REVIEW: “Some Desperado” by Joe Abercrombie

Review of Joe Abercrombie, “Some Desperado”, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, Vol. 8. Reviewed by Drew Shiel.

This is actually the first story in Volume 8, but I’ve chosen to review it second so as not to start out with a negative. The negativity is because I can’t see why “Some Desperado” is actually in this book. Joe Abercrombie is a fantasy writer, sure, in that particular (and by now possibly fading) sub-genre of grimdark fantasy. But there isn’t any speculative element in this Western-esque story of a bank robber reaching a abandoned village just ahead of her pursuers, unless it’s “her”, and that seems like stretching. Further, the story is one extended fight scene, pretty completely lacking in plot or character development. It’s a well-written fight scene, certainly. But it reads like a vignette-style extract from a longer work, and unless you know the longer work, or really like Abercrombie’s writing, there’s really not much here.

Recommended, perhaps, for fans of the western genre, alt-history, or fight scenes.

REVIEW: “Zero for Conduct” by Greg Egan

Review of Greg Egan, “Zero for Conduct”, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, Vol. 8. Reviewed by Drew Shiel.

“Zero for Conduct” is set in a near-future Iran. Indeed, there’s very little to stop it from being a contemporary Iran of 2017, except for a few details of technology – although they’re important to the story. And the story works around the development of a key new element of technology, invented by a schoolgirl with a brilliant understanding of molecular structure and chemistry. Greg Egan evokes Iran well, as far as I can make out, touching solidly on sectarian and gender issues as well as local flavour. The story resolves satisfyingly, and there’s none of the element of progress-hampered-by-idiocy which often plagues invention stories.

Recommended for fans of strong female protagonists, hard near-future SF, thoughtful examination of the Middle East, and/or ramifications and outcomes of relatively minor technical advances.