The Saga Anthology of Science Fiction 2020
As I read through the second half of this book, I found the editor’s focus on current concerns led to several stories with themes and elements in common. I’d expect something like this in a themed anthology, but it surprised me here where the publication date is what brings these stories together. While this repetition could have disadvantaged the later stories, their approaches had enough originality to counter the downsides. The included stories explore a variety of differences whether or not sharing a theme. Narrative style, plotting, and even perception of time proved flexible in these tellings, something intriguing while it asks a lot of the reader at times.
As with the first section, I’m only mentioning the stories I connected with, which doesn’t mean there’s nothing interesting about the others. My choices result from personal taste, whether in content, characters, style, or theme. The other stories could be someone else’s favorite, despite not speaking to me.
Once again, two stories stood out from the rest of the second half.
Soft Edges by Elizabeth Bear
This is a beautiful story about philosophy and human nature running alongside a police procedural. It shows how to respect people’s choices and contrary positions without compromising the bigger picture. It also demonstrates how personal pronouns can become part of a normal introduction without awkwardness or stopping the narrative. Nicely done.
The Archronology of Love by Caroline M. Yoachim
This story is right in my sweet spot. It mixes alien contact with neat technology while still making the characters approachable. It’s both personal and immense with real learning and change.
While not my absolute favorites, as you can see from the blurbs below, these stories were strong contenders.
Emergency Skin by N. K. Jemisin
This is a strange story with an odd but perfect narrator. It’s mostly told sideways from the collective voice embedded in the main character’s head as it tries to explain away everything the character encounters as a false narrative. The meaning and plot are obvious from the start but that doesn’t matter. A fun read with deeper implications.
Thoughts and Prayers by Ken Liu
This story focuses more on the timely and less on the speculative element, though when it appears, the element is critical. The tale explores the problematic nature of media consumption on the internet through the window of gun violence. Thought provoking, the story is painful in its circumstances. The narration cleverly mirrors the characters’ progress through the story.
At the Fall by Alec Nevala-Lee
This story grew on me as I read it. I found the narration through an advanced research vehicle (?) creature (?) fascinating. The plot itself was predictable first in the cause and then by design as the narrator undergoes a long, dangerous journey. Her method of experiencing space and memory informs her discovery path, but the reader knows little and not much happens actively. It’s a gentle story, an odd adjective considering the circumstances she faces, but one I learned to appreciate.
Reunion by Vandana Singh
This is a story of becoming rather than doing. While the main character accomplished a lot in her attempt to restore the planet, it is her growth in connection and understanding that form the foundation. This is a fresh approach to the theme of climate repair and one that speaks to me. I enjoyed the vision she has of humans as part of the world, not controlling it. But the small glimpses of her interactions with people and the frailty of her own body made this story work for me.
Secret Stories of Doors by Sofia Rhei
The beginning of this story didn’t grab me, but I’m glad I kept going. In a surreal narrative, this tale takes the premise of “history is written by the victors” a step further. It offers a warped future with more twists to discover.
And there you have it. I clearly found many stories to enjoy. This anthology tackles questions we face in modern times through the lens of speculative fiction. Most fell into the science fiction category, though often near future, and didn’t shy away from the more painful topics of suicide, rape, and gun violence either. Climate reconstruction seems the most common element taken on. The differing proposals spoke not just to the science but also to the underlying cultural and social elements, much to my delight.
I’m happy I plucked this anthology from the list and plan to track down more by authors I “met” or was reminded of here.
P.S. I received this Advanced Reader Copy from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.