Anthology Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy NovellasThe Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Novellas by Paula Guran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a high caliber annual anthology without a weak story in the bunch. The diversity of the stories ranging from sci-fi to urban fantasy to fantasy is matched by the narrative depth achieved within the novella form. As promised, these are the best of the best.

My favorite, meriting 5 stars, was Usman T. Malik’s novella, The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn, which blends urban fantasy with a supernatural folktale to explore the generational effects of immigration as a Pakistani-American goes in search of the Old World family history that’s eluded him.

I’ve reviewed and rated all of the included stories:
Cooney, C. S. E.–The Bone Swans of Amandale–3 stars
de Bodard, Aliette–The Citadel of Weeping Pearls–4 stars
Okorafor, Nnedi–Binti [Binti, #1]–4 stars
Parker, K. J.–The Last Witness–4 stars
Pollack, Rachel–Johnny Rev–4 stars
Rusch, Kristine Kathryn–Inhuman Garbage [Retrieval Artist universe]–3 stars
Scholz, Carter–Gypsy–4 stars
Shu, Bao [w/ Ken Liu, trans.]–What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear–3 stars

This anthology is highly recommended.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Bone Swans of Amandale by C. S. E. Cooney

The Bone Swans of AmandaleThe Bone Swans of Amandale by C.S.E. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The original Grim’s fairy tales, unlike their Americanized, Disney-ified versions, are dark and morbid tales. This novella taps right into that bizarre, macabre canon, even borrowing the known Pied Piper, to tell this tale of murdered and mutilated children, a power hungry ogress and magical races on the brink of extinction by genocide.

The hero of the tale is a morphing were-rat who’s in love with a were-swan, despite the cold, entitled royalty of the were-swans. The ogress-mayor of a nearby human village is using a legion of twenty children to hunt the were-swans and then the magic of a murdered child-turned-juniper tree to transforms the bones of the murdered swans into self-playing musical instruments.

And somehow, this convoluted premise works.

The hero-rat, his beloved swan who’s now the last of her people, a few mutilated kids that refused to play their role in the ogress’ machinations, and the rat’s friend The Pied Piper, scheme together to end the ritual of the ogress and to save the last swan.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I previously read this author’s brilliantly intricate novella The Two Paupers and the short story “Witch, Beast, Saint: An Erotic Fairy Tale”.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack

4 of 5 stars.

The mash-up of supernatural urban fantasy and detective noir works time and time again. For Chicago this means Harry Dresden. London has Bob Howard of Stross’ Equoid. Here, Pollack gives NYC a reality-bending, multiverse-traveling detective named Johnny Shade. His wife is dead [by a poltergeist] and his daughter trapped in the reality beyond. Johnny stays a half step ahead of doom and demise by a canny network of associates and lovers.

He’s oath-bound to accept any client with his card, which cannot be a good thing. Especially when his own self-created and later destroyed–or so he thought–doppelganger comes to hire Johnny Shade to “beat” the duplicate’s maker, ie Johnny himself. As the duplicate Johnny known as Johnny Rev tries to take substance from the realm of dreams, Shade turns to the help of his ex-lover the Dream Hunter who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a formerly worshipped sun god and the Queen of Eyes [oracle of oracles] . . .

The layers of the history and worlds upon worlds tantalizes as around every corner lies another Johnny Shade anecdote or past lesson learned or lucked through. This tale is highly recommended.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Inhuman Garbage by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Inhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe NovellaInhuman Garbage: A Retrieval Artist Universe Novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This novella taking pace in the lunar dome-city of Armstrong fits into the larger Retrieval Artist world, but stands alone quite well [in the opinion of this reviewer who’s never read anything by Rusch before, nor heard of this series].

The novella opens with the promise of a tight detective tale with alternating POVs between detective Noelle DeRicci and coroner Ethan Broduer as they both investigate a body dump in a crate of compost slated to be spread over the dome-city’s food farms. Things get more complicated in the identification process in this world of natural humans, aliens, and both slow-grow and fast-grow clones. Laws are different around each with clones merely counting as property for their creator.

While the larger human rights issues surface, especially as it deals with clones, the tale zeroes in on the convoluted politics of the crime families, ruling Earth Alliance, and the dirty city politics. Surprisingly and disappointingly, more POVs are added to the rush of narrative pulling the tale cleanly away from DeRicci and Broduer. The head of the main crime family whose fired nanny was the composted body, his head of security, and DeRicci’s politically motivated boss take over the narrative leading to a largely unsatisfying non-ending.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: The Last Witness by K. J. Parker

The Last WitnessThe Last Witness by K.J. Parker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Memory is a tricksy thing. When toyed like in the movie Memento, it’s a solid foundation for a slippery psychological thriller. One’s sense of self and purpose is only as good as what one makes of one’s memories.

In this fantasy-thriller novella, the roguish narrator is a dark hero–perhaps a superhero–with the ability to steal away specific memories from other people. He can do almost whatever he wants, and blank any potential witnesses. This doesn’t work out for his relationships with his family, nor his lover. They’re too complicated, with too many intertwined memories.

The cad becomes a memory-thief for hire, and there’s good money in it from the sort that would hire him. But memories stolen become his own, and it’s not always easy to tell which memories are which or from whom. He half-knows places and people like near constant deja vu . . . As the ultimate witness to so many crimes [because he took the memories on], assassins are often sent his way. But they can be blanked, too, while revealing their patron . . .

One day he takes on charity case, the victim has been assaulted and likely raped. He’s loath to own these memories, but he accepts the case and a few coins. In the avataristic realm where the thought-thievery takes place, the victim’s avatar shockingly appears to defend her memory. She, too, is a memory thief . . .

In a realm with two memory thieves whose lives become entwined, nothing can be trusted.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books. I’ve previously read this author’s “Heaven Thunders the Truth” and The Things We Do For Love.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear by Bao Shu

3 of 5 stars.

Certain phrases hold deep meaning around the globe without having to explain the time and place they denote: Ground Zero, Tiananmen Square, the 38th Parallel. Recent historic world events are both humanized and contextualized when given fresh perspectives in this novella translated by Ken Liu.

The first twist–for English audiences, at the very least–is a Chinese national as narrator providing a non-Western POV for everything from WWII to the Gulf Wars, The Cold War to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with distant reports of 9/11 and firsthand accounts of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.

The second twist is a cause and effect game-changer. World events unfurl in reverse order. Narrator Xie Baosheng is born the day of the Mayan 2012 Day of Apocalyse, not that anything of note happened that day. His first memories are of his country’s pride in hosting the Beijing Olympics [2008], but then the world seems consumed with USA rough handling of Afghanistan and Iraq culminating in the 9/11 stunning blow to NYC that shuts America down [2001]. Slowly, computers and cell phones disappear. Technology reverts and the world appears dumber for it. The free markets of China clamp down into isolationism as the narrator attends the Tiananmen protests while in college [1989].

Seventy years of Baosheng’s life and love, and the militaristic and cultural wars raging around him, help make history accessible if not totally recognizable as Nixon visits China, wars erupt in Vietnam and Korea. And late in his life, aggressive Japan rapes China while a distant threat named Hitler emerges in Germany to ravage Europe . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Gypsy by Carter Scholz

GypsyGypsy by Carter Scholz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Humanity reaching out into space remains a recurring fascination. Sometimes this action is one of optimism and scientific expansionism. At other times, it’s a defensive tactic of desperation as Earth becomes unbearable and unlivable. This sci-fi novella stands as a blend of the two.

As Earth succumbs to the apocalypse of 21st Century Western world lifestyles and the emerging dystopian new world order, a billionaire and his hand-picked team of 20 scientists plan an illegal escape into the vastness of space in an attempt to start anew on an unconfirmed planet in the Alpha Centauri system. Only 16 pioneers make it to the starship for the launch, the billionaire not among them.

The 72-year journey requires the travelers to enter hibernation to survive and slow their aging. The ship has the ability to wake individuals to attend to emergencies and system failures. The awakened individual is meant to decide the corrective action, then document their decision and reasoning both on computer and paper as a guide to the next awakened traveler. Each traveler is under a time deadline after which they won’t be able to reenter hibernation. And no one person can emerge and reenter hibernation more than a couple times over the course of the entire journey before the action kills them.

This tale alternates between pre-launch scenes on Earth with the benefactor choosing his team and technology and splices of time in the journey when one of the individuals is called into action. The first to awaken is Sophie and only 2 years into the trip as the ship, Gypsy, enters the Oort Cloud. The communications to the moon station are offline. There’s also signs of an impact a couple months back. The only major effect she can determine is a slightly slowed speed–the journey will now take 84 years. She corrects some time maneuvers and documents it.

38 years later, Fang is the next awakened. After she adjusts to the one-tenth gravity and effects of hibernation, the biologist attends to her sleeping co-travelers. Two are infected with a fungus resembling the bat fungus known as White Nose Disease . . .

The strength of this novella is in following the lives and decisions of the disparate group of scientists each with their own reasons for embarking on such a desperate journey. The decision-making of each is not unlike Andy Weir’s The Martian. Each decision is life or death when traveling the edge of existence.

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

 

 

[Check out my other reviews here.]