The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015, collected by series editor John Joseph Adams and guest editor Joe Hill, has a very important job: it must bring our rocketships, our magic, our monsters, and our hearts to the rest of the reading world. But it has to be more than an olive branch to the world of readers who want to know more about the state of American science fiction and fantasy; it has to be a welcoming present to the neighborhood. And what a present it is: together, Adams and Hill have run through the collective summer forest of our community, coaxed twenty bright, beautiful, and ethereal fireflies into a jar, and given them to the world to enjoy in this collection.
Is one firefly brighter than the others? Does one story cut deeper, or make you feel larger or smaller in your existence? Maybe. All mileage may vary, in the end, but at the core of this collection, Adams and Hill have crafted a wonderful welcome-to-the-neighborhood collection of short stories.
While Adams culled the list down to a manageable eighty or so, Hill read that final number of stories blind—no clue as to name, orientation, ethnicity, etc. Yet the ToC on display in BASFF showcases inclusivity in every sense of the word: writers from all ages, backgrounds, identities, tenure, style and more, grace these pages. As Adams says in the Foreword, “Part of the scope of this anthology series will be to help define—and redefine—just what science fiction and fantasy is capable of. It is my opinion that the finest science fiction and fantasy is on par with the finest works of literature in any genre, and the goal of this series is to prove it.” From the mix of authors, genres, and sheer talent on display in this collection, Adams is more than ready to defend that claim.
BASFF is a collection that is comfortable showcasing work across generations; Neil Gaiman, Jo Walton, and Kelly Link not only easily share space with Sam Miller, Sofia Samatar, and Carmen Maria Machado, they further the idea that the future of the industry is vibrant and alive, and that the community is in good hands with the writers of tomorrow.
As with all great literature, these stories take the concerns and fears of our modern world and of us too, and interrogate them through the lenses of the fantastic, the futuristic, and even a little bit of the frightful. Each of these stories are powerful, but the way they accomplish that emotional depth varies wildly from story to story, showcasing a depth and breadth of style, structure, voice, and imagination, rounding out the strength of this collection through sheer inventiveness.
Some of the strongest stories in this collection are the ones that perfectly meld the unsettling nature of science fiction and fantasy, with the beating human heart of our own experience. Carmen Maria Machado’s Kickstarter-inspired short story, “Help Me Follow My Sister Into The Land of the Dead,” is heartbreaking and inventive, as it utilizes the format of the crowdfunding website to delve into the relationships of two estranged sisters, and has an ending like a gut punch. Sam Miller’s Nebula-nominated short story, “We Are The Cloud,” is a painful look at disenfranchisement, technology, power, and fleeting human connection in a world that only wants to use and hurt you, and how to fight systems and institutions designed to keep you under a heel. Karen Russell’s “The Bad Graft,” is a very Weird story about a woman who becomes possessed by a Joshua tree in the American Southwest, causing her new and spontaneous marriage to crumble around her in a fit of alien emotions, body horror, and ecology. Sofia Samatar tackles science fiction in “How To Get Back To the Forest,” about young girls in a pristine and “perfect,” world of summer camp in order to discuss authority, friendship, and fear. Her other story, “Ogres of East Africa,” from the wonderful anthology Long Hidden (which you need to get if you have not), is a dissection of cultural narrative and myth, identity, racism, and reclamation.
I shouldn’t have been surprised with Hill at the helm, but I was happily thrilled to find a current of horror running through the collection. Beyond science fiction and fantasy, horror is a sibling in the family that could use more mainstream exposure, and so I was tickled and terrified at some of the additions in the collection.
Daniel H. Wilson’s “The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever,” utilizes the lens science fiction and the apocalypse with a trying-to-do-better father and his daughter working to survive on the planet Earth’s worst day. Kelly Link’s “I Can See right Through You,” is a masterfully sorrowful and horrific exploration of pain, love, and the ghosts we carry with us as “the demon lover,” tries to reunite with his constant, hopeful partner while at an abandoned and rainy nudist colony. Adam Troy-Castro’s, “The Shape of Things To Come,” explores body horror and social pressures in a world where children are no longer born as traditional babies; they emerge as various geometric shapes, and our new mother must learn to love her baby cube in a world that wants her to abandon it. Alaya Dawn Johnson’s disturbing and vicious, “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” will reignite any waning fear you had the fanged monsters from our nightmares, and is absolutely deserving of its Nebula win this year. And no mention of horror can go unsaid without whisper of one of the new masters of the genre, Nathan Ballingrud, whose “Skullpocket,” made me shiver and cry all at once, a tender and dark tale of a small town and its ghouls, ghosts, sins, and regrets.
There is so much more to say about this collection that I wish I had the space for: the beauty, grace, and imagination of Theodora Goss’s, “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology,” the loving, painful, and real exploration of a character’s identity crisis in A. Merc Rustad’s, “How To Become A Robot in 12 Easy Steps,”; the beautiful, and shimmering dark prose found in both Seanan Mcguire’s “Each to Each,” and Kelly Sandoval’s “The One They Took Before.” I haven’t even touched on the masterful work of Neil Gaiman and Jo Walton found in their charming, and masterful stories. You’ll just have to pick up the collection and read them for yourself.
Hill from his introduction says, “This is the truth of science fiction and fantasy: it is the greatest fireworks show in literature, and your own imagination is a sky waiting to catch fire. And here is the truth of this book: we’ve got the best, brightest, bangiest fireworks a person could want.” And he isn’t wrong. Together, he and Adams have collected some of the finest works published last year, that not only act as a bridge to new readers, but also serve as champions of the kind of fiction that our community is producing. Poignant, sharp, imaginative, and beautiful, each of these stories serve as a master class for the state of short fiction in science fiction, fantasy, and yes, even horror, in America in 2015. With seasoned writers and newcomers alike, Hill and Adams have created a powerful collection that is worth your time, attention, and love.
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 is available now from Mariner Books.
Martin Cahill is a publicist by day, a bartender by night, and a writer in between. When he’s not slinging words at Tor.com, he’s contributing to Book Riot, Strange Horizons, and blogging at his own website when the mood strikes him. A proud graduate of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop 2014, you can find him on Twitter @McflyCahill90; tweet him about how barrel-aging beers are kick-ass, tips on how to properly mourn Parks and Rec, and if you have any idea on what he should read next, and you’ll be sure to become fast friends.