Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sci-fi anthology, cont'd

I said I'd post about the sci-fi anthology later tonight, so here goes.

The anthology I'm talking about is called The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. I bought it because I realized that it would be difficult to write science fiction (the novel I'm currently writing) without reading some myself. But the sci-fi selection at Barnes and Noble (small as it was compared to the fantasy offerings) was overwhelming, especially since I'm not familiar with the genre and didn't have the slightest idea where to start. I remembered that yearly fiction anthologies are usually published for different genres - books like Best American Short Stories, etc. I figured that would be enough to get my feet wet, and that if I liked stuff from it I'd at least have some leads. So I searched on the in-store search computer and found this book. I bought it.

The book is 628 pages (minus the introduction and the "honorable mention" list at the end), about as long as The Complete Tales and Stories of Hans Christian Andersen, which I read recently -- I read almost all of them except for some longer ones toward the end, which I skipped because the book was getting tedious. Unlike with that book, though, I actually managed to read all the stories in this anthology. The last couple stories were particularly tedious and I struggled to not skip them.

Out of the 628 pages of stories, I only really liked 10 stories. I don't know what that says about me. Maybe I only like a certain kind of story? Or am I just picky? Who knows?

The first story I liked was "The Gambler" by Paolo Bacigalupi. It is the third story in the anthology. The first two I didn't care for, but I liked this one. It is a near-future story and explores the idea of the role of the media in our lives and how we often skip over the stories on important issues on the Net to read about less important things. The story utilized this theme well, without being super preachy about it. The main character, a Laotian refugee named Ong, writes stories about the government and the environment for a news website. However, Ong is in danger of losing his job for writing about these things (even though they are what he is assigned), since he gets almost no readers. Eventually, he tries to save his job by interviewing a famous Laotian actress, but even after she takes him on a date and creates buzz about it on purpose, he still decides to stick to his guns and write about the important stuff. I think that is a good ending; I would've been annoyed if he ended up as a sellout.

The second story I liked was "Boojum" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette. This story is about space pirates who pilot a semi-sentient spaceship, and what happens to the crew when they are invaded while the protagonist, Black Alice, is repairing the ship's hull. The story was very intriguing. Not to mention that as soon as I saw in the premise that it was about space pirates, I was interested. I had never seen a story with space pirates in it outside of anime -- particularly Tenchi Muyo, in which one of the main characters, Ryoko, is a space pirate, and Outlaw Star. It was nice to see.

The third story I liked was "An Eligible Boy" by Ian McDonald (who also wrote one of those last two tedious stories). It is set in 22nd century India and basically turns their whole courtship system on its head by including artificial intelligence. The plot seemed very much like a Bollywood movie would be (and this was probably intentional), just with sci-fi elements and minus the musical numbers. It also featured two AIs directing the two lovers on what to say, à la Cyrano de Bergerac.

The fourth story I liked was "Shining Armour" by Dominic Green. It seemed almost more like a fantasy story than sci-fi, since it featured an old former warrior taking up arms again to save his hometown from invasion. Actually, some of the plot elements could easily have been used for a Star Wars story set during the Old Republic era, when the Jedi took their vow to help the helpless very seriously.

The fifth story I liked was "The Hero" by Karl Schroeder. It reminded me of Outlaw Star a little bit. The hero in this is a guy who's about to die but before he does he sets out on a mission to fix the mechanical "sun" of his home planet. The story is set in a universe Schroeder created for his other works, a universe he doesn't explain very much about in this story, so if I read more of his works in that universe I might get a better understanding.

The sixth story I liked was "The Egg Man" by Mary Rosenblum. This tells the story of a man who travels over Mexico on a dragon-like vehicle to deliver eggs to village people that have the ability to cure diseases. Unfortunately, the visit recorded in this story becomes perilous when local U.S. law enforcement realize the village is growing some illegal crops. The protagonist and the boy he realizes is his son manage to escape, however.

The seventh story I liked was "Balancing Accounts" by James L. Cambias. It reminds me a bit of the sci-fi novel I just read, A Star Curiously Singing by Kerry Nietz, which like Cambias's story is also told from the POV of a robot (or robot-like being in Nietz's case -- I make this disclaimer because this post might show up on Nietz's Google Alerts, as a post of mine elsewhere already did). Basically it involves a robot protagonist who is recruited for a mission to carry cargo to one of the moons of Saturn, only to have his route changed once the mission is underway. He also has to decide whether or not to try to save the human cargo inside his crate. (He does).

The eighth story I liked was "Special Economics" by Maureen F. McHugh. Set in a futuristic China, it follows a young woman named Jieling who goes to the city from the country in search of work. She finds work, but soon learns she and the other employees of New Life (a company that makes, among other things, bio-batteries to sell to Wal-Mart) are being exploited by the company higher-ups, who keep taking more and more of their pay under the pretense of it being needed to pay for various expenses and fees. Jieling and her roommate Baiyue decide to do something about it and start doing hip-hop dancing on the streets for money. Eventually, with this extra money and help from an official they encounter, they manage to get away from New Life and start a business to help others escape New Life as well.

The ninth story I liked was "The Ray Gun: A Love Story" by James Allen Gardner. It's kind of a silly story in a way, about a boy who finds a ray gun that fell from space and landed in a crater in the woods. The gun causes him misfortune -- tension in his relationships (due to his determination to keep the gun secret) and the suicide of one of his girlfriends. However, the ray gun manages to bring about a happy ending, reuniting Jack (the protagonist) and his first love Kirsten, who has become a famous writer after being inspired to write poetry about the ray-gun.

The last story I liked was "Butterfly, Falling at Dawn" by Aliette de Bodard. It is an alternate history story and a murder mystery rolled into one. An unusual mix to be sure, but it works rather well. The story is set in a world where the Chinese beat the Spaniards to Mexico and defeated Cortés at Tenochtitlan, taking over Mexico for themselves. Thus, the culture of the story is a mix of Aztec and Chinese, an unusual combination. The main character has become a magistrate after the Hue fashion (the Hue being the Chinese élite) and is called upon to investigate the apparent murder of a girl who makes holograms for a living. I won't reveal the ending there. Aside from the interesting cultural combination, I liked the idea of holograms being used as an art form. Also, it was nice to see an alternate history story that wasn't about the South winning the Civil War or the Nazis winning World War II (the topics of a large portion of alternate history stories today). It didn't take much suspense of disbelief to imagine either -- at the time explorers like Cortés were sailing, the Chinese were building their own empire. According to this article, they also built up a large navy and were active in trade with the West during the Ming Dynasty (the time period during which Bodard's fictional Chinese conquerors would have found Mexico, based on the Cortés reference). I think Bodard did research for this story (she would've had to anyway), because the history behind the changed history is solid. This would probably not be hard to do, since Bodard is currently living in France, where there are quite a few archived documents regarding China (as I learned from a book I read for history class called The Question of Hu; this is probably because of the French missionary presence in China in the Early Modern period, and their later colonial presence in French Indochina, which was made up of present-day Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, as well as Guangzhouwan, an enclave leased by France from China from 1898 to 1946, when it was given back to China).

So there you have it. Those are the ten stories I liked.

At least now I have some leads on sci-fi authors to read. One of the members of The Anomaly also suggested a long list of Star Wars novels for me to read. With that, the books that piqued my interests on GoodReads's "Best Books Ever" list, the Stephen King novels someone else on The Anomaly recommended, and the books I added today to my "Wanna Read" list on my weRead Facebook application, I'll probably be busy this winter break reading. At least I have a public library card, so I won't have to rely on my school's library for books (seeing as it may or may not be open during the break).

Well, it's late, and I have to get up early tomorrow. Good night!

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