Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ex Libris: Science Fiction: The Best of 2003

This is the state of SF short fiction, I thought when I picked up Science Fiction: The Best of 2003, edited by Karen Haber and Jonathan Strahan.

And what a collection this is: a number of the stories here have been either nominees or outright winners of SFF awards.

For example: Jeffrey Ford's short story about a man suffering from synesthesia in Empire of Ice Cream won in the 2003 Nebula Awards for best novelette and is a nominee for the 2004 World Fantasy Awards; Neil Gaiman's pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and the Elder Gods in A Study In Emerald brought home the 2003 Hugo Award for short story; and Vernor Vinge's take of people trapped in an hour-glass in The Cookie Monster got the 2003 Hugo Award for best novella.

Whew! Impressive, eh?

Personally, Strahan and Haber have collected an interesting batch of stories in this book in that one can see where today's science-fiction is headed.

However, two of the stories included here made me scratch my head in puzzlement since these didn't seem to be SF. Ironically, the two seem to be the best of the lot: Gaiman's A Study in Emerald and Lucius Shepard's Only Partly Here.

Gaiman's story is about a world-famous Victorian detective meeting for the first time his match of a criminal mind and set in a world straight out of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu mythos. I've already mentioned this story before in a previous post: Gaiman, as always, shows his best writing in the short fiction form. (Maybe due to his experience in writing comic books?) I'm not surprised that this story won an award.

Shepard's is a ghost story about something most Americans still find sensitive: the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. And over all, Shepard's tale is nothing new; however, the story is so damned well-made that if ever you want a good reason to get this book, this is one. Definitely a recommended read.

Two other stories I thought showed great potential of its writers were: The Fluted Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, an almost-fairy tale-like SF short story about a girl facing an evil queen; and The Tale of the Golden Eagle by David D. Levine, the story behind a legendary ship with a beautiful silver lady as its captain.

Other tales I also thought good were: The Chop Line by author Stephen Baxter, wherein-- reminiscent of the Philip K. Dick Minority Report movie but pushed even further-- a young military officer faces punishment for crimes he will commit in the future; The Empire of Ice Cream by fabulist Jeffrey Ford, about a synesthesia-sufferer's brush with reality via ice cream (though the abrupt SFnal-ending is confusing and bit of a let-down); and Calling Your Name by Howard Waldrop, another well-made though sentimental tale of an old codger who finds he has alternate-histories troubles.

In conclusion, I would say that it would seem that science-fiction is doing well in short fiction in view of the resurgence of its sibling, fantasy, in the long-form (i.e. novels). Well... maybe, but not cutting-edge, I presume?

I do admit that I'm not an expert in the field of SF. And despite the accolades the stories in the book has received, this collection may not truly represent the best of today's lot. But speaking as one who really appreciates the whole speculative fiction, I think I can say: SF, where is thy sting?

(With my pardon to the Bard for the concluding statement...)

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