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The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens
edited by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Tor, 288 pages

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens
Jane Yolen
Jane Yolen has been called the Hans Christian Andersen of America and the Aesop of the 20th century because of her many fairy tales and story books. She has written over 150 books for children, young adults and adults, along with hundreds of stories and poems. She's a past-president of SFWA and has been a member of the Board of Directors of SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) since its inception.

Jane Yolen Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Sword of the Rightful King
SF Site Review: Sister Emily's Lightship
SF Site Review: The Wizard's Map
SF Site Review: Armageddon Summer
SF Site Review: Here There Be Dragons
SF Site Review: The Sea Man
SF Site Review: Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast
SF Site Review: The Transfigured Hart

Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Patrick Nielsen Hayden was born in 1959. He works as an editor at Tor Books. To date, he has received five Hugo nominations and a World Fantasy Award.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Matthew Cheney

To the ever-growing stacks of collections of the year's best stories is now added The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens. To the ever-growing arguments over what is or isn't science fiction and/or fantasy and/or the best can now be added an argument over what makes a story "for teens."

The closest thing to a rationale offered here is a preface by co-editor Jane Yolen, wherein this esteemed author of books for both adults and children says that when she was a child there was no such thing as Young Adult literature. "Of course we were reading," she says. "We were hopping from children's books right into adult books, without training wheels."

Apparently, then, this book could also be titled The Year's Best Training Wheels.

We are left to figure out from the stories themselves what qualities count as training wheels. The most obvious might be point of view -- all but one of these eleven stories is written in the first person, and most of them have young protagonists. A developmental psychologist would approve: young people like things they can relate to, and first-person narrators, particularly youthful ones, fit that bill perfectly. (It's strange that the editors didn't include the best such science fiction story of 2004, Cory Doctorow's "Anda's Game," but so it goes.)

Fairy tales are also training wheels here, because fairy tales are the foundation for most of these stories' characters, plot, tone, or structure, whether the stories are traditional fantasies or not (most are).

Consequently, if you are a teen who can read things that are written from the point of view of adults, or that aren't echoes of fairy tales, you probably don't need training wheels, and can just read whatever you want, or at least one of the other dozen "best of the year" anthologies.

Just because a story is a training wheel doesn't mean it's a bad story, though, and it would be a rare reader who didn't encounter something enjoyable within this book, although I would be surprised if a literate adult found David Gerrold's story "Dancer in the Dark" to be anything other than a cloying, mawkish mistake, a story that belongs better to the category of Year's Best Unintentionally Funny Embarrassments.

But any notion of "best" here can't be divorced from the other notion of "for teens." Even Gerrold's story, which tells the tale of a boy who lives in a place where all color has been taken away and rebels flee to a rainbow land of love and gaiety just beyond the border, could be moving, and even consoling, for a young person who feels trapped in a world where they are insulted and not understood, and who hopes that something better lies somewhere else. To such a reader, this might, indeed, be a great piece of fiction.

Aside from training wheels, this book seems to aspire to be heroin. Many SF fans have been bemoaning the aging of the genre, the lack of young readers, the need to recruit and convert and addict. A few of these stories might do that, but there's little here that can compete with the seductions of video games, movies, or the internet -- indeed, it's a peculiarly nostalgic anthology, one where more than a few of the stories are redolent of the past, and the two of highest literary quality -- Kelly Link's "The Faery Handbag" and Theodora Goss's "The Wings of Meister Wilhelm" -- reek of Old Worlds and antiquities. The editors even reprint a story from 1904, Rudyard Kipling's more-creeky-than-creepy "They."

The one unambiguously science fictional story in the book is Bradley Denton's "Sergeant Chip." It doesn't do anything original, but it's enjoyable and straightforward, a fine example of training wheels in action, and its view of war, dug deep from the Orwell, is an obvious enough connection to our present lives that the story might even make good heroin.

It's probably unfair to expect too much from any "Best of the Year" anthology in its first volume -- the history of such things is that they don't tend to hit their stride until the third or fourth outing -- and even if all of my reservations and hemmings and hawings hold water, which they may not, any attempt by an adult such as myself to predict exactly how the book will be received by its intended audience is nothing more than speculative fiction.

Copyright © 2005 Matthew Cheney

Matthew Cheney teaches at the New Hampton School and has published in English Journal,, Ideomancer, and Locus, among other places. He writes regularly about science fiction on his weblog, The Mumpsimus.

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