Those Shadows Laugh • 2016 • SF novelette by Geoff Ryman

★★+

In an alternate Earth there exists a female humanoid race, the Colinas, which reproduces by parthenogenesis. They live isolated on an island called Colinas Bravas and experience reproduction problems because genetic errors accumulated over the generations. They call for help from a microbiologist, Maria Valdez, who falls in love with the land, the culture. and her guide Evie and brings in her foreign understanding of marriage and possession.

When the race was discovered in the late 19th century it changed Western culture – there was no WWII, no Hitler, and there would have been tons of other changes if Ryman wouldn’t have edited the story, c.f. the interview around that story. The interview was nearly more fun than the story, which was in between just ok and nearly liked it.

This feminist utopian love story modernizes Gilman’s novella HerlandThe Colinas are described as a joyous, eternally cheerful, and in many other aspects superior race lacking the need of possession. A serene Utopia with all the wondering if you would want to have the world like this. The love story didn’t work for me and clearly developed too slowly, but I liked the feministic ideas which left me with plenty of things to think about.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in September 2016 in the Magazine of F&SF. Read in Best SFF 11.

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Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home • 2016 • SF short story by Genevieve Valentine

★★★★+

A group of involuntary beta testers for a virtual reality game don’t realise that they are playing but think that they are really the first colonists on Themis, a planet of Proxima Centauri. The story follows them in their adventures on the planet, back home, and their fighting against their abuse.

I loved the epistolary, emotionally engaging style. As always with Valentine, the prose was beautiful.

The characters were believable, especially main protagonist Marie. As an avid gamer, I’d surely love to immerse in that surrounding without the ethical questionary coercion, of course. That’s why I fully understand Marie’s hopeless adiction and urge to return back to that world. Some ideas in this story were really great, e.g. the question if prisoners might reduce their sentence when they behave well in a time-accelerated virtual reality. It brings up questions of corporate citizenship („behave well“), prison ethics, the ever recurring danger of excessive gaming, the questionable behavior of gaming media, and the gamers reactions who don’t give a damn.

The only, slight drawback that I found were the many endings: Just when I thought the story is done, there were a couple of more final twists – somewhat similar to The Lord of the Rings.

 

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in October 2016 in Clarksworld. Read in Best SFF 11. Available online.

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The Great Detective • 2016 • Steampunk novelette by Delia Sherman

★★+

It’s a Steampunky version of Mr Holmes‘ London of November 1880, where intelligent robots based on pure mechanical functions help in everyday life, like autonomous taxis, or guardians. Those self-aware robots – here termed „mechanicals“ – are on the verge of achieving human rights. In the case of Mr Holmes, it is a robot which (or should I write „who“?) can theorize about the suspects of a theft and access and search background materials like newspapers. The subject of the robbery is a „Illogic Engine“, an invention by Arthur Cwmlech who was introduced in the short story “The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor,” together with his companions Angharad – a ghost embedded in a doll-like puppet – and Tacey, his female mechanical apprentice. The Illogic Engine is „designed to endow mechanicals with those aspects of human intelligence that exist independent of reason“, e.g. emotions.

The novelette reflects the contemporary futuristic discussion of human rights and artificial intelligence – of course, our current A.I. systems are not self-aware, yet, and this problem is as far away as wondering about overpopulation of Mars. One miss in the story is that it doesn’t touch Robot ethics, i.e. the risks coming along with robots, at all: Everything about mechanics is happy sunshine and working absurdely perfect.  That is another problem with the story that I have: I didn’t buy into the steampunk logic at all, as the pure technological background is so far away from believability that I only could consider it as pure fantasy.

The scenery and atmosphere was beautifully described. Characters remain distant, and do some behavioural jumps which I simply didn’t understand, e.g. Tacy’s love story. The logic of the detective story was somewhat far-fetched and has some holes.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared February 2016 at Tor.com. Read in Best SFF 11.

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2016 Locus Recommended Reading List

At the start of each year, Locus publishes a consensus list from several editors (like Dozois, Strahan, Horton, Clarke,…) a list of recommended readings of the last year. Here is the one for 2016:

2016 Locus Recommended Reading List

I just copy over the shorter works (the original list also contains novels, anthologies, etc.), including links to my reviews if available.

NOVELLAS
The Lost Child of Lychford, Paul Cornell (Tor.com Publishing)
The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, Kij Johnson (Tor.com Publishing)
Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw (Tor.com Publishing)
The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (Tor.com Publishing)
Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire (Tor.com Publishing)
This Census-taker, China Miéville (Del Rey; Picador)
“The Charge and the Storm”, An Owomoyela (Asimov’s 6/16)
The Devil You Know, K.J. Parker (Tor.com Publishing)
The Iron Tactician, Alastair Reynolds (NewCon)
The Dispatcher, John Scalzi (Audible; Subterranean 2017)
Pirate Utopia, Bruce Sterling (Tachyon)
“The Vanishing Kind”, Lavie Tidhar (F&SF 07-08/16)
A Taste of Honey, Kai Ashante Wilson (Tor.com Publishing)

NOVELETTES
★★★ •  The Art of Space Travel • SF novelette by Nina Allan • review
Checkerboard Planet”, Eleanor Arnason (Clarkesworld 12/16)
Fifty Shades of Grays”, Steven Barnes (Lightspeed 6/16)
Salto Mortal”, Nick T. Chan (Lightspeed 6/16)
A Dead Djinn in Cairo”, P. Djeli Clark (Tor.com 5/18/16)
“Pearl”, Aliette de Bodard (The Starlit Wood)
The Life and Times of Angel Evans”, Meredith Debonnaire (Booksmugglers 9/13/16)
★★★ • Touring with the Alien • First contact SF novelette by Carolyn Ives Gilman • review
★★ • Red as Blood and White as Bone • Fairy tale novelette by Theodora Goss • review
★★★ • Number Nine Moon • Hard SF short story by Alex Irvine • review
Birdfather”, Stephen Graham Jones (Black Static 3-4/16)
The Night Cyclist”, Stephen Graham Jones (Tor.com 9/21/16)
“Antediluvian Homesick Blues”, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Sirenia Digest 10/16)
Jonas and the Fox”, Rich Larson (Clarkesworld 5/16)
Foxfire, Foxfire”, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 3/03/16)
“The Visitor from Taured”, Ian R. MacLeod (Asimov’s 9/16)
“In the Ruins of Mohenjo-Daro”, Usman T. Malik (The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu)
Angel, Monster, Man”, Sam J. Miller (Nightmare 1/16)
“Cold Comfort”, Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty (Bridging Infinity)
★★★ •  Spinning Silver • Fairy tale Rumpelstilchen retold by Naomi Novik • review
Unauthorized Access”, An Owomoyela (Lightspeed 9/16)
Told by an Idiot”, K.J. Parker (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 2/04/16)
“Project Empathy”, Dominica Phetteplace (Asimov’s 3/16)
“Project Symmetry”, Dominica Phetteplace (Asimov’s 6/16)
★★+ • Those Shadows Laugh • Geoff Ryman • review
“Prodigal”, Gord Sellar (Analog 12/16)
“Inheritance, or the Ruby Tear”, Priya Sharma (Black Static 7-8/16)
★★+ • The Great Detective • Steampunk novelette by Delia Sherman • review

★★★★ • The Future is Blue • dystopic SF novelette by Catherynne M. Valente • review
Everyone from Themis Sends Letters Home”, Genevieve Valentine (Clarkesworld 10/16)
“The Mind Is Its Own Place”, Carrie Vaughn (Asimov’s 9/16)
The Jewel and Her Lapidary, Fran Wilde (Tor.com Publishing)
“The Metal Demimonde”, Nick Wolven (Analog 7-8/16)
“Passion Summer”, Nick Wolven (Asimov’s 2/16)
★★★★ • You’ll Surely Drown Here If You Stay • Weird novelette by Alyssa Wong • review

SHORT STORIES
“Because Change Was the Ocean and We Lived By Her Mercy”, Charlie Jane Anders (Drowned Worlds)
“Rager in Space”, Charlie Jane Anders (Bridging Infinity)
★★ • Mika Model • SF short story by Paolo Bacigalupi • review
I Was a Teenage Werewolf“, Dale Bailey (Nightmare 12/16)
The Story of Kao Yu“, Peter S. Beagle (Tor.com 12/7/16)
Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies“, Brooke Bolander (Uncanny 11-12/16)
“The Voice in the Cornfield, the Word Made Flesh”, Desirina Boskovich (F&SF 9-10/16)
The House That Jessica Built“, Nadia Bulkin (The Dark 11/16)
“Nesters”, Siobhan Carroll (Children of Lovecraft)
Applied Cenotaphics in the Long, Long Latitudes“, Vajra Chandrasekera (Strange Horizons 9/5/16)
A Tower for the Coming World“, Maggie Clark (Clarkesworld 12/16)
The House That Creaks“, Elaine Cuyegkeng (The Dark 10/16)
★★★+ • A Salvaging of Ghosts • SF short story in Xuyan universe by Aliette de Bodard • review
The Sound That Grief Makes“, Kristi DeMeester (The Dark 10/16)
★★★ • Seasons of Glass and Iron • fairy tale short story by Amal El-Mohtar • review
“Ghost Pressure”, Gemma Files (What the #@&% Is That?)
Not Without Mercy“, Jeffrey Ford (Conjunctions 67: Other Aliens)
“The Mutants Men Don’t See”, James Alan Gardner (Asimov’s 8/16)
★★★ • Even the Crumbs Were Delicious • Hänsel und Gretel turned to SF short story by Daryl Gregory • review
Tower of the Rosewater Goblet“, Nin Harris (Strange Horizons 1/4/16)
Little Widow“, Maria Dahvana Headley (Nightmare 9/16)
“The Magical Properties of Unicorn Ivory”, Carlos Hernandez (The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria)
The City Born Great“, N.K. Jemisin (Tor.com 9/28/16)
★★★★+ • Red Dirt Witch • Urban Fantasy short story by N.K. Jemisin • review
“Night Journey of the Dragon-Horse”, Xia Jia (Invisible Planets)
Breathe“, Cassandra Khaw (Clarkesworld 5/16)
“The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth (Murder Ballad No. 10)”, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Sirenia Digest 11/16)
 • Whisper Road (Murder Ballad No. 9) • Caitlín R. Kiernan horror
Successor, Usurper, Replacement“, Alice Sola Kim (Buzzfeed 10/25/16)
The One Who Isn’t“, Ted Kosmatka (Lightspeed 7/16)
Postcards from Natalie“, Carrie Laben (The Dark 7/16)
The Finest, Fullest Flowering“, Marc Laidlaw (Nightmare 6/16)
Sparks Fly“, Rich Larson (Lightspeed 3/16)
★★★★ • You Make Pattaya • Near Future con-man short story by Rich Larson •  review
Shadows Weave“, Yoon Ha Lee (Beneath Ceaseless Skies 5/26/16)
“Dispatches from the Cradle: The Hermit – Forty-Eight Hours in the Sea of Massachusetts”, Ken Liu (Drowned Worlds)
“Seven Birthdays”, Ken Liu (Bridging Infinity)
A Good Home“, Karin Lowachee (Lightspeed 6/16)
“Ozymandias”, Karin Lowachee (Bridging Infinity)
Her Sacred Spirit Soars“, S. Qiouyi Lu (Strange Horizons 7/18/16)
My Body, Herself“, Carmen Maria Machado (Uncanny 9-10/16)
The Wreck at Goat’s Head“, Alexandra Manglis (Strange Horizons 11/16)
“Elves of Antarctica”, Paul McAuley (Drowned Worlds)
Something Happened Here, but We’re Not Quite Sure What It Was“, Paul McAuley (Tor.com 7/20/16)
Ye Highlands and Ye Lowlands“, Seanan McGuire (Uncanny 5-6/16)
“Last Gods”, Sam J. Miller (Drowned Worlds)
★ • Things with Beards • Weird short story by Sam J. Miller • I didn’t get at all what this story was about, couldn’t get into it
Webs“, Mary Anne Mohanraj (Asimov’s 7/16)
u wont remember dying“, Russell Nichols (Terraform 6/23/16)
With Her Diamond Teeth“, Pear Nuallak (The Dark 11/16)
Ever Changing, Ever Turning“, Yukimi Ogawa (Lackington’s Summer 2016)
Afrofuturist 419“, Nnedi Okorafor (Clarkesworld 11/16)
Screamers“, Tochi Onyebuchi (Omenana 11/9/16)
Between Dragons and Their Wrath“, An Owomoyela & Rachel Swirsky (Clarkesworld 2/16)
Under One Roof“, Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny 9-10/16)
Left Behind“, Cat Rambo (Clarkesworld 5/16)
“Sixteen Questions for Kamala Chatterjee”, Alastair Reynolds (Bridging Infinity)
Those Brighter Stars“, Mercurio D. Rivera (Lightspeed 8/16)
The Bog Girl“, Karen Russell (The New Yorker 6/20/16)
The Red Thread“, Sofia Samatar (Lightspeed 6/16)
“The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle”, Sofia Samatar (The Starlit Wood)
Vulcanization“, Nisi Shawl (Nightmare 1/16)
Wednesday’s Story“, Wole Talabi (Lightspeed 5/16)
“Drowned”, Lavie Tidhar (Drowned Worlds)
★★★ •  Terminal • SF short story by Lavie Tidhar • review
The Abduction of Europa“, E. Catherine Tobler (Clarkesworld 1/16)
La beauté sans vertu“, Genevieve Valentine (Tor.com 4/16)
That Game We Played During the War“, Carrie Vaughn (Tor.com 3/16/16)
Dragon Brides“, Nghi Vo (Lightspeed 4/16)
First Light at Mistaken Point“, Kali Wallace (Clarkesworld 8/16)
“Openness”, Alexander Weinstein (Beloit Fiction Journal Spring 2016)
Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left“, Fran Wilde (Shimmer 9/16)
A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers“, Alyssa Wong (Tor.com 3/02/16)
Secondhand Bodies“, JY Yang (Lightspeed 1/16)
Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0“, Caroline M. Yoachim (Lightspeed 3/16)
The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight“, E. Lily Yu (Uncanny 9-10/16)

 

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Touring with the Alien • 2016 • First contact SF novelette by Carolyn Ives Gilman

★★★

Aliens landed on Earth. In a top secret job, Avery is recruited to drive an alien, stored in a box, and Lionel, his human translator, across the United States. On this road trip, the three come to know each other and themselves. The thing is, that the aliens use humans as a kind of drug to induce consciousness in themselves because they are not self-aware.

 

The first part of this character-driven story read similar to Chiang’s Story of Your Life with those mysterious, indifferent aliens not really showing up.

It is centered around the philosophical discussion about consciousness, and it was funny to see that those aliens get high on consciousness, whereas the two humans come to see it as negative.

Another part was Lionel’s coming-of-age story, as he was abducted as child by the aliens, grew up in their environment and had to learn the way of humans – very funny, as he first ate a salty bacon which „bit me“.

This is no action story, not much of a plot, sometimes too slow and lacking tension. I found the linking with Avery’s fate and the philosophical discussions to be interesting but a bit heavy-handed. I didn’t buy into the ending, as I think that FBI would have reacted completely differently.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in April 2016 in Clarkesworld. Read in Best SFF 11. It is available online.

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Laws of Night and Silk • 2016 • Fantasy short story by Seth Dickinson

★★★★+

Kavian is a sorceress of The Cteri, a folk at war with the huge army of the Efficate who want to get their water ressources. The Efficates have numerous wizards, but very weak in comparison. As the ultimate weapon, the Cteri foster feral children who develop enormous magical powers and are used as weapons called abnarch. Irasht is one of those children, lead by sorceress Kavian. Her own daughter is given to another wizard Fereyd by the command of Kavian’s sister and leader of war Absu. Both children are used in the war to destroy the Efficate army.

Feral children played important roles in literature, and we have numerous examples of them – starting with Gilgamesh’s brother Enkidu to Tarzan up to several contemporary stories. I just don’t know any description of this extreme violation of humanity, thus plays Dickinson with our emotions: Not only with our cultural disgust against feral children, but also with parent-child relationships leading to guilt, competition, loyalty, and yes, love.

On the other hand, the story is a heroic epos about one sorceress fighting against the rest of the world. It is not an easy story, but I loved the character development, the prose, the philosophical touch, and the setting in general. For a story of this size, a complete world-building is asked for too much. Though, I’d like to know why negotiation over water rights didn’t achieve any compromise. I can accept, that in a fantasy world children don’t get insane when locked behind walls for years.

Also, a very satisfying, open ending comes very handy in the story’s afterglow.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in May 2016 in Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Read in Best SFF 11. Read it online!

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Number Nine Moon • 2016 • SF short story by Alex Irvine

★★★

Colonization of Mars went wrong in the year 2072, and Steuby and Bridget find themselves in a traumatic situation similar to The Martian. While clocks are ticking, they have to fuel, energize and start an old fashioned rocket to reach the last transporter heading back to Earth.

I loved Steuby’s character, his inner monologues and the light, entertaining tone of the hard SF story. Although a somewhat uneven pacing, the escape story is exciting, having me on the edge.

Don’t miss the interview around that story!

 

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in January 2016 in the Magazine of F&SF. Read in Best SFF 11.

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Even the Crumbs Were Delicious • 2016 • SF short story by Daryl Gregory

★★★

Hänsel und Gretel turned to SF: The shugar covered walls are drug-inscribed wall papers, the witch is a friendly, stoned man, the crumbs are navigation signals on the cell phone.

The story reached its single goal: To be incredibly funny!

Meta: isfdb. Appeared in The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales. Read in Best SFF 11.

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The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection • 2017 • SF Anthology by Gardner R. Dozois

Every year, Mr Dozois pulls together a huge anthology of last year’s best SF stories. I came to wait for July when it appears and at the same time fear it because it is really huge and takes a lot of time digging through it and reviewing it.

Dozois already posted the table of contents.

Contents:

  1. ★★★ •  Terminal • SF short story by Lavie Tidhar • review
  2. ★★★ • Touring with the Alien • First contact SF novelette by Carolyn Ives Gilman • review
  3. PATIENCE LAKE, Matthew Claxton
  4. JONAS AND THE FOX, Rich Larson
  5. PRODIGAL, Gord Sellar
  6. KIT: Some Assembly Required, Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz
  7. VORTEX, Gregory Benford
  8. ELVES OF ANTARCTICA, Paul McAuley
  9. THE BABY EATERS, Ian McHugh
  10. ★★★1/2 • A Salvaging of Ghosts • SF short story in Xuyan universe by Aliette de Bodard • review
  11. ★★+ • Those Shadows Laugh • Geoff Ryman • review
  12. RedKING, Craig DeLancey
  13. THINGS WITH BEARDS, Sam J. Miller
  14. FIELDWORK, Shariann Lewit
  15. THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MR. COSTELLO, David Gerrold
  16. INNUMERABLE GLIMMERING LIGHTS, Rich Larson
  17. FIFTY SHADES OF GRAYS, Steven Barnes
  18. SIXTEEN QUESTIONS FOR KAMALA CHATTERJEE, Alastair Reynolds
  19. COLD COMFORT, Pat Murphy & Paul Dohert
  20. ★★★ •  The Art of Space Travel • SF novelette by Nina Allan • review
  21. FLIGHT FROM THE AGES, Derek Küsken
  22. MY GENERATIONS WILL PRAISE, Samantha Henderson
  23. MARS ABIDES, Stephen Baxter
  24. THE VISITOR FROM TAURED, Ian R. MacLeod
  25. WHEN THE STONE EAGLE FLIES, Bill Johnson
  26. THE VANISHING KIND, Lavie Tidhar
  27. ONE SISTER, TWO SISTERS, THREE, James Patrick Kelly
  28. DISPATCHES FROM THE CRADLE: THE HERMIT—FORTY-EIGHT HOURS IN THE SEA OF MASSACHUSETTS, Ken Liu
  29. CHECKERBOARD PLANET, Eleanor Arnason
  30. THEY HAVE ALL ONE BREATH, Karl Bunker
  31. ★★ • Mika Model • SF short story by Paolo Bacigalupi • review
  32. THAT GAME WE PLAYED DURING THE WAR, Carrie Vaughn
  33. BECAUSE CHANGE WAS THE OCEAN AND WE LIVED BY HER MERCY, Charlie Jane Anders
  34. THE ONE WHO ISN’T, Ted Kosmatka
  35. THOSE BRIGHTER STARS, Mercurio R. Rivera
  36. A TOWER FOR THE COMING WORLD, Maggie Clark
  37. FIRSTBORN, LASTBORN, Melissa Scott
  38. WOMEN’S CHRISTMAS, Ian McDonald
  39. THE IRON TACTICIAN, Alastair Reynolds

 

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A Salvaging of Ghosts • 2016 • SF Xuya short story by Aliette de Bodard

★★★1/2

A Xuyan short story with ghosts, a wreck of a mindship, and dealing with relatives‘ deaths.

Main character Thuy has a high-risk job: She goes into the depths of a broken space ships to salvage drug pearls. Those drugs where formed by the strange reality around mindships transforming souls of the dead. One of those deads is her daughter, also one of the pearl divers. Thuy wants to retrieve her daughter’s pearl as an artifact for her family altar.

I’ve read a couple of alternative universe Xuyan stories and found it hard to get back into the world of mindships every time. I’d love to fully immerse into the setting within one collection. Once again, it took several pages to remember that this is one of the Xuyan stories, what the universe was all about, and so forth. Once I had the grip, the story was half over, but I really liked the weird, melancholic atmosphere, the desperate character, and the humanistic view.

For better orientation in the Xuyan universe, she wrote a chronology.

Meta: isfdb. Appeared March 2016 in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, #195. Read in Best SFF 11. Available online.

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