Published by The Science Fiction Book Club
Jonathan Strahan is becoming one of the most prolific editors in Speculative Fiction, and what one of the reasons is because of the variety of stories he pulls together for his anthologies. One series he has been putting together with consistency is the Best Short Novels series published by The Science Fiction Book Club. This is the third such volume and the first I’ve had the opportunity to read.
Ian McDonald’s The Little Goddess gets things started. I came across this story in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction 23 and at the time, I was a bit underwhelmed. The story felt disjointed and didn’t work nearly as well for me as did his River of Gods, even though both stories are set in the same future universe.
The Gist Hunter is a mystery set in Matthew Hughes dying earth milieu. I appreciate the humor Hughes brought to the tale and also thought the flavor of his world came through very nicely. Even though the tale was slightly uneven, I did enjoy the story. This combined with the other one or two stories I’ve read by Hughes makes me want to take more trips into his far future.
Cory Doctorow sets his tale, Human Readable, in future with a quirky technology, but instead focuses on the characters. While this technology is one of those oddities that seems outlandishly plausible, the relations between the characters is what lends a true air of believability to the story.
I found Harry Turtledove’s entry, Audobon in Atlantis, surprisingly entertaining. For all that Turtledove has written, I haven’t been exposed to much of it. Like many of the stories for which he is known, Turtledove tells something of an alternate history here. As the title implies, Atlantis is a real continent and holds the slot as the most powerful nation in the world. Turtledove presents an entertaining tour of Atlantis as a naturalist tries to find an elusive species of fowl.
Kelly Link’s story, Magic for Beginners, is a surreal and charming first-person narrative (mostly) about a child’s adoration of a television show. Of course this is no ordinary television show, it never airs the same time or day and often blends in with reality. I found this story very entertaining and thought the characters and situation were plausible. That is, the reactions and emotions Link’s characters exhibited felt familiar and authentic in many ways. Link did a great job of making this fun and humorous, an example of which is how one character inherits a solitary phone booth upon the death of their relative. Another neat feature of this short novel is the ‘story-within-a-story’ element. The relationship between the story and the story within is reminiscent of Charles de Lint’s The Little Country. More than that would surely spoil the enjoyment of discovering this gem of a story on one’s own.
In a departure from his massive, epic Malazan Book of the Fallen, Steven Erikson transports readers to the life of a young boy as he recounts his summer in Fishin’ with Grandma Matchie. The story reads very much like a Tall Tale or a Folk Tale (along the lines of Paul Bunyan), where rural life and colloquialisms provide the flavor of everyday life. Erikson did a great job of putting the reader in the head of the protagonist, who, as is typical for a young child is often frustrated by his teachers who don’t believe him. The story might be the most fun of the book, with the spunky protagonist and his larger than life grandmother and her adventures.
The Policeman’s Daughter is Will McCarthy’s story and the shortest of the bunch. Set in his Queendom of Sol universe, this is a fun detective story with a twist – a detective is hired by a man who is trying to kill him; the twist is the potential killer is a clone of the man who is being hunted – it would be as if I hired a detective to hunt or stop my clone from killing me. Though short, McCarthy’s tale provides nice food for thought on identity and possible humorous effects of cloning.
The cliché that the best is saved for last rings very true for this anthology since the last story is Jeffrey Ford’s The Cosmology of the Wider World. Ford is a multiple award winner and this story is as good as anything he’s ever written. Taking a stab at the talking animal subgenre of fantasy, or rather, the talking animal stories many people read in their youth, Ford delivers powerful tale indeed. The story centers on Belius the minotaur, as he finds a place and a structure for his world. Born of woman and man, yet having the countenance of both man and bull thanks to his mother being scared by a bull while pregnant, Belius thinks his life normal through his youth. When he discovers the world outside of his farm is more hostile and harsh than that which he is accustomed, Belius realizes he is less alone than he thought. Ford’s story is the longest of the book; it does have an epic feel. Through flashbacks and the “current time” of his life, Belius experiences highs and lows and Ford plays a lot of literary tricks to accomplish a powerful and engaging story. Rumor has it Ford may return to either Beilius or his world. We should only be so lucky.
Strahan has done an excellent job of gathering these stories from a number of places, from magazines (McCarthy, Turtledove) to small presses (Erikson & Ford). Readers who aren’t members of the Science Fiction Book Club should join just for this book alone – it might be the easiest way to get most of the fiction published between the covers of this book.
© 2007 Rob H. Bedford