Radicalized

Radicalized
By Cory Doctorow

As an author and activist Cory Doctorow’s fiction often takes up the same political subject matter as his advocacy and opinion pieces. In recent years the two have been drawing ever closer together, to the point where the four novellas in his latest collection, Radicalized, might almost be thought of as dramatic essays.

The stories are drawn from hot-button issues in today’s headlines and then given an SF spin: cybersurveillance runs amok in smart homes, racism and law enforcement get challenged in an age of superheroes, the rationing of health care gives rise to dark-web terrorism, and social inequality implodes at the end of the world.

Informing all of this is Doctorow’s libertarian but socially progressive optimism, with heroic hackers and freedom fighters looking to create a more just society. And while he can be preachy, he is dealing with timely issues that affect us all.

The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction

The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction
Ed. by Gardner Dozois

For 35 years super-editor Gardner Dozois, who died last year, helmed the prestigious Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies. The Very Best of the Best offers up some highlights from his tenure, but the subtitle is flat-out wrong as the book only includes stories that go back to 2002. There were two previous Best of the Best volumes that included stories published from 1983 to 2002, making this book the third such selection.

With that important caveat out of the way one can recommend The Very Best of the Best wholeheartedly. As you would expect, the line-up of names is like a who’s who of contemporary SF, and as always with Dozois the selection is expertly assembled, offering up a wide range of traditional tropes and themes being spun in all kinds of imaginative new ways. Not all of it will be to everyone’s liking, but for everyone there is a lot to like. You really can’t go wrong adding such a volume to your collection.

Nebula Awards Showcase 2017

Nebula Awards Showcase 2017
Ed. by Julie E. Czerneda

The Nebula Awards debuted in 1966, with Frank Herbert’s Dune taking the prize for best novel, and since their inception they’ve been accompanied by a companion volume showcasing the nominees.

This year’s edition, the fifty-first, is drawn from the 2015 Nebulas and comes to us edited and introduced by Canadian author Julie Czerneda. It contains all of the nominees for Best Short Story as well as the winners of the Best Novella, Best Novelette, Best Short Poem and Best Long Poem prizes. In addition there are excerpts from all of the books nominated for Best Novel, and brief intros by the authors. While not as big a book as most Year’s Best anthologies (of which there are many), its sampling of different forms does make it something a little different.

There has been controversy in recent years over the underrepresentation of women in SF awards, so it’s worth noting that in 2015 all of the major Nebula Awards, for poetry and fiction, were won by women, from Alyssa Wong for best short story to Naomi Novik for best novel. Did the voters get it right? The Showcase lets you be the judge.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection
Ed. by Gardner Dozois

For over thirty years Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best Science Fiction anthology has set a standard for excellence, but the 2017 edition stands out as something special, and would be my pick for the best in the series of the last ten years.

The stories are, as always, diverse and entertaining, but they also come with extra layers of significance, like pop allegories with bite. A sequel to John Carpenter’s movie The Thing, for example, turns into a new way of looking at the AIDS crisis in the ‘80s. Alien invasion and the supplanting of our own species is welcomed in “Touring with the Alien” and “Fifty Shades of Grays” (which has humanity seduced into committing a sort of auto-erotic extinction event).

The stories look in all directions: full of nods and winks to the past, and dreaming of the future while staying deeply rooted in the here and now. Christopher Marlowe is raised from the dead as an A.I. A cyborg Shane stalks the Saskatchewan prairie. A man digs a grave for his father and builds a tower to the stars.

In sum it’s a book to enjoy and wonder at, but also one to make you think.

Patently Absurd

Patently Absurd
By Bradley W. Schenck

Patently Absurd marks a joyful return to the city of Retropolis and the future that never was, the location of Bradley Schenck’s previous novel Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom. Specifically, the six linked stories collected here deal with the adventures of a couple of employees of the Retropolis Registry of Patents, an office that has the unenviable task of trying to keep a lid on some of the more dangerous ideas coming out of the city’s Experimental Research District.

This means it’s up to Ben Bowman and his robot assistant Violet to deal with breakaway floating labs, an eruption of mole people, outbreaks of blue slime, time machines, doorways to other dimensions, and, that curse of all bureaucracy, corrupt and incompetent management as they attempt to save Retropolis from a spirit of innovation gone mad. Throw in a generous helping of Schenck’s own delightful illustrations and what you have is a high-spirited genre romp that fans won’t want to miss.

Machine Learning

Machine Learning
By Hugh Howey

While self-publishing via Amazon hasn’t led to a total transformation of the book business, at least yet, there have been some amazing success stories. Hugh Howey, author of the bestselling Silo series of novels, is one of the most notable of these.

The Silo novels are the work of an author skilled in long-form narrative, and it’s surprising to turn to the stories collected in Machine Learning and find them just as accomplished. Howey’s highly original take on such standard SF themes as aliens, artificial intelligence and virtual reality are lively and thoughtful, with several of the stories, like “The Walk Up Nameless Ridge” and “The Plagiarist” being real standouts.

Howey has been writing at a fever pace throughout this decade but the quality of his output hasn’t suffered and Machine Learning is a good place to catch him at his best.

Frankenstein Dreams

Frankenstein Dreams: A Connoisseur’s Collection of Victorian Science Fiction
Ed. by Michael Sims

The publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein in 1818 is usually regarded as when science fiction began, with the genre then taking another hundred years to arrive at its present form. In this anthology of stories and novel excerpts from the nineteenth century, editor Michael Sims tracks the process of this shaping, collecting some of the earliest explorations of what would become staple themes like time travel, robotics, and space exploration.

Calling this “Victorian” science fiction is slightly misleading, as most of the stories, some of which are quite obscure, are American. It’s mainly the excerpts from longer works that come from familiar European authors like Mary Shelley, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H. G. Wells.

In any event, the major difference between SF then and now is perhaps not so much our greater knowledge of the universe – we no longer believe in Lunarians living on the moon, for example, or cities on Venus – as it is the evolution in style. It’s the flavour of the writing here, so distinct from our own, that really makes this a collection for the connoisseur.