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Now, I'm blogging this because it has been a LONG time since my last blog, and because I last reviewed Volume THREE in this series two years ago, and because Dragon Awards are around the corner at Dragon Con, and one of these stories will receive a reader-nom award at that time. Plus, I likely will be reviewing like crazy in August. Whatever.
Here's the review:
I'm not sure why this should be the case, but I can't find that I have reviewed the fourth volume in the series. I DID review Volume 3, and posted the review on my blog “Papa Pat Rambles” on July 2, 2017, with the title “The Year's Best? REALLY?”
My timing is a bit off, here. I actually got an Advanced Reader Copy, but had to set the review aside, since pre-pub review isn't something I'm involved in. I set it aside for a month too long, though, and that's significant, because pre-Dragon voting is involved.
PREFACE by David Afsharirad. Read this for two reasons: first, Afsharirad discusses his rationale for the selections, which is nice background, but SECOND! The amount of effort put into harvesting out a 'best of' collection is something I simply cannot comprehend. Anybody who does that deserves the trivial amount of effort the reader expends to read his comments.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF INTERSELLAR WAR by Brendan DuBois. It's a grim future postulated, with alien monsters in control of space, and thus in control of the surface of the planet. If you think that a fatal disease, amputation, and alien domination will prevent love, then you have never spent time in the company of a teenage boy.
GOING DARK by Richard Fox. Again, a grim future, because the aliens have landed, and with superior technology are making a mess for the humans. Part of the human solution : develop cyborgs/golems. These are large, not-very-smart, powerful and intensely loyal soldiers, bonded to their team leader. Loyalty runs both ways, though, as anyone who has lead a team under stressful circumstances can attest.
THE SCRAPYARD SHIP by Felix R. Savage. This one is FUNNY! Yes, the technology is there, and the aliens, and the carnivorous bushes, but the deep joke is found elsewhere. It ALWAYS comes down to the little guy making the big guy look stupid. Even when the little guy is a shape-shifter. I'm not quite sure how the beautiful human girl and the strange alien guy work through their relationship, though. Sigh. Love is beautiful.
BROKEN WINGS by William Ledbetter. A beautiful story. The most SCIENCE-y part of the science fiction is an artifact found floating in space, but we don't need to know ANYTHING about it for the story to be wonderful. It's really a story about what happens when you do as much good as you can with what you've got, and don't allow what you DON'T have to rule.
A SONG OF HOME, THE ORGAN GRINDS by James Beamon. I believe all steampunk is supposed to be creepy. Maybe not. But, in this alternative universe, an organ grinder has more than one function, and more than one meaning. Yes, there are monkeys involved. And I recommend you get a music source that allows you to hear the songs mentioned in the story.
ONCE ON THE BLUE MOON by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Sigh. Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It is astounding to me that a person this young could be this talented and this accomplished. It wouldn't surprise me to discover that she also knows how to repair televisions. In this story, however, she takes elements from adventure, family pathos, space treachery, hacking, and cruise ships, and gives us a heroine to admire, and one who, if she moves next door to you, makes you move to Alabama.
CRASH-SITE by Brian Trent. Creepy, convoluted, and with enough intrigue and betrayal for anyone interested in that sort of thing. Although all of the action doesn't take place in a swamp, it feels like one has soaked your underwear as you read it, and there is sand in your shoes, and no dry towels, anywhere.
THIRTY-THREE PERCENT JOE by Suzanne Palmer. Black humor, nicely done. When a guy who wants to be a baker is thrust into a combat role because his psycho mom wants that, it's hard to imagine a good outcome. And, to help us understand the story a bit better, he has various prosthetic replacements of battle wounds that talk to each other. And to him.
HATE IN THE DARKNESS by Michael Z. Williamson. Mad Mike has so constructed a universe that we MUST root for the people who are devastating Earth. Is that not strange? In this case, there are additional ethical dilemmas, centering on the core issue of who it is that has to pay the price for policy decisions. It's all couched in an edge-of-the-seat, long distance pursuit. Yes, something can be boring and terrifying at the same time.
HOMUNCULUS by Stephen Lawson. I believe that civilization has one primary purpose: to provide for the special needs of the replacements. To be less obtuse: pregnant women and children. This story is consistent with that; in a highly toxic environment, people go to extreme lengths to rescue a small child who has escaped the safe quarters provided for him.
NOT MADE FOR US by Christopher Ruocchio. The United States is CONSTRUCTED around the concept of the citizen soldier. With all of the hoopla about the Second Amendment, you'd think that would be a bit more well-known, but it's not. But, the decisions made at the time of the writing of the Constitution, and carried out since then, is that if we go to war, we pull in a bunch of civilians, arm and otherwise equip and train them, let them do the fighting, and then go back home. It's worked...okay. It's a better system than relying on a large standing professional military. But, what if you had the technology to put your soldiers on ice? Just bring them out when there was fighting to do? This isn't a novel concept explored here, but it IS something worth thinking about, over and over again. Where will their loyalty be placed? That's just one of the first questions.
THE ERKENNEN JOB by Chris Pourteau. Ah, loyalty. The topic arises again, and it will KEEP on coming up as long as the possibility exists for their to be conflicts. Tough guys with .38s walk the mean streets of the Moon, because the game isn't EVER money; the game is POWER, and money is just how you keep score. Industrial espionage, control of narcotics, and dames.
Now, in my review of Volume 3, I designated which of the stories I felt were worthy of being included in Year's Best, and which were marginal, and which flabbergasted. This time, not gonna do that. Last year, I took on the task of reviewing as many of the Dragon Award nominees as possible, and I found that with a few exceptions, they were ALL worth a win. And this year, I have read some AMAZINGLY good short stories, mostly in the military & sci-fi category. I don't trust my ability to make a recommendation about which is 'the best.' I can tell you that there are some that I ENJOYED more than others, but I must disclose that there are some stories that I HATE that are stark raving excellent.
But the bottom line is this: David Afsharirad made the call to include these, and his expertise surpasses mine.
So, that's all I have to say about that.