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The Best Fantasy and Science Fiction Collections of 2012

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Among the many hats I wear besides novelist and faithful Omni correspondent is as founder of Cheeky Frawg, an indie press devoted to international fiction. This fall we’ve released Swedish writer Karin Tidbeck’s Jagannath: Stories. This unique fantasy collection’s been very well received, including a rave review by NPR’s “All Things Considered”; the author even attended the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto recently.

As the book’s publisher, one task I always undertake is checking out the competition. And therefore I’m intensely aware that this is a really great year for fantasy and SF story collections. It would be easy to name as many as 15 or 20 collections in compiling a year’s best list. However, I’m instead going to make it hard and restrict myself to 12 that I find the most interesting and unique, besides Jagannath, and then count on you, the readers, to tell me if I’m wrong and what I missed.

So, here goes, in alphabetical order by author…

Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear (Prime Books) – This new collection from Bear includes the Hugo-winning title novelette and the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award-winning “Tideline.” A World Fantasy, Nebula, and Philip K. Dick nominee, Bear is one of speculative fiction's most acclaimed, respected, and prolific authors.

Beneath the Liquid Skin by Berit Ellingsen (firthFORTH Books) – Short, sharp shocks of the surreal and the strange, anchored by Ellingsen’s clear eye for detail and for the most psychologically interesting aspects of narrative. This Danish-Korean author is just starting what promises to be a major career, but already giving readers a unique and fascinating perspective.

Windeye by Brian Evenson (Coffeehouse Press) – As you might expect from Evenson, a transplanted ear with a mind of its own is the least of the surreal strangeness found in this collection, anchored by the unblinking clarity of the prose. Another brilliant exploration of the darker and more unsettling parts of the human psyche from a critically acclaimed master of the short form.

Crackpot Palace by Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow) – It really doesn’t matter what this multiple World Fantasy Award-winning author writes about; he always finds the characters and story worth telling. Dr. Moreau’s Island, automaton generals, and the Pine Barrens of his native New Jersey all have a place in these sometimes dreamlike stories.

Errantry by Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer Press) – Collecting more recent stories, Errantry is just more evidence of the self-assurance and complexity Hand has brought to fiction in the middle part of her career. One of the novellas herein, “The Maiden Flight of McCauley’s Bellerophon,” was recently nominated for a Hugo Award.

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson (Small Beer Press) – Ranging from the more traditional to tales that push buttons and boundaries, from fantasy to science fiction and beyond, Johnson’s short fiction has won the Nebula Awards for three years running.

Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan (Twelve Planets) – Australian writer Lanagan once again shines in this collection. These stories from a four-time World Fantasy Award winner are all set in Australia, a myth-soaked landscape both stubbornly inscrutable and crisscrossed by interlopers’ dreamings.

The Real and the Unreal: Selected Stories (volume 1 and volume 2) by Ursula K. Le Guin (Small Beer Press) – What can be said about Le Guin that hasn’t already been said? She is one of the most iconic of all living writers, in or out of genre. This two-volume set provides an amazing look at the sheer depth and breadth of her short fiction—and should further add to her influence and her legacy.

Wonders of the Invisible World by Patricia McKillip (Tachyon Publications) – The creator of the classic Riddle Master of Hed novels, McKillip also has a true talent for spinning short stories rooted in fairy tale and mythology. Beautiful writing is paired with classic approaches to narrative.

At the Edge of Waking by Holly Phillips (Prime Books) – It has been far too long since Phillips’ published her first collection, In the Palace of Repose, which won the Sunburst Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy and Crawford Awards. This second collection builds on the promise of the first, often portraying human beings in situations of dire change, intermingled with the fantastical.

Near + Far by Cat Rambo (Hydra House) – A finalist for the World Fantasy Award this year, Rambo’s latest collection is a clever “double,” with two covers and two remits: to collect her fantasy and SF separately yet together. Whether set in terrestrial oceans or on far-off space stations, Rambo's masterfully told stories explore themes of gender, despair, tragedy, and triumph.

Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam (Aqueduct Press) – Magic and sexuality permeate these stories that seek the emotional core of their characters. Interesting settings and Salaam’s exuberant but controlled prose help to anchor narratives that are continually questing, pushing for something beyond the usual.

Moscow But Dreaming by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books) – Sedia is a slippery writer who crosses between genres with all the ease of a true literary fantasist. The prose is lively and vivid, often with a view of the world that is both passionate and sardonic. This is, astonishingly, the first collection for this critically acclaimed novelist.

Sorry Please Thank You by Charles Yu (Pantheon) - The author of the brilliant novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe returns with his second story collection, much of which skews toward fantasy and science fiction. You’ll find zombies, virtual warriors, companies that outsource grief, and much more—all of it made unique by Yu’s unique perspective. He’s funny without being trite, and he knows his characters well.

 

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As for Karin Tidbeck, I asked her for her selections for favorite collections of all time. So here are another five (classic) collections to seek out:

Ursula Le Guin: The Birthday of the World

Tove Jansson: Tales From Moominvalley

Ted Chiang: Stories Of Your Life and Others

Joanna Russ: The Hidden Side of the Moon

Jorge Luis Borges: The Aleph

Comments

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Caitlin R. Kiernan, Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart

Fountain of Age, by Nancy Kress. The Nebula-winning title story is just the beginning for this collection of nine recent stories. It also includes the Hugo-winning "The Erdmann Nexus".

I would have added Tim Horvath's Understories. They reminded me of Calvino (there's a clear relationship between the "Urban Planning" series and Calvino's Invisible Cities) and Borges -- definitely what I'd call weird fiction. Great fun to read.

Hi, Cat. That's a 2011 collection--a very good one.

Ditto on the Duncan suggestion. I picked up Sarah Monette's Somewhere Beneath Those Waves at WFC and have been enjoying it as well.

John--An excellent one. Alas, I never received a review copy. But I should have remembered it. Thanks for reminding me.

Andy Duncan, The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories

Thank you so much for adding Beneath the Liquid Skin to your list of best collections in 2012, Jeff!

What an honor to be mentioned here, and alongside such fantastic writers!

OOooo... so many of these look good! Thank you for new suggestions for what I can review on my blog. And so many award winners!

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