September 04, 2005

The Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens (2005) ed. by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden

two dragons fighting in a forest (one with a female rider) guy with spear follows action from the groundIf you step back and think about it, fiction is an amazing thing in and of itself. It's a little boggling that abstract symbols can be processed through your eyes to assemble a virtual reality in your brain that can seem nearly as real as anything in the outside world. I find that short fiction accentuates this effect much as the first bite of a sinful dessert is often the most intense and satisfying part of the experience.

Nielsen Hayden and Yolen have assembled a whole trolley full of intense experiences in this new (first annual) collection of speculative fiction short stories with maximum teen-appeal.

The first story is "The Faery Handbag" by Kelly Link which tells about a young woman's relationship with her grandmother and the grandmother's curious relationship with her possibly enchanted handbag.

"Blood Wolf" by S. M. Stirling is set in the world of some of Stirling's novels, an alternate history Earth where Nantucket island is sent back in time to the Bronze Age. The title character is a young, we might say "savage", viking man coming to seek his fortune in the new world.

Lynette Aspey's "Sleeping Dragons" is set in Australia and told from the point of view of a young girl whose human-seeming brother hatched from an egg.

"Endings" by Garth Nix is an ambiguous short-short about joy and sorrow.

David Gerrold wrote "Dancer in the Dark", one of the longer entries. In it, something bad has happened to the world and a refugee boy is transported to a small farming community in the American midwest to work for his keep in the strangely dark world of its denizens. As much as I agreed with the message of this story I found its metaphor a bit too transparent (no pun intended) for it to work well as a story.

"A Piece of Flesh" is by Adam Stemple who I know as the excellent guitarist of Boiled in Lead (he's also the son of Jane Yolen who disclaims having been the one to choose his story for this collection). The story is of a young girl who is the only one who notices that her little brother has been kidnapped and replaced with a changeling.

Delia Sherman contributes "Catnyp", a fun little urban fantasy set in the New York Public Library. Sort of.

The collection starts a tradition of including one story from the early days of the genre, and in this volume that story is "They" by Rudyard Kipling (published in 1904), a sort of ghost story that is as mysterious today for its unaccustomed style and setting as for its subject matter.

"The Wings of Meister Wilhelm" by Theodora Goss is set in North Carolina after the Civil War when a violin-playing German appears in town and captures the imagination of a rebellious young woman.

"Displaced Persons" by Leah Bobet tells what happened to the Wicked Witch's flying monkeys after she died. From the monkeys' point of view.

Finally, Bradley Denton's "Sergeant Chip" is told from the point of view of an intelligence-enhanced army dog explaining how and why he came to kill eighteen soldiers in defense of the people in his care.

It's a very good collection of stories, just as you'd expect from editorial superstars like Yolen and Nielsen Hayden. They accentuate each story with brief sensitive introductions along with suggestions for other books with similar subject and tone to each story. I look forward to next year's edition.

Posted by jeffy at September 4, 2005 01:15 PM