Strahan impresses again, having gathered a fine collection of stories first published in 2016. You can see somewhat detailed thoughts on most of the individual stories in previous posts of mine, and I will finish that series in the first part of this post:
Foxfire, Foxfire, by Yoon Ha Lee. 4 stars. This is a fun-to-read sci-fi-fantasy mixup involving war mechs and little gods of stone and fire, not to mention a shapeshifting fox-person as the protagonist. Lee's stories often focus on the psychology of warriors, and this is no exception -- the main draw, I think, is Lee's fine understanding of that psychology, combined with the interesting world-building of this story.
Elves of Antarctica, by Paul McAuley. 5 stars. A beautifully-told story of the climate-changed future of Antarctica, this is a neat meditation on human interaction with landscape.
The Witch of Orion Waste and the Boy Knight, by E. Lily Yu. 4 stars. Here's yet another fairy-tale-like story. What makes this one stand out against the others is its intensely pointed prose, almost poetic in its epigrammatic power.
Seven Birthdays, by Ken Liu. 5 stars. This is one of my favorites of the anthology -- the structure is mathematically precise, encompassing a gripping story of personal and human evolution. Overcome by a sensation of awe, I could do nothing for a while after reading it. That doesn't happen with just any story.
The Visitor from Taured, by Ian R. MacLeod. 5 stars. Same thing here. Another truly excellent story with an overwhelming sense of wonder. It also makes the reader ponder his or her own position as reader in relation to the fictional constructs of the story. Powerful stuff.
Fable, by Charles Yu. 4 stars. This one, the final story of the volume, also examines the author-reader relationship, but from a different angle. Rather than having stories as real artefacts of the human experience (as in "Seven Birthdays" and "The Visitor from Taured"), the stories in this story are metaphors and indeed starting points for one's personal experience. I prefer stories as artefacts, but this is at least an interesting and emotionally involving read.
All in all, 2016 was fertile ground for great stories. As usual, there were a handful that didn't do much for me in this volume, but the concentration of really good stories is particularly high this year. Strahan's preface noted that there were upwards of 10,000 sci-fi or fantasy stories published in 2016, too many for any human to read. Of the ones he read, there were still a great many of excellent quality.
The ones I liked the most often had little to do with each other, which is a sign that Strahan is able to find good quality along a broad spectrum of the genre. I loved Mika Model, about a near-future sex bot; Spinning Silver, a Rumpelstiltskin re-telling; Number Nine Moon, a hard sci-fi survival story; Things With Beards, a Lovecraftian sci-fi horror; Whisper Road, an unconventional travel story involving weird lights in the sky; Red as Blood and White as Bone, a fairy tale productive of new fairy tales; Seven Birthdays, an intimate exploration of Stapledonian scale; and The Visitor from Taured, a poetic mingling of literature and physics.
UP NEXT: I'll decide later today. It will either be the three novellas that Strahan recommended but didn't have room for in the anthology, or it will be the November/December 2017 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction.