Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.
YA, genre, and diversity focused. This is all the ingredients for awesome, right? Man, this really is one of the best anthologies I’ve picked up this year. In terms of concept, execution, and accessibility to readers. That being said, I’m almost sad this is labelled YA. Quite a few of these could easily fit into the pages of SFF magazines aimed at adult audiences. Where there are many readers who will never pick up something labeled for not adult readers.
But at the same time, fuck that noise. There’s so much interesting stuff happening in YA and in MG that I can only have so much sympathy for those who can’t be bothered to look. And looking here meant discovering my favorite story of 2014.
Cookie Cutter Superhero by Tansy Rayner Roberts. I’m glad to see more superhero fiction in written format. And this one speaks directly about society’s perceptions of women and people with physical handicaps, rather than leaving that to subtext. A good story, but I didn’t quite love it.
The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon by Ken Liu. Rarely do I categorize something as message fiction, but this is totally message fiction. It’s not even a metaphor – two legendary characters take the time to explain to a couple what youthful folly they’re committing. There’s some rather cool imagery, and I actually liked the message, it was just a little too heavy handed an execution for me to see past it to the story.
The Legend Trap by Sean Williams. Not all urban legends are the scary, bloody Mary type. But what if the harmlessly fun sounding ones were true? Would they still be harmless? This would be a great episode of the Twilight Zone, Teen Edition. I really dug it - no surprise there.
End of Service by Gabriela Lee. This is one of those stories that illustrated how YA is a completely arbitrary genre distinction. This could easily fit within the pages of many a magazine aimed at adult speculative fiction readers. And I’m adding this one to my list of potential Hugo nominees for sure.
Chupacabra’s Song by Jim C. Hines. There is a lot I liked about this one, but overall I didn’t like it. The plot relies far too heavily on people with training and experience repeatedly making shortsighted decisions and repeatedly underestimating the protagonist.
The Day the God Died by Alena McNamara. This wasn’t great, and part of that is just how thin it is. I suspect I would have liked a longer version better.
Signature by Faith Mudge. Meanwhile, this I would have loved at half the length.
The Lovely Duckling by Tim Susman. Someone please tell me this is the prologue to a novel that I’m going to go buy right now.
Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell by E. C. Myers. A drug shows you your future with whoever you kiss when you take it. Or does it provide you with a realistic fantasy born of your own desires and the tactile experience in the now? The driver for this story is one character’s intense need to know what is and isn’t real. I don’t know if I’ve ever read anything plotted around the unexpected interactions of medications before, but I kind of dug it a lot.
Vanilla by Dirk Flinthart. This is a fun early contact story I’d happily read a sequel to. Aliens come to earth, not as an invasion fleet, but as refugees and we . . . treat them accordingly. There’s a version of this that Heinlein could have written, but it would have had far too many words and focused on all the wrong things. Which is my way of saying that this is a modern interpretation of something that feels like it would fit into classic science fiction.
Careful Magic by Karen Healey. I like everything about this story except that I don’t. It’s interesting, it’s clever, and the characters all feel like real people. I just didn’t dig it. Pretty sure I’d like the TV show set in this world, though.
Walkdog by Sofia Samatar. A crushing, powerfully painful story disguised as a school paper about a fictional creature. You’ll want to keep a cat nearby to hug when you get through with this one. All of Samatar’s writing is heavier on emotion than plot, and she’s found an amazingly effective format for that kind of story here. This is probably my favorite piece of short fiction from 2014.
Celebration by Sean Eads. Wow. I love this so much as a premise and would be interested in a longer version exploring the same overlay. Page one finds the protagonist being taken to one of those horrifying conversion centers that promises to make your kid straight. Where this intersects with science fiction is lovely and awful and I wish it had been twice as long.
The Truth About Owls by Amal El-Mohtar. I don’t think I have the vocabulary to talk about this one. Lovely and terrible. Is there anything Amal El-Mohtar isn’t great at?
Krishna Blue by Shveta Thakrar. Interesting, but not quite satisfying. I think with a different ending I could have liked this quite a bit. But it just felt like it . . . stopped rather than concluded.
Every Little Thing by Holly Kench. Not for me. It felt like there was a lot of interesting stuff just off the page.
Happy Go Lucky by Garth Nix. I’m pretty sure I’m more interested in what happens next than in what’s actually in this story. This is a flashback found in a more interesting novel, right? This isn’t actually intended to stand on its own, is it?
Ordinary Things by Vylar Kaftan. I’m not convinced this has any speculative elements at all. I suppose the same could be said for my favorite story in this collection, where the fantastical creature may not exist, much as the narrator wants it to. And while I’m talking about other stories – didn’t we already have one where a young woman uses ritual behaviors to find a sense of order in the universe? The weakest in the collection.
Double Time by John Chu. I think John Chu is very good at what he does: using an SFnal element in the world as a way to do a deep dive into a specific kind of experience. I recognize that this is well done, but I can’t say I found it particularly compelling. His work may just not be for me.
Welcome by William Alexander. Interesting setting and engaging characters. I hope there are move stories to be found in it. The end of this story is also a great end note for the anthology as a whole.
Just an excellent collection of fiction.