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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eight [Kindle Edition]

Neil Gaiman , Joe Abercrombie , KJ Parker , Jonathan Strahan
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From the inner realms of humanity to the far reaches of space, these are the science fiction and fantasy tales that are shaping the genre and the way we think about the future. Multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan continues to shine a light on the very best writing, featuring both established authors and exciting new talents.
Within you will find twenty-eight incredible tales, showing the ever growing depth and diversity that science fiction and fantasy continues to enjoy. These are the brightest stars in our firmament, lighting the way to a future filled with astonishing stories about the way we are, and the way we could be.

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'Best' in this context is more than its constituent parts, it's a demonstration of all that can be found: diversity of voice, subject and form; balance between new and established voices; work from a good range of original sources...Books as good as this should be of interest to any admirer of short fiction, regardless of genre. --The Guardian

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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1176 KB
  • Print Length: 576 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: Solaris (15 May 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #107,791 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mostly definitely not SF, though no dragons 9 Nov. 2014
Mostly definitely not SF, though no dragons and nearly all very good writing, but empires even fairy tales aplenty, leaving about 3 excellent stories out of 29 that fit the book title.
Now for the cutting remarks. I counted 35 awards and 2 competitions that are open to people who write this kind of stuff - the count is from the laudatory CVs that precede each story. Seems like a Mutual Admiration Society to me. I know, I know, 'its not for me' doesn't mean its not good, even great, stuff for someone else or maybe lots of other readers. And with short stories there is always the next one to keep you going, so here is what I got from it all: Wondered who first started using double letters and semicolons in SF writing as in 'My name is Muurphy from the planet Qua'replace' ( I think it was Poul Anderson as I fled to a book by him for relief at one stage). Maybe its the workshops that I should blame - half of these people write like they are members of writers' workshops, and lo, two CVs state they have graduated from workshops (probably means more in the US I suppose). A short story (as some master of the medium once said) should have a beginning and an end - something should be different at the end, but so often did I find a long, phew! do these people like writing long, story merely describing what one might call a situation or tragedy or relationship or whatever only to finish the tract with a nice ending (workshop) sentence, that I started looking at the last page just to check if this 30-page read was worth it!
But hold it! Why did I not give this book just one star? Well, I added one because fantasists might after all like it, especially after reading this.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for all SF readers 9 Oct. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent value for money, as good a compendium as I have read for a long time, compiled by a very great writer.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  23 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre tales with a few gems 4 July 2014
By Neodoering - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This anthology was well written and competent, but only a few of the stories really stood out to me. I liked the tale Effigy Nights, about storybook heroes who come to life to defend a city from invaders, and the story Water was a good modern tale of a slimy mineral water executive who gets his comeuppance. But I only liked two out of twenty-eight stories, and that's a bad value as far as I'm concerned. There were a lot of tales that I thought were all right, but they didn't grab me. They were merely competent. I didn't find any clunkers in this book, but these tales just don't soar. Last year's volume 7 was better. I hope Strahan is just having an off year, and next year he'll be back in the saddle and serving up exemplary tales. In about two weeks Gardner Dozois brings out the Year's Best Science FIction, and I'm looking forward to it, especially after this disappointing volume. Only get this one after you get some better anthologies, as a last resort.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great overview of 2014's short speculative fiction 3 Jun. 2014
By Han Jie - Published on
Ahh yes, the time has become to review another review: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year edited by Jonathan Strahan. This year’s volume eight from Solaris Books, the genre aficionado once again places their trust in Strahan to filter through the literally thousands of stories published in the year to present a ‘best of’. As always whenever those two words are bandied about, some contention is sure to arise, and this year’s volume is no exception. It is thus much simpler to describe what the anthology is, rather than what it should have been, could have been, or isn’t, because in the end it is a rich collection of stories which every reader can find something enjoyable within. One of the better in Strahan's ongoing series, it would seem to indicate 2013 was a strong year in short fiction.

TBSFaFotYv8 opens on an empty note: a wild west one-off from Joe Abercrombie marginally in the same setting as Red Country called “Some Desperado”. The prose poor and story dry, it will, nevertheless, appeal to that niche of genre fandom which believes Abercrombie can do no wrong. (See the following quote. “Neary’s arrow had snagged it in the shoulder, not deep enough to kill or even slow it right off, but deep enough to make it bleed at a good pace. With her hard riding that had killed it just as dead as a shaft in the heart.” The last sentence not even a coherent thought, such jarring, if not blasé, lines are spread throughout the story.) “Zero Conduct” by Greg Egan shifts to the near-future and tells the story of an Afghani teen living in Iran with her exiled grandfather. Despite making an exciting discovery in superconducting, getting it into public and into production does not prove easy for a foreigner, however. Humanitarian in scope, it is a solid story featuring a clash of cultures and advances in knowledge. One of the most bejeweled stories in the anthology is Yoon Ha Lee’s “Effigy Nights”. A poetically expressed Jack Vance concept, the story never finds a precise balance between science fiction and fantasy as legends are brought back to life voodoo-style to defend a city under attack from galactic invaders. A moody, very well written piece of distant galaxy mysteriousness. “Rosary and Goldenstar” by Geoff Ryman is fun story in dialogue with Shakespeare and science, and is cleverly written, but possesses little to ruminate upon given the “profundity” of the subject matter. Another fun entry is Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”. As is the wont of Gaiman, the story is a fairy tale involving queens, dwarves, and a strange spell sweeping a land, but with his own contemporary spin on things. Charming but forgettable.

With M. John Harrison’s “Cave and Julia”, the anthology takes a turn for the sober. Set on Autotelia, the relationship of the titular couple, exacerbated by mysterious happenings on the island, takes center stage, an eerily wandering piece in Harrison’s precise prose the result. M. Bennardo’s “The Herons of Mer de l’Ouest” is a fantasy of Native American proportion. The story of a lone wanderer in the untamed regions of the US mid 18 th century, his experiences with a local tribe and the defense of their people has visual impact, and, a transcendent ending. Switching gears to the near-future, Ramez Naam’s “Water” is a love-affair with the technical possibilities surrounding the human interface with sensual—or at least sensualized—advertizing. Short on prose, the story nevertheless exposes some Orwellian possibilities for ads, neurotech, and the human will—or lack thereof. The story a modern upgrade of Frederik Pohl (e.g. “The Tunnel under the World”), it also froths ideas a la Charlie Stross. As always with a Ted Chiang story, “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” is a well-thought out idea in smooth style that examines the manner in which technology affects humanity and vice versa. The subject life-logging, Chiang postulates prosthetic memory is inevitable as society marches forward, and, like most other technical advances, has its dark and light sides. (See here for a longer review of the novelette on this blog.)

Set in northern Thailand, “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt is a bittersweet tale of a small village come holiday time. Prosaic in a fashion somewhat similar (emphasis on ‘somewhat’) to Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds but possessing a spirit like Amitav Ghosh’s The Circle of Reason, young Tangmoo’s ultimate fate touches not only the eclectic villagers around him, but also the reader. Also set in the Orient, “Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls” by Richard Parks is the story of young Hiroshi and the bottomless well outside his home emanating music every night. Hiroshi’s ensuing trip into the underworld is a magical piece of storytelling that begs to be read and re-read. Steampunk-grotesque I guess would be the best short description of Priya Sharman’s “Rag and Bone.” Victorian Liverpool lorded over by an oligarch of organ hungry aristocrats, each is willing to pay good money for healthy skin and bone, muscle and sinew, and Tom is the sampler. Though a bit simplistic, it’s well written and drags the reader, willing or unwilling, into its sense of the macabre. “The Book Seller” by Lavie Tidhar is a story that thinks it knows what it wants to be, but in reality tosses and turns fitfully in varying directions. Whether a kowtow to early genre, outright science fiction, Hebrewpunk, humanism, or something else, it’s a story that attempts to bounce back and forth between pulp and literary realism the same as Osama, but to limited effect. The fact it is also a story part of a larger set of stories limits its impact in the anthology. Though still embellished, the quality of K.J. Parker’s writing improves in short fiction. The novella The Sun and I focused stylistically, it tells of a down-on-their-luck group of young men who pawn off a religion of their own creation on a Medieval-esque land torn by war. The same story mechanism as another Parker novella Let Maps to Others (i.e. concatenating extreme coincidences and paranormal events toward an ambiguously moral point), the religion of the Invincible Sun goes through a cut-scene evolution which parallels Catholicism. Desperate for relevancy, the novella nevertheless finds itself at a distance for its failure to conflate the historical and cultural elements of religion with immediacy and need.

“The Promise of Space” by James Patrick Kelly is a subtly brilliant (and unintentional) counter-point to Chiang’s earlier novelette. A conversation between a dying space ship captain and his science fiction writer ex-wife, life-logging and the rigors of space travel influence their recollections of days past in ways neither want. A brief but touching story. “The Master Conjurer” is a story about a unique spell accidentally cast by a rather indifferent young man and the media sensation it becomes after. Though having something in common with Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell on the surface, it lacks depth beyond character. Though briskly prosaic, E. Lily Yu’s “The Pilgrim and the Angel” is a simplistic piece about culture clashes. An Egyptian barber swept up by the archangel Gabriel, the ensuing magic carpet ride covers a cultural divide, but is resolved in too-easy, fairy tale fashion. A work of humanist science fiction, Ian R.Macleod’s dark novelette “Entangled” is the story of an Indian woman looking for answers to personal questions in a Britain turned upside down by a disease that links people’s minds in More Than Human-style. Moody and bleak, Martha’s plight for knowledge is subtly revealed to be something she perhaps would rather not have known. Alternating between third- and first person perspectives of Martha, it is, as always seems the case with Macloed, an immaculately scripted story with impact. Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s “Fade to Gold” is the story of an AWOL soldier wandering an ancient Thailand shredded by war. Meeting a mysterious woman one day, however, changes her life.

Nominated for a bevy of awards, it will be interesting to see how many year’s ‘best ofs’ Sofi Samatar’s short and beautiful “Selkie Stories are for Losers” will appear in. Existing at the margin of genre, it is the story about one woman and the other women in her life, and is told in a voice that reveals itself wonderfully, giving evidence the many award nominations. Fuzzily parallel to Tidhar’s story, Samatar espouses real life can indeed be like the cherished stories old, just not always in a way one desires. “Metal and Bone” by An Owomoyela is, unfortunately, one of the least original stories in the collection. A well worn trope from both the realist and fantastic sides, the futility of war is expressed through the corporal remains of the dead, including dogtags. But to be fair, language usage is able to buoy the story. An Irish boy enslaved in Viking-era Iceland is a more unique story, however. Such is the premise of Eleanor Arnason’s “Kormak the Lucky”, as rounding out his story are elves, legends within legends, iron wolves, spells, and the fey of Ireland. Karen Tidbeck’s “Sing” is a soft, luxurious story of a deformed woman living on a backwater planet. Receiving a visit from a offworld biologist one day, an unconventional friendship arises. The only trouble is, communication on the planet is regulated by not only the suns, but a mysterious transformation known only to the locals. A wonderful story of open-ended love. It’s the future in Madeline Ashby’s “Social Services”, and amongst the other facets of life, technology has likewise been applied to the social work, as well.

Caitlin Kiernan is one of the top writers of short fiction working today, and though Strahan was not able to get the rights to her “Black Helicopters”, he did find space for “The Road of Needles”. Needing to be re-read to glean meaning, it is a dense story whose purpose is not superficial, Little Red Riding Hood playing in modular space only a hint. Robert Reed’s “Mystic Falls” is the story of a beautiful AI virus who haunts society. The prose a step up from much of what Reed produces, the delicate and abstract investigation needed to get at the virus’s creator has definite impact. An homage to H.G. Wells, “The Queen of Night’s Aria” by Ian McDonald is the larger-than-life story of the singer Jack Fitzgerald and his brief tour of Mars. Accompanied by his pianist, the duo’s best laid plans go awry as an alien war rages around their performances. Though The Magic Flute is better, McDonald’s concluding scene is subtly superb. The final story in the collection is by the relatively unknown writer Val Nolan’s called “The Irish Astronaut”. Affective, it tells of the stand-in astronaut Dale and his grieving the loss of a close friend when the module he was returning to Earth in disintegrated in the upper atmosphere. Filled with Irish wit and charm, the story is a subtly strong and optimistic note on which to close out the anthology.

As editor, Strahan has done his job in TBSFaFotYv8. Like the previous volumes (at least the couple I’ve read), there is good pace and rhythm; the reader is constantly kept slightly off-balance as to ‘what will be next’, which keeps curiosity piqued. Featuring writers from around the globe, there is a strong international flavor to the anthology, a fact which does indeed reflect the state of speculative fiction. (From male to female, it to transsexual, it goes without saying gender is represented.) From a selection point of view, there are some stories that will not appear in other year’s best anthologies, and some that probably will/do—which is to be expected. In turn, there are likewise some selections which seemingly insure the anthology’s commercial success—Gaiman, Abercrombie, Tidhar, and Parker, for example, produced mediocre works in the year, but are included nonetheless.

In the end, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 8, in some form represents what the year of shorts was in speculative. Those who have followed or dipped into the series (or other editors’ year’s ‘best-ofs’) will know what they are getting: an extremely varied selection of stories that, due to the variety, almost guarantees more than a few will be enjoyed. Given that thousands of stories are published each year, it’s also inevitable a few of the stories will be eye openers to a writer they’d never experienced before, and, that some stories have been elided--intentionally or unintentionally. And that is all you can really expect of an editor in today’s publishing market, so bravo.

The following are the table of contents of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Vol. 8:

Introduction, Jonathan Strahan
“Some Desperado” Joe Abercrombie
“Zero for Conduct” Greg Egan
“Effigy Nights” Yoon Ha Lee
“Rosary and Goldenstar” Geoff Ryman
“The Sleeper and the Spindle” Neil Gaiman
“Cave and Julia” M. John Harrison
“The Herons of Mer de l’Ouest” M. Bennardo
“Water” Ramez Naam
“The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” Ted Chiang
“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” Thomas Olde Heuvelt
“Cherry Blossoms on the River of Souls” Richard Parks
“Rag and Bone” Priya Sharma
“The Book Seller” Lavie Tidhar
The Sun and I K J Parker
“The Promise of Space” James Patrick Kelly
“The Master Conjurer” Charlie Jane Anders
“The Pilgrim and the Angel” E. Lily Yu
“Entangled” Ian R Macleod
“Fade to Gold” Benjanun Sriduangkaew
“Selkie Stories Are for Losers" Sofia Samatar
“In Metal, In Bone” An Owomoyela
“Kormak the Lucky" Eleanor Arnason
“Sing" Karin Tidbeck
“Social Services” Madeline Ashby
“The Road of Needles” Caitlin R Kiernan
“Mystic Falls” Robert Reed
“The Queen of Night’s Aria” Ian McDonald
“The Irish Astronaut” Val Nolan
14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Best Fantasy & Sci Fi? 17 May 2014
By Grey Wolffe - Published on
In the Intro Jonathan Strahan states that because he now has a new publisher, there was some problems with getting permission to include certain stories in this collection. From what I can tell from those short stories included in this collection most aren’t SciFi but Fantasy and Horror. Of the 28 stories only eight were published in “SciFi” magazines. At least ten of the rest are from books where the editors set the premise and then selected authors to write the stories.

It’s not that I don’t like fantasy stories, it’s just that many of them could easily just be ‘normal’ fiction just by ‘tweeking’ a few issues. There have been “other” World’s Best and Year’s Best collection in the past which were much more SciFi oriented and that’s more my style. I also noticed that many of these authors are also included in collections that Strahan himself has edited. Take it for what it’s worth.

Zeb Kantrowitz
4.0 out of 5 stars Plays with genre boundaries without straying far from the mainstream 19 Dec. 2014
By Michael Lichter - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
In the introduction to this "best of the year" collection, editor Jonathan Strahan says that, when selecting stories he tries to steer a course between David Hartwell and Judith Merrill. I've never read either of their anthologies -- and since Merrill's last collection was published in 1985, you probably haven't read her anthologies either -- but what I think he meant was that he is neither as dedicated to crowd-pleasing genre fiction as Hartwell nor as committed to high literary standards as Merrill. I would say that he succeeded in this reasonably well; there's nothing in the collection that screams "pulp!" and nothing that's so literary and self-consciously writerly that it's seriously difficult to read.

Strahan also said that he chose not to publish anything that wasn't clearly sci-fi or fantasy. While he mostly succeeded in this as well, his decision to lead off with Joe Abercrombie's “Some Desperado” is odd in this context; the story is a feudal-western mashup that is only fantasy in the way Kusher's classic "Swordspoint" is fantasy -- it doesn't take place here. A young woman flees both the palace guards and her former partners in crime on horseback; can she escape both? Strahan follows up with Greg Egan's “Zero for Conduct” which is mainly science fiction in that it is fiction that centers on science. Centering on a cautious but ambitious young Afghani refugee woman with an amazing grasp of molecular structure, the story is also part of a mini-wave of South Asia-centered sci-fi that emphasizes social realism over exoticism.

Another small wave in sci-fi that's evident in Strahan's anthology is work that focuses on the nature and dynamics of memory in a world in which machines are increasingly remembering it all for us wholesale. In Ted Chiang's “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling," when a self-absorbed man who remembers being a wonderful father begins using a new memory technology, he is confronted with hard evidence that he was anything but. Chiang does a lovely job in what is easily one of the best pieces in the book. In “The Promise of Space" by James Patrick Kelly, a wife tries to recover her Alzheimers-afflicted husband using memory augmentation ... but Alzheimers is about more than just forgetting, and personality is about more than just memory. In “Entangled” by Ian R Macleod, an old head injury prevents a middle-aged woman from joining the "entanglement" linking virtually all humans. A chance encounter with a man from her past forces her to confront the completely mistaken memory of the tragic events that led to her exile from this psychic community. Robert Reed's “Mystic Falls” takes a somewhat different tack; in a world where everyone is augmented with digital memory, how tough can it be to give everyone memories of a person who never existed? And does she become real when everyone remembers her?

Other highlights of the book include Yoon Ha Lee's “Effigy Nights," in which a woman tries to save her legendary planet from interstellar invasion by cutting heroes out of books and giving them a sort of life; Neil Gaiman's metafictional “The Sleeper and the Spindle," in which an older-but-wiser snow white tries to save a neighboring kingdom from a plague of fairy tales; and Priya Sharma's haunting Mievilleian (can I say that?) “Rag and Bone,” in which young Tom survives a Victorian-ish dystopian England by helping the rich to prey on the poor. These are all quite good.

Strahan deserves some credit for not including anything that's truly bad or unreadable. Other stories include an odd piece about young William Shakespeare's involvement in a secret society of scientists and magicians; a strained romance in an alternate Europe built on what are apparently ruins of an alien civilization; an alternate history of the American West that involves bird people; a world in which neural implants are only affordable because people run adware on them -- kind of like Kindle with special offers, only inside your head; and a "Local Hero"-esque story about an American man who travels to Ireland to honor a fellow astronaut who died in a a Challenger-like incident.

I'd be lying if I said that I found this collection immensely entertaining or uniformly thought-provoking. Instead, there were pieces that really worked for me, and pieces that really bored me. Gardner Dozois' annual volumes give a better slice of sci-fi, and Rich Horton's sci-fi and fantasy collections are more fun, but Strahan has done a creditable job.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The stories take the reader on a journey through time and space 23 Jun. 2014
By Night Owl Reviews - Published on
I chose this anthology because science fiction and fantasy were the genres that started my love of reading. Sci-Fi anthologies have been around for a long time and are kind of a tradition. There are only a few pre-1980 ones that I haven't read. I was very interested in how they changed.

As with most anthologies, there were stories I enjoyed and others I didn't. On the whole, I miss the old flavor of science fiction and fantasy. This review is only my impression of the stories and not a true reflection of their quality. I do have some favorites from this book and I have found a new author or two. That's one of the reasons I like anthologies.

The Irish Astronaut by Val Nolan was one of the stories that touched me. It was strongly compelling and emotional.

Kormac the Lucky by Eleanor Arnason was a fantasy story that held my interest and was very enjoyable.

Finally, The Promise of Space by James Patrick Kelly is by far my favorite. It has the soul of old time science fiction.

The remaining stories range from okay to just plain bad. Still this anthology was worth the read and gave me new insight into today's authors. I do, however, think that Sci-Fi and fantasy should be kept separate. I enjoy both genres, but combining them in one anthology feels awkward.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Vol. 8 brings twenty-eight short stories written by some of today's hottest authors together in one collection. The stories take the reader on a journey through time and space, visiting magical lands, alien cultures and other possible futures.

Review by: Emma of Night Owl Reviews

Disclosure: Most books that Night Owl reviews are received courtesy of the publisher, author or publicist. In most cases - reviewers get to keep the books they review and choose the books they will review themselves from an available to review database and based on their favorite authors and genres. Publishers, authors and publicists are not guaranteed a glowing review just because they have provided a copy of their book for review. Reviews are based on each individual reviewers opinion and not based on receiving a free copy of the work.
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