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The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year - v5

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From Publishers WeeklyStrahan's fifth anthology contains 29 wide-ranging tales. Neil Gaiman's "The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains" is a deceptively simple folktale-styled story of the price one may pay for gold. "The Sultan of the Clouds" by Geoffrey Landis untangles a complex knot of childish power. Sarah Rees Brennan's "The Spy Who Never Grew Up" gives a beloved childhood icon a sinister update; Diana Peterfreund's "The Care and Feeding of Your Baby Killer Unicorn" turns unicorn lore on its head; and Rachel Swirsky's "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window" puts a fantasy spin on the temporal culture shock of immortality. This year the fantasy tales outdo the SF in depth of storytelling and characterization, though all the inclusions are strong, w Published by Night Shade Books on 2011/02/22

     ? THE BEST?

     SCIENCE FICTION?

     ?

     AND FANTASY?

     OF THE YEAR?

     VOLUME FIVE?

     edited by Jonathan Strahan? NIGHT SHADE BOOKS SAN FRANCISCO Also Edited by Jonathan Strahan? Best Short Novels (2004 through 2007)? Fantasy: The Very Best of 2005?

    Science Fiction: The Very Best of 2005? The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volumes 1 – 4? Eclipse One: New Science Fiction and Fantasy? Eclipse Two: New Science Fiction and Fantasy? Eclipse Three: New Science Fiction and Fantasy? The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows?

    (forthcoming)?Engineering Infinity Life on Mars: Tales of New Tomorrows (forthcoming)? Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron (forthcoming)? Godlike Machines? With Lou Anders? Swords and Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery (forthcoming)? With Charles N. Brown? The Locus Awards: Thirty Years of the Best in Fantasy and Science Fiction Fritz Leiber:

    Selected Stories? With Jeremy G. Byrne? The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volumes 1 – 2? Eidolon 1? With Terry Dowling? The Jack Vance Treasury? The Jack Vance Reader? Wild Thyme, Green Magic? Hard Luck Diggings: The Early Jack Vance? With Gardner Dozois? The New Space Opera The New Space Opera 2? With Karen Haber? Science Fiction: Best of 2003 Science Fiction: Best of 2004 Fantasy: Best of 2004? With Marianne S. Jablon? Wings of Fire? The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Five ? 2011 by Jonathan Strahan This edition of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Five ? 2011 by Night

    Shade Books Cover art ? 2011 by Sparth? Cover design by Claudia Noble? Interior layout and design by Ross E. Lockhart Introduction, story notes, and arrangement ? 2011 by Jonathan Strahan. Pages 535-536 represent an extension of this copyright page. First Edition ISBN: 978-1-59780-172-0? Printed in Canada Night Shade Books Please visit us on the web at ?

www.nightshadebooks.com

For Alex, Alisa, and Tansy—the Coode Street Feminist Advisory Committee—for their kindness,

support, and advice.?

Acknowledgements?

    This year has been a challenging one and getting this book done has been demanding.? I doubtyou would be holding it now without the determined assistance of my wife and co-editor MarianneJablon, who stepped up to the plate and helped get this book ready at the last minute. Asalways, I’d also like to thank Gary K.Wolfe, whose advice has been invaluable; everyone from

    who were my companions again on the journeyNot if You Were the Last Short Story on Earth

    through the year and provided an invaluable sounding board. I’d also like to thank HowardMorhaim, Jason Williams, Jeremy Lassen, Ross Lockhart, Marty Halpern, John Helfers, Martin H.Greenberg, and Gordon Van Gelder. Thanks also to the following good friends and colleagueswithout whom this book would have been much poorer, and much less fun to do: Lou Anders, JackDann, Ellen Datlow, Gardner Dozois, Sean Williams, and all of the book’s contributors.?

    As always, my biggest thanks go to my family, Marianne, Jessica, and Sophie. Every moment spentworking on this book was one stolen from them. I only hope I can repay them.?

INTRODUCTION

    JONATHAN STRAHAN

    In the Australian winter of 1985 I was still at university, pursuing a fairly useless ifinteresting degree during the day while spending most of my waking hours engaged in an excited,breathless and far more useful discovery of the science fiction field. It was during that timethat I encountered my first “best of the year” anthology, a sprawling selection of storiesthat the editor opened with a careful assessment of how things were going wrong in SF, or

    be. A boon of some kind, he reported, was coming to an end and there was realmight possibly

    fear that bad times might be coming: sales were unreliable, advances were headed south and, inall likelihood, the publishing world would end quite soon.?

    Gardner Dozois, for it was he writing in the first of his The Year’s Best Science Fiction

    series (now in its twenty-eighth year), followed that assessment with two dozen stories—fromestablished writers like Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman and Poul Anderson, alongside anincredible array of writers I’d never heard of like Connie Willis, Bruce Sterling, Greg Bearand Kim Stanley Robinson—which rather seemed to make those gloomy assessments irrelevant. Howcould a field that was producing stories like “Cicada Queen,” “Hardfought,” “CarrionComfort” and “Black Air” be anything other than healthy??

    I could appreciate then, as I do now, that he was talking about the health of the publishingindustry as it was experienced by writers, rather than the state of the art of SF and fantasy

    writing as it was experienced by readers, but I still did wonder at the time how the caution of

    the introduction reconciled with the optimism of the story selection.?

    I was confronted with this myself when, unexpectedly, in the summer of 1997I found myselfdrafting an introduction to The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy with my co-

    editor Jeremy G. Byrne and falling into exactly the same kind of assessment, talking about thepublishing business rather than the art. I’ve now sat down on sixteen separate occasions, bothby myself and with others, and I still struggle to balance the urge to talk about the state ofthe publishing business rather than focus on the year in short fiction, probably because of asimple but fundamental problem: the year in short fiction is barely done and in many ways istoo close to meaningfully assess, even as I attempt to do just that.?

    It would be easy to describe the rather shaky state that SF and fantasy finds itself in as thefirst decade of the twenty-first century draws to a close as uneasy. Advances are down, sales

    (especially for short fiction) are down, the midlist (where many fine writers made theirlivings) is almost completely a thing of the past, booksellers are in trouble and short fictionoutlets of all kinds seem to be struggling financially.?

    As has been the case in the past, large publishers consolidated, reducing staff and focusing onnew opportunities. Random House merged Ballantine and Bantam Dell, HarperCollins rebranded Eosand Voyager, HarperCollins sold its new Angry Robot imprint, as did Games Workshop its SolarisBooks imprint. The major North American book chains struggled, with reports popping upthroughout the year of both Borders and Barnes & Noble being in various kinds of financialtrouble. And magazine Realms of Fantasy, having closed and been rescued in 2009, was sold and

    rescued again late in 2010.?

    This was also the year when eBook publishing really took off. Early in the year publisherspublicly slugged it out with Amazon over eBook pricing, but that was quickly swept aside whenApple released its iPad in April. Apple sold three million devices in less than three months,and went on to sell more than eight million during the year. Those eight million new, very highprofile e-readers were soon joined by new, cheaper iterations of the Kindle, the Nook andothers. E-readers seemed to become a desirable thing to own, the next “it” gadget, and eBooksales increased accordingly, with some publishers saying as year’s end approached that eBooksaccounted for as much as twenty percent of sales.?

    That was reflected in the decision by mass market publisher Dorchester to move fromtraditionally printed books to digital-only editions in August. Perhaps more interesting for SFand fantasy, though, was the comparatively quiet announcement that same month that Gollancz,

    one of the most respected and important SF imprints in the field, had quietly appointed itsfirst digital publisher. There have been some whispers as to what this might mean for thefuture, and it’s something I for one will be watching with great interest.?

    of short SF and fantasy? How is doing? I can imagine you asking. Well,But what of the art that

    as I’ve been saying for close to a decade now, it has become almost impossible to keep trackof all of the original short fiction published each year. I don’t have the February issue of

    to hand, but when I last looked they’d reported close to 3,500 new stories had beenLocus

    published in their most recent year of accounting, and I’ve long felt that underestimatednumbers by a factor of four or five. New stories were published in anthologies, collections,magazines (whether printed on paper or presented with pixels) and pamphlets; they came frompublishers of all sizes, and they came every single day. One publisher even launched a servicethat, rather mind-bogglingly, offered a new story every working day (that’s 220 per year, ormore than the combined output of , , , and ).Asimov’sAnalogF&SFRealms of Fantasy Interzone

    Year’s best editors whimpered.?

    While in recent years anthologies seemed to be providing most of our best short fiction, thisyear the field seemed to level out with a wide variety of venues producing some excellent work,but no single source really dominating. Unlike 2009, though, I probably found more stories Iliked in magazines with almost two-thirds of the contents of this book coming from oneperiodical or another, and just a third coming from the pages of anthologies.?

    We are early enough in the digital era that we still find ourselves bound, it seems, to discusswhether magazines appear in print or online. This isn’t a particularly useful distinctiongiven that at the end of the day a magazine is a magazine and an issue is an issue. That said,the majority of the stories from magazines that I liked came from online sources. Last yearTor.com had a particularly strong year, but this year it was Subterranean that dominated.

    Editor Bill Schafer produced a terrific mix of fantasy, oddball SF and other stuff, includingmajor stories by Rachel Swirsky, Peter S. Beagle, K. J. Parker, Hannu Rajaniemi and many more.He also reprinted excellent long novellas originally published in book form from the likes ofLucius Shepard and Ted Chiang. It was, on balance, the best single source of top notch fictionin 2010. Veteran Strange Horizons, which picked up its first World Fantasy Award in October,also had a very strong year with fine stories from the likes of John Kessel, Lavie Tidhar,Sandra McDonald, Meghan McCarron and Theodora Goss. Comparative newcomer Apex SF had what was

    probably its best year yet, publishing some good work including two marvelous fantasies by IanTregillis and Theodora Goss. Clarkesworld, which after Tor.com, was easily the best online

    magazine of 2009, justifiably picked up the Hugo in August and had another strong (if slightlyless dominant) year publishing excellent work by Peter Watts, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, CatherynneM. Valente and others. Newcomer Lightspeed, under the able editorship of John Joseph Adams,

    also began to find its feet across its first half-dozen issues, publishing a terrific story byGenevieve Valentine, and some fine work by Ted Kosmatka, Carol Emshwiller and others.?

    Of the print magazines, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine had the best year producing terrific

    work by established regulars like Robert Reed, James Patrick Kelly, Geoffrey A. Landis and KijJohnson, alongside newer writers like Sara Genge and Felicity Shoulders. Editor Sheila Williamsdoesn’t really get enough credit for the efforts she’s put in over recent years to broadenand re-define Asimov’s but it definitely showed this year. Gordon Van Gelder’s Fantasy &

    had another solid year, with strong stories by Bruce Sterling, Paul Park, JohnScience Fiction

    Kessel, Steven Popkes, Ian R. Macleod and newcomer Alexandra Duncan. It remains a reliablesource of good fiction. Interzone also had a good year, producing two excellent stories by JimHawkins, who returned to the magazine with his second and third sales after a thirty-yearhiatus. There were many other print magazines published, but these were the ones that struck meas the best.?

    If anthologies weren’t quite as dominant in 2010, that’s not to say there wasn’t a lot ofthem and that they didn’t contain a lot of fine fiction. I should probably note the caveathere that I edited several anthologies in 2010 myself, so I offer without comment SF anthologyGodlike Machines, fantasy anthologies Swords and Dark Magic (edited with Lou Anders), Legends

    of Australian Fantasy

    (edited with Jack Dann) and Wings of Fire (edited with Marianne S.

    Jablon). All contain work I think deserves your attention. The best original fantasy anthologyof the year was Justine Larbalestier and Holly Black’s immensely enjoyable Zombies vs.

    , which featured excellent work by Diana Peterfreund, Sarah Rees Brennan, ScottUnicorns

    Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, Alaya Dawn Johnson and others. If you buy only one original fantasyanthology of the year, this should be it. I was frankly surprised at the quality of Full Moon

    a werewolf anthology that featured terrific stories from the likes of Holly Black, PeterCity,

    S. Beagle and Gene Wolfe. Well worth your attention was the latest from Ellen Datlow and TerriWindling, The Beastly Bride, which included strong work from Christopher Barzak, Ellen Kushnerand Peter S. Beagle. More tangential to this book, Datlow also edited a strong anthology ofghost stories, Haunted Legends, with Nick Mamatas, which featured good work by Jeffrey Ford,Caitlín R. Kiernan and Joe R. Lansdale. Also worth mention is John Joseph Adams’s The Way of

    , which includes good work by Nnedi Okorafor, Genevieve Valentine and others.?the Wizard

    There were, frankly, very few SF anthologies published this year. After my own Godlike Machines

    , the best of these was Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern’s , which had anIs Anybody Out There?

    excellent story from Pat Cadigan and very good work from Alexander Irvine and others. 2010 alsoseemed to have more high profile “bestseller” anthologies than we’ve seen for a while. NeilGaiman and Al Sarrantonio delivered , while Gardner Dozois and George R. R. MartinStories

    edited and . All three were mixed genre, and often the non-Warriors Songs of Love and Death

    genre stories were the highlights. Although it was somewhat uneven, the best of theseanthologies was Stories, which had outstanding stories by Elizabeth Hand and editor Gaiman,alongside fine work from Joe R. Lansdale, Jeffrey Ford and Tim Powers. Warriors featured strong

    work from Joe Haldeman, Howard Waldrop and both editors Dozois and Martin, while Songs of Love

    had good work from Carrie Vaughn, Neil Gaiman and others. 2010 saw the World Scienceand Death

    Fiction Convention travel to Australia and a number of strong anthologies were published byAustralian small presses to coincide with the event. Easily the best of these was AlisaKrasnostein’s Sprawl, a suburban fantasy anthology from Twelfth Planet Press which featuredexcellent work by Peter M. Ball, Angela Slatter, Thoraiya Dyer and others. Also of interestwere Tehani Wesseley’s Worlds Next Door and Liz Grzyb’s Scary Kisses.?

    I could go on and talk about reprint anthologies, collections and such but I’m running long asit is, so instead I’ll simply say it was another fine year and let you get to reading thewonderful stories that feature in this year’s book. As always, I hope you enjoy reading themas much as I’ve enjoyed compiling them. See you next year!?

    Jonathan Strahan?

    Perth, Australia?

    November 2010?

ELEGY FOR A YOUNG ELK

    HANNU RAJANIEMI

    Hannu Rajaniemi was born in Ylivieska, Finland, and read his first science fiction novel at the

    . At the age of eight he approached20,000 Leagues Under the Seaage of six—Jules Verne’s

    European Space Agency with a fusion-powered spaceship design, which was received with a polite“thank you” note. He studied mathematics and theoretical physics at the University of Ouluand completed a B.Sc. thesis on transcendental numbers. Rajaniemi went on to complete Part IIIof the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge University and a Ph.D. in string theory at theUniversity of Edinburgh. After completing his Ph.D., he joined three partners to co-foundThinkTank Maths (TTM). The company provides mathematics-based technologies in the defense,space, and energy sectors. Rajaniemi is a member of an Edinburgh-based writers group whichincludes Alan Campbell, Jack Deighton, Caroline Dunford, and Charles Stross. His first fictionsale was the short story “Shibuya no Love” to , and his first novel, Futurismic.comThe

    , was published by Gollancz in 2010.?Quantum Thief

    The night after Kosonen shot the young elk, he tried to write a poem by the campfire.?

    It was late April and there was still snow on the ground. He had already taken to sittingoutside in the evening, on a log by the fire, in the small clearing where his cabin stood. Otsowas more comfortable outside, and he preferred the bear’s company to being alone. It snoredloudly atop its pile of fir branches.?

    A wet smell that had traces of elk shit drifted from its drying fur.?

    He dug a soft-cover notebook and a pencil stub from his pocket. He leafed through it: most ofthe pages were empty. Words had become slippery, harder to catch than elk. Although not thisone: careless and young. An old elk would never have let a man and a bear so close.?

    He scattered words on the first empty page, gripping the pencil hard.?

    Antlers. Sapphire antlers. No good. Frozen flames. Tree roots. Forked destinies. There had to

    be words that captured the moment when the crossbow kicked against his shoulder, the meatysound of the arrow’s impact. But it was like trying to catch snowflakes in his palm. He couldbarely glimpse the crystal structure, and then they melted.?

    He closed the notebook and almost threw it into the fire, but thought better of it and put itback into his pocket. No point in wasting good paper. Besides, his last toilet roll in theouthouse would run out soon.?

    “Kosonen is thinking about words again,” Otso growled. “Kosonen should drink more booze.Don’t need words then. Just sleep.”?

    Kosonen looked at the bear. “You think you are smart, huh?” He tapped his crossbow. “Maybeit’s you who should be shooting elk.”?

    “Otso good at smelling. Kosonen at shooting. Both good at drinking.” Otso yawned luxuriously,revealing rows of yellow teeth. Then it rolled to its side and let out a satisfied heavy sigh.“Otso will have more booze soon.”?

    Maybe the bear was right. Maybe a drink was all he needed. No point in being a poet: they hadalready written all the poems in the world, up there, in the sky. They probably had poetrygardens. Or places where you could become words.?

    But that was not the point. The words needed to come from him, a dirty, bearded man in the

    woods whose toilet was a hole in the ground. Bright words from dark matter, that’s what poetrywas about.?

    When it worked.?

    There were things to do. The squirrels had almost picked the lock the previous night, bloodythings. The cellar door needed reinforcing. But that could wait until tomorrow.?

    He was about to open a vodka bottle from Otso’s secret stash in the snow when Marja came downfrom the sky as rain.?

    The rain was sudden and cold like a bucket of water poured over your head in the sauna. But thedroplets did not touch the ground, they floated around Kosonen. As he watched, they changedshape, joined together and made a woman, spindle-thin bones, mist-flesh and muscle. She lookedlike a glass sculpture. The small breasts were perfect hemispheres, her sex an equilateralsilver triangle. But the face was familiar—small nose and high cheekbones, a sharp-tonguedmouth.?

    Marja.?

    Otso was up in an instant, by Kosonen’s side. “Bad smell, god-smell,” it growled. “Otsobites.” The rain-woman looked at it curiously.?

    “Otso,” Kosonen said sternly. He gripped the fur in the bear’s rough neck tightly, feelingits huge muscles tense. “Otso is Kosonen’s friend. Listen to Kosonen. Not time for biting.Time for sleeping. Kosonen will speak to god.” Then he set the vodka bottle in the snow rightunder its nose.?

    Otso sniffed the bottle and scraped the half-melted snow with its forepaw.?

    “Otso goes,” it finally said. “Kosonen shouts if the god bites. Then Otso comes.” It pickedup the bottle in its mouth deftly and loped into the woods with a bear’s loose, shufflinggait.?

    “Hi,” the rain-woman said.?

    “Hello,” Kosonen said carefully. He wondered if she was real. The plague gods were crafty.One of them could have taken Marja’s image from his mind. He looked at the unstrung crossbowand tried to judge the odds: a diamond goddess versus an out-of-shape woodland poet. Not good.?

    “Your dog does not like me very much,” the Marja-thing said. She sat down on Kosonen’s logand swung her shimmering legs in the air, back and forth, just like Marja always did in thesauna. It had to be her, Kosonen decided, feeling something jagged in his throat.?

    He coughed. “Bear, not a dog. A dog would have barked. Otso just bites. Nothing personal,that’s just its nature. Paranoid and grumpy.”?

    “Sounds like someone I used to know.”?

    “I’m not paranoid.” Kosonen hunched down and tried to get the fire going again. “You learnto be careful, in the woods.”?

    Marja looked around. “I thought we gave you stayers more equipment. It looks a little…primitive here.”?

    “Yeah. We had plenty of gadgets,” Kosonen said. “But they weren’t plague-proof. I had asmartgun before I had this”—he tapped his crossbow—“but it got infected. I killed it with abig rock and threw it into the swamp. I’ve got my skis and some tools, and these.” Kosonentapped his temple. “Has been enough so far. So cheers.”?

    He piled up some kindling under a triangle of small logs, and in a moment the flames sprung upagain. Three years had been enough to learn about woodcraft at least. Marja’s skin lookedalmost human in the soft light of the fire, and he sat back on Otso’s fir branches, watchingher. For a moment, neither of them spoke.?

    “So how are you, these days?” he asked. “Keeping busy?”?

    Marja smiled. “Your wife grew up. She’s a big girl now. You don’t want to know how big.”?

    “So… you are not her, then? Who am I talking to?”?

    “I am her, and I am not her. I’m a partial, but a faithful one. A translation. You wouldn’tunderstand.”?

    Kosonen put some snow in the coffee pot to melt. “All right, so I’m a caveman. Fair enough.But I understand you are here because you want something. So let’s get down to business,perkele,” he swore.?

    Marja took a deep breath. “We lost something. Something important. Something new. The spark,we called it. It fell into the city.”?

“I thought you lot kept copies of everything.”?

    bit. You can’t copy it.”?new “Quantum information. That was a part of the

    “Tough shit.”?

    A wrinkle appeared between Marja’s eyebrows. Kosonen remembered it from a thousand fights theyhad had, and swallowed.?

    “If that’s the tone you want to take, fine,” she said. “I thought you’d be glad to see me.I didn’t have to come: they could have sent Mickey Mouse. But I wanted to see you. The bigMarja wanted to see you. So you have decided to live your life like this, as the tragic figurehaunting the woods. That’s fine. But you could at least listen. You owe me that much.”Kosonen said nothing.?

    “I see,” Marja said. “You still blame me for Esa.”?

    She was right. It had been her who got the first Santa Claus machine. The boy needs the best wecan offer, she said. The world is changing. Can’t have him being left behind. Let’s make himinto a little god, like the neighbor’s kid.?

    “I guess I shouldn’t be blaming you,” Kosonen said. “You’re just a… partial. You weren’t

    there.”?

    “I was there,” Marja said quietly. “I remember. Better than you, now. I also forget better,and forgive. You never could. You just… wrote poems. The rest of us moved on, and saved theworld.”?

    “Great job,” Kosonen said. He poked the fire with a stick, and a cloud of sparks flew up intothe air with the smoke.?

    Marja got up. “That’s it,” she said. “I’m leaving. See you in a hundred years.” The airgrew cold. A halo appeared around her, shimmering in the firelight.?

    Kosonen closed his eyes and squeezed his jaw shut tight. He waited for ten seconds. Then heopened his eyes. Marja was still there, staring at him, helpless. He could not help smiling.She could never leave without having the last word.?

    “I’m sorry,” Kosonen said. “It’s been a long time. I’ve been living in the woods with abear. Doesn’t improve one’s temper much.”?

    “I didn’t really notice any difference.”?

    “All right,” Kosonen said. He tapped the fir branches next to him. “Sit down. Let’s startover. I’ll make some coffee.”?

    Marja sat down, bare shoulder touching his. She felt strangely warm, warmer than the firealmost.?

    “The firewall won’t let us into the city,” she said. “We don’t have anyone…human enough,not anymore. There was some talk about making one, but… the argument would last a century.”She sighed. “We like to argue, in the sky.”?

    Kosonen grinned. “I bet you fit right in.” He checked for the wrinkle before continuing. “Soyou need an errand boy.”?

    “We need help.”?

    Kosonen looked at the fire. The flames were dying now, licking at the blackened wood. Therewere always new colors in the embers. Or maybe he just always forgot.?

    He touched Marja’s hand. It felt like a soap bubble, barely solid. But she did not pull itaway.?

    “All right,” he said. “But just so you know, it’s not just for old times’ sake.”?

    “Anything we can give you.”?

    “I’m cheap,” Kosonen said. “I just want words.”?

    The sun sparkled on the kantohanki: snow with a frozen surface, strong enough to carry a man onskis and a bear. Kosonen breathed hard. Even going downhill, keeping pace with Otso was not

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