"Best of year" anthologies are prolific in the science fiction field, but they aren't the only annual collections of short stories out there. Some individual magazines put out their best as well. What is unique, however, is a magazine publishing literally an entire year of its fiction entries into one anthology. Lightspeed: Year One is an amazing collection of forty-seven tales from the first year of the new online magazine Lightspeed's existence. They have now started including fantasy in their field of stories, so I'm even more looking forward to next year's anthology.
The problem with putting everything out there in book form, however, is that there will inevitably be some stories that don't work for some people. I used to subscribe to two or three SF magazines, and there was always the occasional clunker. No magazine is perfect, and tastes range too much for this type of anthology to ever achieve a five-star rating. For every story that has tons of fans, there will be somebody who doesn't like it. And while you can recognize the quality of the stories, that doesn't mean they'll all work for you.
That said, this is an excellent collection of old and new stories from some of the biggest names in SF writing (and even non-SF, as Stephen King has a science fiction story here). Each issue of the magazine features an old story and a new one, so you will be reading some classics. Yet the editors don't go for the easy ones. I've read a lot of SF, and all but a couple of these stories were still new to me (one wasn't due to its inclusion in a "best of the year" anthology that I had already read). Most of these are excellent, too.
Including stories in the same order as they appeared in the magazine sometimes leads to trouble. There were two cannibal stories in a row (evidently that was a themed issue) and I couldn't stomach the second one. What little I read of it didn't attract me enough to get me to come back at a later date, either. There are the occasional stumbles out of the gate because of order issues.
Getting through these are worth it, however, for inspiring and fascinating stories like "Patient Zero" by Tananarive Due. This is the story of a young boy kept in isolation, his only companions the doctors who are examining him and a teacher, none of whom can enter his bubble. An unknown disease is ravaging the world, and this boy seems to be the carrier of it. It's a haunting tale of loneliness and implied horror when you realize just what's going on in the outside world. The ending of the story compounds that impact.
Or "Eliot Wrote" by Nancy Kress, about a boy trying to come up with a fitting way to write an English paper explaining "something important using extended metaphor." This is all a backdrop to dealing with a mathematician father who seems to be a bit insane. If we remove some of our memories in order to heal afflictions like this, would it fundamentally change who we are? Is it better to be ourselves and deal with our own psychological issues rather than having them taken away from us?
This is the kind of thing I love about science fiction in general, and anthologies in particular. The ideas are so intriguing and way out there, and short stories provide ample opportunity to explore so many of them at the same time. Even when the story isn't necessarily to your taste, it often forces you stop and think--which is what stories are supposed to do.
Lightspeed: Year One is a great advertisement for the magazine, which includes nonfiction pieces as well as the fiction collected here. If you don't want the challenge of reading monthly issues and don't care about nonfiction, you can't go wrong with the anthology either.
They've converted at least one fan.
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book © Dave Roy, 2012