REVIEW: “Effigy Nights” by Yoon Ha Lee

Review of Yoon Ha Lee, “Effigy Nights”, The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year series, Vol. 8. Reviewed by Drew Shiel.

I am very much a fan of Yoon Ha Lee’s work. Paper, writing, and perception of the written and thought word are recurring themes through much of his work, so it can be argued that “Effigy Nights” is almost iconic in that regard. This story is written as though a reality in which words, when treated in particular ways, form objects and people, is normal. But it would be unfair to say that it’s written prosaically; instead it is poetic, personal and epic at one and the same time. There is something about it of a Middle Eastern feel, as suggested by the echo in the title of One Thousand And One Nights, but there are aspects of other cultures drawn in as well. It is a story about stories.

Recommended for those who can cope with a little surreality, who don’t need all the rules laid out, who can extrapolate, who think about the words on the page and the intrusion of text into the world.

REVIEW: “A Whisper in the Weld” by Alex E. Harrow

Review of Alex E. Harrow, “A Whisper in the Weld”, Podcastle 487 — Listen Online. Reviewed by Heather Rose Jones

I have to confess, this story had me good-crying in my car during the commute. Ghosts aren’t supposed to stick around very long unless they have something very important to do. Wartime creates a lot of ghosts, and our usual definition of heroism doesn’t take into account all the terrible things that desperation or simple need drives people to. All Isa wanted to do was to raise her daughters right and see her husband again when the war was over. Working in the steel mill wasn’t about being a hero, it was about surviving. There was nothing heroic in her death, only in the desperate need that kept her lingering on with a mission to fulfill. I loved the voice and imagery in this story as it pieced together Isa’s past and made me believe that her ghost could inhabit the machinery that killed her. The ending was so perfect and fitting. This is a powerful story about how people survive–one way or another–despite the crushing weight of oppression.

(Originally published 2014 in Shimmer.)

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.