Saturday, 6 January 2018

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015 edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein is, as advertised, an anthology collecting the best YA speculative fiction short stories published in 2015. The stories are a mix of fantasy, science fiction and horror, and a few somewhere in between.

Fans of Kaleidoscope will find more tales of wonder, adventure, diversity, and variety in this collection devoted to stories with teen protagonists.

Our goal is to uncover the best young adult short fiction of the year published in the anthologies dedicated to the form, the occasional special edition of a magazine, and individual pieces appearing in otherwise “adult” anthologies and magazines, and bring them together in one accessible collection.

I have, in general, read "best of" anthologies before, but not any that focus on YA stories. In fact — and this is a phenomenon discussed in the introduction of the anthology — I don't think I've read more than the occasional isolated YA story in the context of some other anthology or magazine. Collecting a whole book of YA stories then made for an interesting overview of the genre as aimed at a younger audience.

A lot of the stories in this volume tackle difficult issues, such as abuse or the necessity of touch decisions, and do so well. However, that does not make for light or comforting reading. My favourite stories in this anthology were a mix of hopeful and more challenging: "Blood, Ash, Braids" by Genevieve Valentine, "Function A:Save (Target.Dawn)" by Rivqa Rafael, "Entangled Web" by E C Myers, and "Blue Ribbon" by Marissa Lingen. The last was my absolute favourite, despite being one of the more difficult to read stories, thanks to the subject matter.

As usual, more detailed notes on each story are below. I recommend this book to fans of both science fiction and YA. Beware, as I have already mentioned, it is not overall a light read, though some individual stories are light.

  • Songs in the Key of You by Sarah Pinsker — a nice story about a near future when “everyone” has personal soundtracks playing from their wrists and a girl who can’t afford the device but loves music. 
  • Blood, Ash, Braids by Genevieve Valentine — A witchy fantasy story about the the Night Witches in WWII (Russian women bombing Nazis from planes). An enjoyable read about friendship, protection and magic.
  • Mosquito Boy by Felix Gilman — A concept that didn’t really grab me. The narrator tells us of the emergence/existence of mosquito boy creatures (why are there no mosquito girls?). That’s pretty much the whole story. Meh.
  • The Rainbow Flame by Shveta Thakrar — This story is about teenaged girls questioning the world and their place in it. Except it’s a world made of magic and stories and, of course, things aren’t exactly as they have been told. I found it a bit slow to start and, while it picked up and got more interesting, it’s not a favourite.
  • The Sixth Day by Silvia Anna Hivén — A strange apocalyptic world in which the edges of reality seem to be stretching out and disappearing. It was interesting and a bit disturbing.
  • For Sale: Fantasy Coffins (Ababuo Need Not Apply) by Chesya Burke — An outcast girl with a special, magical role to play for her Ghanan home city, which will make her die young.
  • Kia and Gio by Daniel José Older — A story about ghosts, aliens and unrequited love. A nice read.
  • Bucket List Found in the Locker of Maddie Price, Age 14, Written Two Weeks Before the Great Uplifting of All Mankind by Erica L Satifka — A flash story told in the form of a bucket list (as per the title), complete with some crossed out items. Also more hints about the coming end than I expected. I liked it more than I expected to.
  • Function A:Save (Target.Dawn) by Rivqa Rafael — a lovely story about a coder and the president’s daughter/her almost-girlfriend. Set in a near future with bio-hacking and fancy medicine, this story was engaging, a little magical and, ultimately, satisfying.
  • Noah No-one and the Infinity Machine by Sean Williams — an odd yarn set in the Jump universe, but much earlier that that trilogy. I expected it to have a dark ending, but it ended up being quite lighthearted.
  • Forgiveness by Leah Cypess — a challenging story about a physically abusive relationship in a future where there are chips to control that sort of behaviour once it’s reported.
  • Probably Definitely by Heather Morris — a nice story about a ghost and a teenager still working on finding their place in life. I am impressed at how naturally-seeming the author’s non-use of pronouns was.
  • I’m Only Going Over by Cat Hellisen — a slightly odd story about a weird girl at a party and the protagonist trying to chat with her.
  • The Ways of Walls and Words by Sabrina Vourvoulias — This story took a while to grab me, which was unfortunate since it was quite long and a bit slow. It’s about two girls imprisoned and in service, in an unkind situation. The setting is, I’m pretty sure, colonial times in what is now the Dominican Republic. Their histories and friendship were interesting.
  • Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver — The setting of this story seemed promising, but I had difficulty getting past the lack of (semi-)scientific explanation as to how the moon could be terraformed. The story of a girl being forced to move away upon the failure of that terraformation didn’t, unfortunately, do enough to draw me in. Not bad, but not enough for me. 
  • Entangled Web by E C Myers — A quick story set in a world with quantum smartphones that allow you to see how other versions of you are living. An interesting idea piece. I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the world.
  • Blue Ribbon by Marissa Lingen — An affecting story about a group of teens and younger kids who get locked out of their space station after quarantine is enacted during a series of races they competed in. Tragic. One of my favourite stories in this anthology. 
  • Bodies are the Strongest Conductors by James Robert Herndon — A troubling story about a teen with an unusual medical condition and his friend. I didn’t exactly enjoy this story, but I also felt like I couldn’t look away.
  • Pineapple Head by Joel Enos — An odd story that didn’t go where I expected it to from the ominous hints (I thought) it gave the reader near the start. It’s about two gay boys connecting over time.
  • Grass Girl by Caroline M Yoachim — A shirt story about girls made of wood and the bamboo girl who feels out of place and uncool among them. I liked the symbolism.
  • The Birds of Azalea Street by Nova Red Suma — This story started out creepy and gross, but finished satisfyingly. I started out not very into it but ended up liking it more than the opening made me think I would.

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: The last of 3 yearly "best of" volumes
Format read: ePub
Source: The publisher
Disclaimer: This book was published by the same publisher as Defying Doomsday. Nevertheless, I have endeavoured to give an unbiased review.

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