Science Fiction Carries On: The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1 by Jonathan Strahan

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 1: The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020 by Jonathan Strahan | Sep 8, 2020 | Gallery / Saga

That Jonathan Strahan should pick up the torch after Gardner Dozois’ death in 2018 to curate The Year’s Best Science Fiction was a foregone conclusion. Strahan is today’s foremost anthologist, has edited numerous books, got his start at Locus in the 90s, and was both a friend and collaborator of Dozois’.

Strahan’s collection moves the series from St. Martins to Gallery/Saga and rolls the counter back to Vol. 1, but there’s little question that his intent is to pick up where Dozois left off after 35 years of publishing the definitive annual survey of the genre. Well, 2018 fell into a crevice between the two editors and we’ll have to trust Neil Clarke and other collections for that year. That we now have more Year’s Best is a good thing, too. As Strahan points out in his intro, Locus has estimated the number of science fiction short stories published each year at over 3000, and he thinks that’s low.

There are two reasons why I read Dozois’ collection, and they hold true for Strahan’s. Most will read it for the pleasure of discovering stories they missed over the course of the year, but some will read it for its insights into the state of science fiction as a genre. Reading this collection is like attending a well-orchestrated convention, full of the best authors, with panels and readings by each.

But after you’re past the introduction with its insightful industry analysis (though without Dozois’ customary mention of movies and sometimes even TV shows), and the welcome author notes for the first story, The Bookstore at the End of America, by Charle Jane Anders, you’ll realize that the reason you came is that science fiction is entertaining, mind-boggling, challenging, and stimulating all at once.

And why you’ll be happy to stay for the rest of the 28 stories collected here.

Will you love all of them? Of course not. Science fiction is large; it contains multitudes. If it contradicts itself, so be it. Science fiction should not be an echo chamber, and if this collection is going to continue the annual representation of the field that Dozois did, Stahan will have to stretch his own sensibilities to a broad definition of good. Right out of the gate, though, he’s done a terrific job, but that’s what we expect from him.

These stories show that the future isn’t what it used to be, as if anyone was still confused about that. Here you will find a bookstore with doors into two different Americas, a pristine Palestine that puts lie to the dreams of peace and cultures from around the world, all revealed through the lens of science fiction. What you come away with is the renewed realization that science fiction is at its best in short form, where ideas don’t have to carry all that plot baggage and can just get out there and blow our minds.

All that being said, I do have some nits to pick. Firstly, the cover looks like it was cribbed from a Cliffs Notes study guide instead of the evocative covers of Gardner’s series. Secondly, that publishing this collection in mid-September robs readers of the chance to read it over summer vacation, something I always keenly looked forward to. But then, no one had much of a summer vacation this year.

Stories Included

  • The Bookstore at the End of America by Charlie Jane Anders
  • The Galactic Tourist Industrial Complex by Tobias S. Buckell
  • Kali_Na by Indrapramit Das
  • Song of the Birds by Saleem Haddad
  • The Painter of Trees by Suzanne Palmer
  • The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir by Karin Tidbeck
  • Sturdy Lanterns and Ladders by Malka Older
  • It’s 2059, and the Rich Kids Are Still Winning by Ted Chiang
  • Contagion’s Eve at the House Noctambulous by Rich Larson
  • Submarines by Han Song
  • As the Last I May Know by S. L. Huang
  • A Catalog of Storms by Fran Wilde
  • The Robots of Eden by Anil Menon
  • Now Wait for This Week by Alice Sola Kim
  • Cyclopterus by Peter Watts
  • Dune Song by Suyi Davies Okungbowa
  • The Work of Wolves by Tegan Moore
  • Soft Edges by Elizabeth Bear
  • Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin
  • Thoughts and Prayers by Ken Liu
  • At the Fall by Alec Nevala-Lee
  • Reunion by Vandana Singh Green
  • Glass: A Love Story by E. Lily Yu
  • Secret Stories of Doors by Sofia Rhei
  • This Is Not the Way Home by Greg Egan
  • What the Dead Man Said by Chinelo Onwualu
  • I (28M) created a deepfake girlfriend and now by my parents think we’re getting married by Fonda Lee
  • The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim

BTW, if you’re interested in the field and haven’t listened to Jonathan and Gary Wolf’s podcast and interview series about science fiction, The Coode Street Podcast, you’re missing out on one of the two most articulate casts out there. The other being Charlie Jane Anders and Anna Lee Newitz’s presumptuously, but not generally inaccurately, named podcast Our Opinions are Correct.

Update 09/08/2020: Today, launch day, Jonathan had a Reddit Q/A session that has a lot of interesting stuff, including comments by at least one of the authors in the collection.

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  1. Thank you for the extremely kind review. It’s greatly appreciated. I do feel bound to clarify, though, that this is not formally a continuation of Gardner’s series (though he was a dear friend and I’m definitely inspired by his work). His series ended with The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty Fifth Annual Collection in 2018. I wish we had volume 37 here, if only so we could argue about selections.

    1. Jonathan, I think that moving to Saga and starting with Volume 1 manages to convey that you’re starting a new series of your own, but while it’s not formally a continuation, the DNA makes it’s parentage clear. I do wonder why St. Martins didn’t just tap you to continue Gardner’s series, but yes, I think making a fresh start is better. Looking forward to The Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 2 by Jonathan Strahan.

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