John Adams: The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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John Adams The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017
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“This volume showcases the nuanced, playful, ever-expanding definitions of the genre and celebrates its current renaissance.” — Science fiction and fantasy can encompass so much, from far-future deep-space sagas to quiet contemporary tales to unreal kingdoms and beasts. But what the best of these stories do is the same across the genres—they illuminate the whole gamut of the human experience, interrogating our hopes and our fears. With a diverse selection of stories chosen by series editor John Joseph Adams and guest editor Charles Yu, continues to explore the ever-expanding and changing world of SFF today, with Yu bringing his unique view—literary, meta, and adventurous—to the series’ third edition.

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Edited by Charles Yu

John Joseph Adams, Series Editor


Welcome to year three of The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy! This volume presents the best science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) short stories published during the 2016 calendar year as selected by myself and guest editor Charles Yu.

After more than fifteen years working in the SF/F field, I found 2016 to be an entirely new challenge, as I threw myself into the world of novel-editing, launching my own imprint—John Joseph Adams Books—with the publisher of this fine anthology, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. I’m very proud to have published novels by Hugh Howey, Carrie Vaughn, and Peter Cawdron thus far, and look forward to the publication of Molly Tanzer’s JJA Books debut in November. Those will be followed in 2018 by the release of books by Bryan Camp, Ashok K. Banker, and Todd McAulty, along with second books by Molly and Carrie.

So while for much of 2016 I’ve been immersed in the long form, it’s always a pleasure to return to my first love: short fiction.

Our guest editor this year, Charles Yu, is a writer I’ve been interested in for many years, ever since I first heard about his amazing novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which came out in 2010 to major acclaim. It was published the same year I launched my magazine, Lightspeed—and much to my delight, when I reached out to him about writing a story for my fledgling magazine, he agreed, and sold me the superb tale “Standard Loneliness Package” (which you can read online at; thus our collaborative relationship was born. His short fiction has also appeared in Playboy,, Wired Magazine and, The Oxford American, and, among other anthologies and magazines, as well as in two collections: Third Class Superhero and Sorry Please Thank You.

I’ve also published his work in a number of my own anthologies, including Robot Uprisings, Dead Man’s Hand, and Press Start to Play. Fun fact: if you mashed up his stories in the latter two volumes, you’d basically get HBO’s hit TV show Westworld, for which Charlie worked as a scriptwriter and the story editor on season one.

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Charlie had a fantastic story in The New Yorker this year called “Fable,” which surely would have been on the best-of-the-year list I passed along to the guest editor if it weren’t written by that guest editor. If you like genre short fiction—and I know you do, since you’re reading not only this book but this foreword—then do yourself a favor and definitely check it out. (And lucky you, it’s available online on The New Yorker‘s website for free.)

Science fiction and fantasy, though they seem to be about the future or fictional worlds, are always at their core really about the problems and issues of today. Even in the best of times, genre writers find inspiration in injustice, or in the flaws found in an otherwise well-functioning system. In the worst of times… well, the one silver lining of living through the dystopian hellscape of contemporary American politics is that such strife tends to generate great art—and no one embraces the ability of literature to critique and debate our daily truths by considering it through a different lens more than writers of science fiction and fantasy.

If there’s one story in this book that I fully expected to resonate strongly with our guest editor—speaking of writers finding inspiration in injustice—it’s “The Venus Effect,” by Joseph Allen Hill. Like How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe (and, erm, Charlie’s introduction to this anthology), “The Venus Effect” breaks the fourth wall and has the author intruding on his own story, to similarly great effect. Though it also should be completely unsurprising that Charlie loved this story because of the audacious brilliance of it and the way it tackles an extremely thorny issue—police brutality—with such aplomb while staying within the framework of a fun adventure story that is somehow both excessively clever and enormously poignant.

Charlie often employs other meta techniques in his stories as well, so it was an equally safe bet that he would also love the Nebula Award finalist “Welcome to the Medical Clinic at the Interplanetary Relay Station | Hours Since the Last Patient Death: 0,” by Caroline M. Yoachim, which uses the structure of a choose-your-own-adventure-type narrative to critique and have some fun with the completely unfun health-care system.

“This Is Not a Wardrobe Door,” by A. Merc Rustad (also a Nebula Award finalist), and “Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass,” by Jeremiah Tolbert, in addition to both having wardrobe in the title, are, unsurprisingly, both portal fantasies. Portal fantasy is a subgenre that is more or less illustrated by Jeremiah’s title, which references the Chronicles of Narnia (wardrobe), The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (tornado), and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (looking glass)—all three everyday things serving as portals to a magical otherworld. I’ve observed an uptick in portal fantasy recently—there are some great portal fantasies on the Notable Stories list—and I can’t help but wonder if it’s partially socially motivated: things are so bleak that many of us are literally imagining escaping to a fantasy world as our only way out of the mess we’re in.

“Caspar D. Luckinbill, What Are You Going to Do?,” by Nick Wolven, and “Openness,” by Alexander Weinstein, are two stories that would have felt at home in the great Netflix anthology TV series Black Mirror; both explore the dark side of technology—how, if we let it, it can take over and rule our lives… how (to quote Fight Club) the things you own end up owning you (or perhaps, in one of these cases, the things you own end up pwning you).

Other selections you’ll find here include stories about love, alien visitations, post-climate-change futures, revisionist fairy tales, virtual worlds and corporate malfeasance, and more.

The stories chosen for this anthology were originally published between January 1 and December 31, 2016. The criteria for consideration are (1) original publication in a nationally distributed American or Canadian publication (i.e., periodicals, collections, or anthologies, in print, online, or ebook); (2) publication in English by writers who are American or Canadian, or who have made the United States or Canada their home; (3) publication as text (audiobook, podcast, dramatization, interactive, and other forms of fiction are not considered); (4) original publication as short fiction (excerpts of novels are not knowingly considered); (5) story length of 17,499 words or less; (6) at least loosely categorized as science fiction or fantasy; (7) publication by someone other than the author (self-published works are not eligible); and (8) publication as an original work by the author (i.e., not part of a media tie-in/licensed fiction program).

As series editor, I attempt to read everything I can find that meets these selection criteria. After doing all my reading, I create a list of what I feel are the top eighty stories published in the genre (forty science fiction and forty fantasy). This year those eighty stories were sent to guest editor Charles Yu, who read them and then chose the best twenty (ten science fiction, ten fantasy) for inclusion in the anthology. Charles read all the stories blind, with no bylines attached to them or any information about where a story originally appeared. His selections appear in this volume; the remaining sixty stories are listed in the back of this book as “Notable Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories of 2016.”

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