Friday, July 24, 2020

The Year's Best Science Fiction Vol. 1 The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 Edited by Jonathan Strahan

As I have said before, I am wary of anthologies - I worry about changes in quality and tonal whiplash between stories in themed multi-author collections.  However, when I saw that Saga Press was launching a new series of the year’s best science fiction anthologies called The Year’s Best Science Fiction vol 1 edited by Jonathan Strahan with the best of 2019’s short fiction, I figured it would be a good bet and requested an eARC from NetGalley.  I wasn’t wrong! This collection is full of excellent stories.   Are they necessarily what I would have picked personally? No, but I can’t argue that there is a dud in the bunch.  It contains many of this year’s Hugo nominees, like “As the Last I May Know” by S. L. Huang and “A Catalog of Storms” by Fran Wilde. (Fun fact - I met Fran Wilde at NYCC a few years ago and she made my day by complimenting me on the Wonder Twins tshirt I was wearing.) Among my favorites are Hugo nominee “Emergency Skin” by N. K. Jemisin.  This story was a fascinating, surprising take on a post-Apocalyptic earth with a very unreliable second person narrator.  So much fun! I also loved “The Bookstore at the End of America” by Charlie Jane Anders, which was full of warmth and heart and really made me miss going to bookstores during this pandemic.  Probably my favorite story from the entire collection is “I (28M) created a deepfake girlfriend and now 000 my parents think we’re getting married” by Fonda Lee.  Written in an incredibly realistic style of a series of internet posts, it is a cheeky yet introspective look at technology and relationships in the digital age.   A great anthology all round.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Annihilation Aria, by Michael R. Underwood

I regularly read Seanan McGuire’s twitter. She often tweets about ARCs that she has read and enjoyed.  I usually request those books from NetGalley, and I usually enjoy them.  So when I saw Annihilation Aria, by Michael R. Underwood available, I requested an eARC of it.  Sadly, Annihilation Aria did not work for me.  Billed as a space opera, it felt more like space fantasy.  It was long I’m tired tropes and short on new ideas and characterization.  This book was all tell and no show.  Two of the three main characters are supposed to be a married couple in love, but nothing they do ever makes me believe that they’re going steady, let alone married.  The aliens have no distinguishing characteristics to differentiate them from each other.  I was shocked when I found out that this was not the work of a first time author.  In the acknowledgements, Mr. Underwood explains that he was trying to write a novel that recaptured the feel of the movie Guardians of the Galaxy (which to me feels much more cosmic comic than space opera, but I can see that that is a minor distinction).  That made sense, since many of the story beats were lifted directly from that movie.  The author also pats himself on the back for having his male protagonist be a black man from Baltimore, but absolutely nothing about the text made him seem any more than just a cipher, like all of the other characters.  Furthermore, the third main character, not a member of the couple, a character named Wheel (get it? She’s a third wheel!), repeatedly betrays the couple’s trust by keeping massive secrets and nothing ever comes of it! The book is not all bad.  It was mildly diverting but, overall, not worth your time.