The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015

Rating: 4 out of 5.

WONDER IS A blasting cap. It is an emotion that goes off with a bang, shattering settled beliefs, rattling the architecture of the mind, and clearing space for new ideas, new possibilities. Wonder is often thought of as a peaceful emotion, a sense of resounding inner quiet. Of course we would associate it with silence. The world always assumes an eerie hush after an explosion.

Awe is TNT for the soul.

Stories included:

  • SOFIA SAMATAR, How to Get Back to the Forest
  • CARMEN MARIA MACHADO, Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead
  • CAT RAMBO, Tortoiseshell Cats Are Not Refundable
  • KAREN RUSSELL, The Bad Graft
  • ALAYA DAWN JOHNSON, A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i
  • SEANAN MCGUIRE, Each to Each
  • SOFIA SAMATAR, Ogres of East Africa
  • THEODORA GOSS, Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology
  • JO WALTON, Sleeper
  • NEIL GAIMAN, How the Marquis Got His Coat Back
  • SUSAN PALWICK, Windows
  • ADAM-TROY CASTRO, The Thing About Shapes to Come
  • SAM J. MILLER, We Are the Cloud
  • DANIEL H. WILSON, The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever
  • NATHAN BALLINGRUD, Skullpocket
  • KELLY LINK, I Can See Right Through You
  • JESS ROW, The Empties
  • KELLY SANDOVAL, The One They Took Before
  • T. C. BOYLE, The Relive Box
  • A. MERC RUSTAD, How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps

I liked all of the stories but some of them might have seemed a bit depressing.

Sofia Samatar’s “ How to Get Back to the Forest ” was disgusting. A nutjob girl believes there’s some kind of bug that’s put in you and that it has to be puked up.

Carmen Maria Machado’s “Help Me Follow My Sister into the Land of the Dead” was definitely creative with a gruesome ending.

Cat Rambo’s “Tortoiseshell Cats are Not Refundable” is well written and so depressing about grief and wanting the deceased back in their lives.

What do you bring to your first meeting with the person you used to be married to? He chose an armload of roses. Who cared if it was a cliché? Mindy loved them

Karen Russell’s “The Bad Graft” is truly a horror of a sci-fi tale with plant life wanting to spread itself around. It was a curious read in terms of how the Joshua tree seedling(?) felt about the whole thing, but lord, this was depressing.

Eons ago the world’s burst hourglass spilled its contents here; now the years pile and spin, waiting with inhuman patience to be swept into some future ocean. Sand washes right up to the paved road, washes over to the other side in a solid orange current, illuminated by their headlights.

Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” is very creative about vampires who won the war and how they preserve their food. Another depressing story.

 Key hasn’t seen a fork in years, a knife in more than a decade. The vampires maintain tight control over all items with the potential to draw blood. Yet humans are tool-making creatures, and their desires, even nihilistic ones, have a creative power that no vampire has the imagination or agility to anticipate.

Seanan McGuire’s “Each to Each” is yet another creative tale that may appeal to women’s libbers who want freedom. It’s a case of mutation into a different species underwater. Not as depressing as the others.

They’d flense themselves bloody on the sharkskins of the blues, they’d sting themselves into oblivion on the spines of the lionfish and the trailing jellied arms of the moonies and the men-o’-war, but still they talk, and still they see us as fantasies given flesh, and not as the military women that we are. Perhaps that, too, is a part of the navy’s design. How easy is it to fear something that you’ve been seeing in cartoons and coloring books since you were born?

Sofia Samatar’s “Ogres of East Africa” is science fiction with a heavy dose of fantasy in this listing of the different kinds of ogres who live in East Africa. Their appearance, fears, powers, regions preferred, and more.

Ba’ati – A grave-dweller from the environs of the ancient capital of Kush. The ba’ati possesses a skeletal figure and a morbid sense of humor. Its great pleasure is to impersonate human beings: if your dearest friend wears a cloak and claims to suffer from a cold, he may be a ba’ati in disguise.

Theodora Goss

Theodora Goss’ “Cimmeria: From the Journal of Imaginary Anthropology” was interesting if a bit confusing. Some college students invent a country with its own history, culture, mores, religion, etc., and are then surprised to discover its reality. Goss parallels our own world with its national and international politicking.

Do you remember the thirteenth-century philosopher Farkosh Kursand? When God made the world, he decreed that human beings would be born one at a time, unique, unlike animals. They would be born defenseless, without claws or teeth or fur. But they would have souls. 

[..]

I will stand beside Shaila and her family on the balcony of the palace, celebrating the birth of the future Khan of Cimmeria. In the gardens, rose petals will fall. Men will continue dying of natural or unnatural causes, and the cats of Cimmeria will lead them into another world. Women will dip their water jugs in the fountains of the city, carrying them on their heads back to their houses, as they have done since Cimmeria has existed, whether that is three or three thousand years. Life will go on as it has always done, praise be to God, creator of worlds, however they were created.

Jo Walton’s “Sleeper” finds a woman writing a book about a dead man who comes back to a sort of life in which he provides a simulation for the book that is intended to raise questions about the class system and why the English no longer have what they had.

I don’t know if I was influenced by all the depressing stories I read previous to this, but I found this one depressing too and somewhat confusing.

Neil Gaiman’s “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back” gives us the inside look on how the marquis gets out of his fix and saves a Raven lady from someone else’s fixation.

It takes place during Neverwhere , 1, which should be read before this.

Susan Palwick’s “Windows” is another well-written story that is so depressing, as a mother scrapes up the funds to visit her ne’er-do-well son in prison to wish him a happy birthday. She even has a video greeting from his sister who was lucky enough to win a place on a gen-ship.

She knows there are people who’d say Graham doesn’t deserve luck, say what happened to him was all about choice and not about luck at all, say he’s scum for dealing drugs. Vangie wishes to God he hadn’t gotten involved in the cocaine deal, but she wishes Zel hadn’t won the lottery ticket, too. The world can think what it wants. Graham’s her son. He’s the only family she has left, and tomorrow’s his birthday. And in her bag, infinitely precious, is a message from his sister. And if this impossible streak of luck holds, Vangie will actually get to deliver it to him on his birthday

http://bestsf.net/susan-palwick-windows-asimovs-september-2014/

Adam-Troy Castro’s “The Thing About Shapes to Come” is just plain weird when a mother has a cube-shaped baby instead of a proper-ball-shaped one. Quite inconvenient if you ask me. She’s seen as beautiful in a mathematical way, smooth and plane, and not disfigured and deformed.

She had no external or internal sexual organs, or for that matter organs of any kind, being just a warm solid filled with protoplasm. But she was, genetically at least, a girl, and one who resembled her mother as much as any cube possibly could. That wasn’t much, in that she had no eyes, no nose, no mouth, no chin, no hair, nothing that could be charitably called a face or bodily features, not even any orifices larger than pores.

As the child grows, the mother has to place it, feed it, sing to it and make sure it’s properly socialised in a world filled with cubes, elipses and spheres. Normal baby-looking babies are a rarity, mostly sought after by paedophiles and kidnappers. When the cube reaches maturity and the mother is old, a door opens inside of it, engulfing the freely entering mother. Very weird story.

Sam J. Miller’s “We are the Cloud” is too true, as this is a world which pays poor people to let them put a wire in their brain so the rich can have free wireless everywhere. There’s more in here about poor Case, his mother, the exploitation of his body, although oddly enough, there is an, odd, ray of hope at the end.

DANIEL H. WILSON, The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever follows a single dad and NASA physicist who discovers a black hole that will strike earth in a matter of hours, maybe minutes. The problem is that no one, including his colleagues at NASA, believe him. He rushes home to his three year old daughter to save her.

Marie holds her stuffed rabbit close, in a chokehold. In the dim light, a garden of blond hair grows over her pillow. She is three years old and smiling and she smells like baby soap. Her eyes are already closed.

As he anchors himself to the sewage pipe that runs through the house, he can live the last few minutes of his life embracing his tiny daughter and telling her of the stars – out of which one came to visit. This story is really good and I’m really excited to see that maybe Hollywood will offer us a movie for it.

https://trakt.tv/movies/the-blue-afternoon-that-lasted-forever

NATHAN BALLINGRUD, Skullpocket. ‘Skullpocket’ features Jonathan Wormcake, the Eminent Corpse of Hob’s Landing – and Nathan builds a world that is extremely tilted, but man alive I would pay whatever price I had to visit it. It starts like a piece of ‘high-pulp’ (the best compliment I could ever give) and you’re unsure if you’re reading a children’s story and then… you forget about what it is or isn’t and just read it. It’s a horror yarn that has a horrific ending that completely works – and that’s a rare thing, indeed.

Excellent! In case any of you aren’t sure, skullpocket is a favorite game of ghouls everywhere. In simple terms, you take a skull and kick it back and forth between your friends until it cracks to pieces. Whoever breaks it is the loser of the game, and has to eat what they find inside its pocket. And what is that, children?

KELLY LINK, I Can See Right Through You is an off-kilter ghost story (or not) about an estranged couple who have remained friends long after they were originally paired in a vampire movie that made them famous. Now the demon lover searches out his former lover in Florida while she is in the middle of filming a tv episode about ghost hunting.
Kelly Link spins us a tale of the fraught relationship between two celebrities. I’m usually not one for feeling too much sympathy for the tribulations of the rich and famous, but this piece worked very well. (And, the grand finale at the haunted (?) nudist resort was the perfect mix of weird and hilarious)

The demon lover does not always live up to his obligations. There is a sex tape. There is a girl with a piercing. There is, in the middle of some athletic sex, a comical incident involving his foreskin. There is blood all over the sheets. There is a lot of blood. There is a 911 call. There is him, fainting. Falling and hitting his head on a bedside table. There is Perez Hilton, Gawker, talk radio, YouTube, Tumblr. There are GIFs.


JESS ROW, The Empties. She had never perfected the trick of moistening the envelope flap with the tip of her tongue so it would stick and lie perfectly flat. In those days, perfect meant as if untouched by hands. Her flaps were always overwet and lumpy; when she pressed them down, she made them worse. Still, she loved folding the paper twice over, into three equal parts; she loved writing addresses, but especially her name and address in the upper-left corner. J. Seiden. 29 Portnock Road. The dignity, the business-like efficiency of these slim objects, asking nothing, never disclosing more than they needed to. An envelope with only a check inside flapped like a flag, but an envelope containing a two-page letter had a solid integrity on every plane. A writer only in the sense that she loved having written. She slid the envelopes under the metal lid of the mailbox on her parents’ porch and stared at them for a few moments. Proof of her existence in the world. Proof the world existed. You could count on it: someone was coming to take them away. Proof you would be sent, proof you would arrive.


KELLY SANDOVAL, The One They Took Before

FOUND: Rift in the Fabric of the Universe—(West Seattle)

Rift opened in my backyard. About six feet tall and one foot wide. Appears to open onto a world of endless twilight and impossible beauty. Makes a ringing noise like a thousand tiny bells. Call (206) 555-9780 to identify.

Sat 23 Jul, CRAIGSLIST > SEATTLE > ALL SEATTLE > LOST&FOUND

Kayla has been through a rip in the fabric of the universe before. She knows of the beauty, the jewels, the gifts and the praise that await her. She also knows of the rot beneath the surface. She’s been there once as she was a musician and “they” love music and anything with a pattern. When people start dying, disappearing or going missing, she knows “they” are gathering again and she refuses to go.


T. C. BOYLE, The Relive Box looks at our obsession with electronic games. In this new game, people are able to relieve with great clarity anything.

Most people, when they got their first Relive Box, went straight for sex, which was only natural. In fact, it was a selling point in the TV ads, which featured shimmering adolescents walking hand in hand along a generic strip of beach or leaning in for a tender kiss over the ball return at the bowling alley. Who wouldn’t want to go back there? Who wouldn’t want to relive innocence, the nascent stirrings of love and desire, or the first time you removed her clothes and she removed yours? What of girlfriends (or boyfriends, as the case may be), wives, ex-wives, one-night stands, the casual encounter that got you halfway there, then flitted out of reach on the wings of an unfulfilled promise?

People become addicted to living in the past, forgetting about the present. People have no social lives anymore and the work suffers. The vacant looks, the “Reset” of the receptionist when answering the phone – all point to a serious game addiction. It all goes bad towards the end when the main character relieves his birth and refuses to acknowledge his presence in the present, near his daughter.

A. MERC RUSTAD, How to Become a Robot in 12 Easy Steps. Get some feels, read the story. https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fiction/how-to-become-a-robot-in-12-easy-steps/

Written in first person, this story gives voice to a teen (I suspect), or a young adult who is dealing with a few identity crises. Lack of a lover, lack of sex, the desire to be understood, the desire to be loved.

You don’t tell your parents you’re probably asexual and you really want to be a robot because robots are never condemned because of who they love.

Created in the form of short lists, the story teller focuses on main areas. But the real thing is that the writer needs H-E-L-P.  Their friends tell them “if you self-terminate, you won’t have a chance to become a robot in the future.” Suicide is a real risk for those misunderstood or forgotten.

How to tell your pretend-boyfriend and his real boyfriend that your internal processors are failing:

  1. The biological term is depression, but you don’t have an official diagnostic (diagnosis) and it’s a hard word to say. It feels heavy and stings your mouth. Like when you tried to eat a battery when you were small and your parents got upset.
  1. Instead, you try to hide the feeling. But the dark stain has already spilled across your hardwiring and clogged your processor. You don’t have access to any working help files to fix this. Tech support is unavailable for your model. (No extended warranty exists.)
  2. Pretend the reason you have no energy is because you’re sick with a generic bug.
  3. You have time to sleep. Your job is cancelling out many of your functions; robots can perform cleaning and maintenance in hotels for much better wage investment, and since you are not (yet) a robot, you know you will be replaced soon.
  4. The literal translation of the word depression: you are broken and devalued and have no further use.
  5. No one refurbishes broken robots.
  6. Please self-terminate.

The Cover and Title
The cover has a black background with an arc of phases of the moon in silver across the top with Saturn in the center. Thin, thin silver rays emanate out through a series of thin silver arcs from the second to last silver icon in the vertical line-up that separates each word of the title. It’s a colorful title: two words in a greenish gold, then fuchsia, red, and ending with bright colonial blue. The editor’s name is on the bottom left while the series editor’s name is on the bottom right.

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