I adore short story collections, and I was particularly impressed by last year’s anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan. It follows the same format as last year, with the editor’s introduction including other recommended reading as well as general comments on the state of the publishing industry in 2020. And then we get into the real meat of it: 27 short stories that are, arguably, the best of the year. While some stories missed the mark a bit for me, they were all well-written and interesting.
“well they’re all good dogs
even the naughty ones”
The collection starts out with the absolutely amazing “A Guide for Working Breeds” by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. Can you die of cute? This is a story told mainly through chat transcripts between a robot mentor and its new mentee, and features so many dogs. Adorable, original and uplifting, this is one of my favorites in the collection. Also hitting high on the adorable scale is Timons Esaias’s “GO. NOW. FIX.” which stars a robotic pillow in the shape of a panda and a plane crash (just trust me on this one). And if you’re looking more for satire, “It Came From Cruden Farm” by Max Barry, about a newly inaugurated president who discovers that aliens exist, had me in stitches.
“I feel like I’m watching the Ten Commandments being written here, and unless I say something, a burning bush is going to be gendered for the next two thousand years.”
For more classic scifi, Yoon Ha Lee’s “The Mermaid Astronaut” is a gorgeously evocative retelling of The Little Mermaid. I’m still not sure how he fit so much emotion in to so few pages. I also adored the scifi romp of Gene Doucette’s “Schrödinger’s Catastrophe.” It had all the feels of some of my favorite TNG episodes, plus some hilarious absurdity mixed in with a tightly-paced action story. “Burn or The Episodic Life of Sam Wells as a Super” by A.T. Greenblatt is about Sam, who’s recently discovered he has the completely useless superpower of setting his head on fire. In a society where most Supers go live out their days in seclusion, Sam instead decides to join the local Super team and help people… only it’s not exactly what he thought it would be like. This is a lovely story about accepting yourself.
“She frowned at the ham on the counter. “Are you behind this?”
“Why are you talking to a ham?” asked Donna. “That’s just weird.”
Of course, where would we be without a lot of whizzbang scifi goodness, from the titular weight loss treatment in Meg Elison’s horrifying “The Pill,” to the devices in “Don’t Mind Me” by Suzanne Palmer which make kids incapable of remembering certain things they hear, like swear words and that pesky climate change, to how cryptocurrency and AR can fix pollution in “The Suicide of Our Troubles” by Karl Schroeder, to AirBnb for bodies in Sameem Siddiqui’s “Airbody.”
“I’ve never done so much math in my whole entire life.”
And then there’s the ones that truly made me think. I’d previously read Marian Denise Moore’s “A Mastery of German” and found its exploration of ethics and racial memory just as fascinating as the first time. But the winner of the most thought-provoking goes to “How to Pay Reparations: a Documentary” by Tochi Onyebuchi. I’m still chewing over that one.
Overall, another excellent collection, and after two stellar anthologies, I’ll definitely be putting future editions on my autobuy list.
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.