Book Review: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018 Edited by N.K. Jemisin and John Joseph Adams

This is the third best of the year volume of speculative fiction short stories I’ve read containing stories published in 2017. The first two massive doorstoppers, edited by Neil Clarke and Gardner Dozois, I have already reviewed. This latest anthology is about a third of the size of either of the other two volumes. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it not only includes science fiction, but also fantasy. Adams explains in the introduction that from eighty stories he sent Jemisin, she selected exactly ten science fiction and ten fantasy tales.

The science fiction stories are fairly lightweight compared to the epic galaxy-spanning and star-faring adventures in the Clarke and Dozois volumes. The main strength of this book is in its dark fantasy and horror stories. For instance, “You Will Always Have Family: A Triptych” by Kathleen Kayembe is a frightening tale of witches and zombies that emigrate from Africa to the United States and terrorize a family. “Loneliness is in Your Blood” by Cadwell Turnbull posits frightening vampires that literally shed their human skin before going forth to hunt. “Church of Birds” by Micah Dean Hicks is a dark fairy tale, a retelling or extension of the Brothers Grimm story of “The Six Swans” in which a young man partially healed from a curse that transforms him into a swan must cope with one dysfunctional swan wing still attached to his shoulder. Maria Dahvana Headley has two remarkable dark fantasy stories in this volume: “The Orange Tree” is a bizarre but fascinating story of a lonely poet creating a female golem as a housekeeper and lover in eleventh century Spain; “Black Powder” tells of an antique rifle with djinns trapped within its bullets.

Standouts among the science fiction entries in this book include “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue” by Charlie Jane Anders, which is a dark, violent dystopian tale about a transgender woman who is captured by a government agency and subjected to tortuous and invasive procedures intended to transform her into a man. A light and unusual story, “Carnival Nine” by Caroline M. Yoachim, tells of a microcosm of windup toys empowered every morning with a certain amount of energizing “turns” by a Maker; it becomes an absorbing and heart-touching parable when the protagonist creates a child, but the toy is defective and cannot move or speak much. As a result, the mother sacrifices the bulk of her own turns, wearing herself out carrying her child around on her back. “The Wretched and the Beautiful” by E. Lily Yu has a sharp political edge to it as a group of odd-looking alien immigrants crash-lands on Earth looking for asylum. However, when lovely and shapely aliens, evidently their oppressors, arrive in elegantly crafted spacecraft and want to take them away, Earth authorities do not object.

As I mentioned before, the strength of this volume is in the uniqueness of its selections, and especially the inclusion of horror and dark fantasy, which is absent from the science-fiction-only anthologies. In one long story I couldn’t find any hint of science fiction or fantasy content, but it was nevertheless a good atmospheric tale, so no harm done. All in all, this is an anthology well worth reading.

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