by Jonathan Strahan



592pp/$24.95/September 2005

Best Short Novels 2005
Cover by Larry Price

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Robert Silverberg has stated that “the novella is the perfect form for science fiction.”  The length affords the author the chance to fully flesh out his ideas, culture and characters.  Beginning in 2004, Jonathan Strahan has collected several of the best science fiction novellas to appear in Best Short Novels, the second volume, dated 2005, includes stories from 2004.

There are many stories are set on Amazonian utopias, but despite the dearth of men in James Patrick Kelly’s “Men Are Trouble,” this world is not one of them.  Men have been removed by the alien demons and the women who remain behind must try to figure out how to continue living without men and with their new overlords.  The relationship between men and women in the story is one of yin and yang and offers insight into the two gender world which should be welcome by all.

With the recent swashbuckler “The Pirates of the Caribbean”  The Curse of the Black Pearl,” it isn’t surprising that pirate stories are making something of a comeback.  Fortunately, Ian McDowell does not take the tropes of the genre too seriously in “Under the Flag of Night,” his tale of Anne Bonney.

”Sergeant Chip,” by Bradley Denton, may be one of the most honored stories of 2004.  The tale of a trained dog in a wartime setting has garnered the Sturgeon Award and been reprinted at least three times already.  Denton only barely lost the Hugo for this story to Charles Stross, who won for “The Concrete Jungle,” also included in Strahan’s anthology.  Stross’s work is a satirical look at bureaucracy with a clever nod to metafictional awareness.

Stross’s story fits into a series, now at two stories.  Another series story is Eleanor Arnason’s “The Garden.”  This is a story of Arnason’s Hwarhath, in this case focusing on a soldier whose deeds disgrace his family.  The comparison between Sergeant Chip in Denton’s story and Akuin is intriguing.

Gregory Feeley’s “Arabian Wine” is a little bit of a cheat.  Feeley published two versions of the story in 2004, one version in Asimov’s and another as a separate book published by Temporary Culture.  The version of the story in Best Short Novels 2005 is neither version.  Instead, Feeley offers up a third version, differing from the Asimov’s version in the addition of a few paragraphs.

Perhaps the least well known story included in this collection is Patricia McKillip’s “The Gorgon in the Cupboard,” originally published in To Weave a Web of Magic, a romance anthology.  In this story, McKillip looks at painter Harry Waterman and his need to rediscover his muse, with an interesting a different result.

The triumvirate of Gardner Dozois, George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham collaborated to write “Shadow Twin” a first contact story on a distant planet in which Ramon Espejo is captured by aliens and then used to try to track the human previously captured who escaped their clutches.  The aliens, particularly Espejo’s hander, Maneck, are well defined, although not so well that the reader feels like there is a data dump, as Espejo learns about the aliens and himself, and Maneck does the same.  Judith Berman’s entry of “The Fear Gun” is also a story which uses a common theme of science fiction, the alien invasion.  Berman’s aliens are more threatening than those in “Shadow Twin,” but they are not the two-dimensional villains whose goal is simply to take over the world or abduct our woman.

The generation ship in which the inhabitants lose knowledge of the fact that they are on a space ship is a cliché in science fiction.  Baxter shows his awareness of this in “Mayflower II” even as he actually traces the early progress of his ship and shows its inhabitants losing the knowledge of their world rather than discovering the truth.  For a relatively short story, Mayflower II covers a tremendous amount of time and space and is a model of succinctness.

Amazingly, with these ten stories, Strahan did not deplete the excellent supply of novellas published in the science fiction community in 2004.  While there are stories which could easily have been included in the book, the only real complaint is that Strahan doesn’t include a list of further reading.

James Patrick Kelly Men Are Trouble
Stephen Baxter Mayflower II
Bradley Denton Sergeant Chip
Eleanor Arnason The Garden:  A Hwarhath Science Fictional Romance
Ian McDowell Under the Flag of Night
Gardner Dozois, George R.R. Martin, and Daniel Abraham Shadow Twin
Charles Stross The Concrete Jungle
Patricia A. McKillip The Gorgon In the Cupboard
Judith Berman The Fear Gun
Gregory Feeley Arabian Wine

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