Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Review: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two by Jonathan Strahan

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book reviews.

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two is pretty much the first volley of anthologies that collects last year's best science fiction and fantasy. At the very least, it's an interesting set of stories based on previously published material. Personally, I've read many of the stories included yet revisiting them actually made me appreciate them more rather than feel exhausted. Perhaps one thing I noticed is that there's a stronger science fiction balance in this anthology compared to the previous volume--although that might also be because the lines between science fiction and fantasy easily gets blurry. The opening piece, Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and The Alchemist's Gate", is a good example. This is easily my favorite story and arguably Chiang's most accessible piece. The physics of time travel is narrated with an Arabian Nights flavor and theme, appealing to both science fiction and fantasy fans. If you're more of the former, you'll appreciate the concept it tackles. If you're more of the latter, you'll enjoy its tone and voice. Next on my favorite stories list is "The Last and Only, or Mr. Moskowitz Becomes French" by Peter S. Beagle. I enjoyed it the first time but after rereading it and examining it more closely, this is a layered story with depth and gravity, yet tackled lightheartedly and with much comedy. One can appreciate it on the surface level--and the story very much succeeds on that level already--yet sophisticated readers will find there's more to mine in this narrative with subsequent readings. The last story I'd like to draw attention to--and could easily have been the other contender for opening this anthology--is Daniel Abraham's "The Cambist and Lord Iron: A Fairy Tale of Economics". Abraham tells an enticing tale through simple and concise language as well as being consistent with his theme. What makes this story work however are his compelling characters and how a concept we take for granted becomes transformed into this enchanting tale that makes you think it couldn't have been written any better. There are honestly a lot of great stories in this anthology from authors like Jeffrey Ford, Ted Kosmatka, Neil Gaiman, Ken MacLeod, etc. and they otherwise would have made my top three but I really feel strongly about the stories mentioned above and is easily worth the price of the book. Some stories I feel are simply good instead of great but that's always been the case with various anthologies and at the end of the day, one must admit that at the very least, The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two provides an interesting selection of short stories.


Rating System:

1 - There are better ways to spend your time.
2 - Ho hum books, usually typical of its genre. Probably only recommendable to die-hard fans.
3 - A cut above the rest, usually with one or more elements that sets it apart from the norm.
4 - Highly recommended and is easily a pioneer of the genre.
5 - A classic or it will be.

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