Review copy provided by the publisher.
Why would you want a volume of the year’s best short science fiction? Well, several reasons. If you don’t keep up with short fiction but like it, a one-volume summary from an editor whose taste aligns well with yours can give you a glimpse, at least, of the gigantic world beyond. If you do, you might want some of your favorite stories conveniently in one place, with some perspective that will let you say in 2029, oh yes, that’s what 2019 was like in short fiction, those stories were published at basically the same time. Or you might enjoy having someone hit a few highlights that you didn’t manage to get to yourself.
Because unless someone is directly paying you to read all the short SFF, you will miss some things. I sure do. (I suspect that even the people who are directly paid miss things too. There’s a lot.)
So how does this volume do with that? Pretty well, I think. There are several stories I enjoyed the first time around and am glad to see again collected–notably Fran Wilde’s “A Catalog of Storms” but also Ken Liu’s “Thoughts and Prayers,” Fonda Lee’s “I (28M) Created A Deepfake Girlfriend and Now My Parents Think We’re Getting Married,” and Indrapramit Das’s “Kali_Na.” I would not have made the same choice as Strahan for Best Elizabeth Bear Story of the Year, but “Soft Edges” is a good story, it’s just that there’s tough competition for that position.
Of course I definitely want a YB volume to introduce me to great stories I’ve missed, and this one delivers. There aren’t any I’d consider duds–all have solid reasons to be included (please note that this has not always been the case for me with YB volumes)–and several new stories would have made my favorites list if I’d read them in time. Stand-outs for me in this category included Suzanne Palmer’s “The Painter of Trees,” Karin Tidbeck’s “The Last Voyage of Skidbladnir,” Malka Older’s “Sturdy Ladders and Lanterns,” and Alec Nevala-Lee’s “At the Fall”–all very different and very compelling.
Strahan didn’t hit even remotely all of my favorites for 2019, but that would have been impossible and should not be expected. His taste leans toward more exposition than implication in some of these stories, but it’s quality exposition. He also limits his remit to science fiction as distinct from fantasy, which is a distinction I often find counter-productive…except when it’s a matter of fitting vast available material into a book of usable size, in which case it becomes pretty understandable. You could do a lot worse than this one if you tried to pick good stories from 2019.