarke, Dozois, Horton, and Strahan. This will add Afsharirad, Best American SF&F, Datlow, and Guran. (As in the other list, I’ve also noted whether I’ve read them and, if so, whether they got an honorable mention, a recommendation, or were recommendations which made my Web’s Best Science Fiction or Web’s Best Fantasy.)

This post will be updated as more editors make their announcements and will continue to be updated if I find links to more stories or wonderful people tell me about them. (See the end of the post for the full ChangeLog/Credits.)

Latest change: 2018-03-02: Added links to “Focus,” “Nexus,” and “Time Travel Is Only for the Poor” from the Analog Reader’s Award finalists. Thanks to Laura.

Four Annuals: Clarke, Dozois, Horton, Strahan

Three Annuals: Clarke, Dozois, Strahan

Three Annuals: Clarke, Horton, Strahan

Three Annuals: Dozois, Horton,  Strahan

  • Sidewalks”, Maureen McHugh (Omni) [read late]

Two Annuals: Clarke, Dozois

Two Annuals: Clarke, Horton

  • “The Tale of the Alcubierre Horse”, Kathleen Ann Goonan (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • Extracurricular Activities”, Yoon Ha Lee ( [read]
  • ZeroS”, Peter Watts (Infinity Wars) [recommended]

Two Annuals: Dozois, Horton

  • “Winter Timeshare”, Ray Nayler (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [read]
  • “Starlight Express”, Michael Swanwick (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [recommended]

Two Annuals: Dozois, Strahan

  • “My English Name”, R. S. Benedict (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “The Moon is Not a Battlefield”, Indrapramit Das (Infinity Wars) [read]

Two Annuals: Horton, Strahan

One Annual: Clarke

  • “Shadows of Eternity”, Gregory Benford (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • “In Everlasting Wisdom”, Aliette de Bodard (Infinity Wars) [recommended]
  • “Belly Up”, Maggie Clark (Analog) [unread]
  • “Every Hour of Light and Dark”, Nancy Kress (Omni) [unread]
  • The Last Novelist, or a Dead Lizard in the Yard”, Matthew Kressel ( [recommended]
  • “Meridian”, Karin Lowachee (Where the Stars Rise) [unread]
  • Regarding the Robot Raccoons Attached to the Hull of My Ship”, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Diabolical Plots) [read]
  • Wind Will Rove”, Sarah Pinsker (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [read late]
  • The Speed of Belief”, Robert Reed (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [recommended]
  • “Holdfast”, Alastair Reynolds (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • Focus”, Gord Sellar (Analog) [unread]
  • Shikasta”, Vandana Singh (Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities) [read late]
  • “A Catalogue of Sunlight at the End of the World”, A.C. Wise (Sunvault) [unread]

One Annual: Datlow (unread unless otherwise noted)

  • “Liquid Air”, Inna Effress (Nightscript III)
  • “The Starry Crown”, Marc E. Fitch (Horror Library: Volume 6)
  • “Fail-Safe”, Philip Fracassi (Behold the Void)
  • “Shepherd’s Business”, Stephen Gallagher (New Fears)
  • “You Can Stay All Day”, Mira Grant (Nights of the Living Dead)
  • “The Granfalloon”, Orrin Grey (Darker Companions)
  • “West of Matamoros, North of Hell”, Brian Hodge (Dark Screams: Volume Seven)
  • “Better You Believe”, Carole Johnstone (Horror Library: Volume 6)
  • “Lost in the Dark”, John Langan (Haunted Nights)
  • Dark Warm Heart“, Rich Larson ( [read]
  • “Where’s the Harm?”, Rebecca Lloyd (Seven Strange Stories)
  • “There and Back Again”, Carmen Machado (Mixed Up)
  • “Eqalussuaq”, Tim Major (Not One of Us)
  • “Alligator Point”, S. P. Miskowski (Looming Low: Volume I)
  • “Holiday Romance”, Mark Morris (Black Static)
  • “Whatever Comes After Calcutta”, David Erik Nelson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction)
  • “Endoskeletal”, Sarah Read (Black Static)
  • A Human Stain“, Kelly Robson ( [honorable mention]
  • “Furtherest”, Kaaron Warren (Dark Screams: Volume Seven)
  • Harvest Song, Gathering Song“, A. C. Wise (The Dark)
  • “The Stories We Tell about Ghosts”, A. C. Wise (Looming Low: Volume I)

One Annual: Dozois

  • “Mines”, Eleanor Arnason (Infinity Wars) [read]
  • Pan-Humanism: Hope and Pragmatics“, Jessica Barber and Sara Saab (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “The Dragon That Flew Out of the Sun”, Aliette de Bodard (Cosmic Powers) [unread]
  • The Hunger After You’re Fed“, James S.A. Corey (Wired) [read late]
  • The Martian Job, Jaine Fenn [unread]
  • Nexus“, Michael F. Flynn (Analog) [unread]
  • “The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs”, Kelly Jennings (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “Whending My Way Back Home”, Bill Johnson (Analog) [honorable mention]
  • “Canoe”, Nancy Kress (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • “Dear Sarah”, Nancy Kress (Infinity Wars) [read]
  • Waiting Out the End of the World in Patty’s Place Cafe“, Naomi Kritzer (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “There Used to Be Olive Trees”, Rich Larson (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “Triceratops”, Ian McHugh (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “The Influence Machine”, Sean McMullen (Interzone) [unread]
  • Prime Meridian, Silvia Moreno-Garcia [unread]
  • “The Proving Ground”, Alec Nevala-Lee (Analog) [read]
  • Number Thirty-Nine Skink“, Suzanne Palmer (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [unread]
  • “The Residue of Fire”, Robert Reed (Extrasolar) [unread]
  • “Night Passage”, Alastair Reynolds (Infinite Stars) [unread]
  • Vanguard 2.0“, Carter Scholz (Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities) [read late]
  • Assassins“, Jack Skillingstead and Burt Courtier (Clarkesworld) [read]
  • “Elephant on Table”, Bruce Sterling (Chasing Shadows) [unread]
  • “The Road to the Sea”, Lavie Tidhar (Sunvault) [unread]
  • “Zigeuner”, Harry Turtledove (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [unread]

One Annual: Horton

One Annual: Strahan

  • “The Mocking Tower”, Daniel Abraham (The Book of Swords) [unread]
  • Probably Still the Chosen One”, Kelly Barnhill (Lightspeed) [honorable mention]
  • The Discrete Charm of the Turing Machine”, Greg Egan (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [recommended late]
  • Crispin’s Model”, Max Gladstone ( [honorable mention]
  • Come See the Living Dryad”, Theodora Goss ( [recommended]
  • “Bring Your Own Spoon”, Saad Z. Hossain (The Djinn Falls in Love) [unread]
  • “Babylon”, Dave Hutchison, 2084 [unread]
  • The Faerie Tree”, Kathleen Kayembe (Lightspeed) [honorable mention]
  • “Fairy Tale of Wood Street”, Caitlin R Kiernan (Sirenia Digest) [unread]
  • The Worshipful Society of Glovers”, Mary Robinette Kowal (Uncanny) [read]
  • “The Chameleon’s Gloves”, Yoon Ha Lee (Cosmic Powers) [unread]
  • “The Smoke of Gold is Glory”, Scott Lynch (The Book of Swords) [unread]
  • Concessions”, Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali (Strange Horizons) [read]
  • “Belladonna Nights”, Alastair Reynolds (The Weight of Words) [unread]
  • “Eminence”, Karl Schroeder (Chasing Shadows) [unread]
  • The Lamentation of their Women”, Kai Ashante Wilson ( [read]
  • Confessions of a Con Girl”, Nick Wolven (Asimov’s Science Fiction) [read late]
  • Carnival Nine”, Caroline M. Yoachim (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) [read]


  • 2017-12-15: Jonathan Strahan announced the contents of The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Volume 12. (Thanks to dolphintornsea at the F&SF forums.)
  • 2017-12-16: found and added links to the stories from Boston Review and Omni.
  • 2017-12-24 (updated the 26th): Gardner Dozois announced the contents of The Year’s Best Science Fiction: ThirtyFifth Annual Collection. Thanks to Roger Silverstein for the tip and Lavie Tidhar for posting it for the Facebook-challenged and showing up in the search engine.
  • 2018-01-23: Neil Clarke announced the contents of The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 3.
  • 2018-02-01: added link to Buckell’s “Zen” reprint.
  • 2018-02-07: moved this stuff to the bottom in a Changelog because it was pushing the stories down too far. 😉
  • 2018-02-07: added links to four Asimov’s stories (“Grimes,” “Wind,” “Turing,” “Confessions”). Thanks to RSR.
  • 2018-02-09: added contents of Rich Horton’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, 2018 Edition. Thanks to dolphintornsea at the F&SF forums for alerting me and to Horton for posting the full contents.
  • 2018-02-10: added neglected link to Fowler’s Asimov’s story. (Thanks to Laura.)
  • 2018-02-14: added link to Watts’ “ZeroS.” (Thanks to Laura, and a belated thanks to Roger Silverstein, whose tip I missed.)
  • 2018-02-16: added link to Samatar’s “Account.” (Thanks to Laura.)
  • 2018-02-22: Added Datlow’s table of contents for The Best Horror of the Year, Volume Ten. Thanks to C. C. Finlay at the F&SF forum for linking to Datlow’s announcement.
  • 2018-02-23: Added links to “,” “Number Thirty-Nine Skink,” and “The Speed of Belief” from the Asimov’s Reader’s Awards finalists, Thanks to File 770.