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A few entries were great, but too many were much more fantasy than sf. Also, there were way too many excerpts, as opposed to full novellas. And there was no list of nominees and awardees as in previous Nebula anthologies.
This one had several stories that I was looking forward to reading, most specifically the stories by P. Djèlí Clark, Alix E. Harrow, and Brooke Bolander. It also includes excerpts from some of my most favorite books, including Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (Murderbot 4 lyfe) and The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal.
I’m not going to go over every story in here (I mean, some of them you’re just going to have to discover for yourselves, amirite? XD) but here are some of my most favorite entries in this anthology!
The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington by P. Djèlí Clark – this was a fantastic story, based on what appears to be a receipt for ‘Cash pd Negros for 9 Teeth’ dated 1784 from a ledger at the Mount Vernon plantation. This story does exactly what you’d expect it to. Each of those nine teeth came from a person, and this story tells the story of that person. What I wasn’t expecting was how magical and wondrous it got. Magic and mermen and all sorts of wonder are mixed into this story based in history.
And Yet by A. T. Greenblatt – This was an interesting story that puts you in the shoes of a person who is revisiting a haunted house from their youth. A haunted house that they have concluded has multiple universes in it. They’ve returned now, as an adult, with a degree in quantum mechanics ready to do some more solid investigation of the haunted house and what it could mean for science.
A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies by Alix E. Harrow – this was a lovely piece of writing that tells the story of a librarian who does their very best to get the right books into the right hands when they’re needed there. There are two types of librarians: the ‘ones who believe the books are their personal property and patrons are dangerous delinquents come to steal them; and witches. Our librarian here is the second type, and the books in their library seek out people. A young man in need of a portal fantasy comes to the library, and the librarian does their best to help in their way. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of Alix E. Harrow, and this is no exception!
The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander – this is a story I’ve been meaning to read for ages. It is a historical retelling (mostly?) following one of the Radium Girls, along with Topsy the elephant. In this tale, elephants are known to be intelligent, communicating with a type of trunk-sign language. It was absolutely beautifully written and immersive. I liked it a lot!
The Last Banquet of Temporal Confections by Tina Connolly – This was a super unique and well thought out story, following Saffron and her husband Danny. Danny is a baker, one who specializes in confections that immerse you in your memories. Saffron and he have more or less been kidnapped by the Regent, and forced into tasting parties and banquets showing off their confections. A really wonderful story.
Messenger by R.R. Virdi & Yudhanjaya Wijerantne – This reads like Hindu NGE (Evangelion). That’s all I’m saying. You can take that however you’d like, but I thought it was interesting AF.
The Tea Master by Aliette de Bodard (excerpt) – I am even more intrigued than I was just reading the blurb, that’s for sure. This excerpt introduces us to The Shadow’s Child, who is a sentient spaceship. Just the first chapter was enough to have me getting the full novella.
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark (excerpt) – Wow that writing tho. Alternate Universe New Orleans steampunk about a girl with a storm god in her head. Clear my schedule because I’m definitely reading this entire novella, as soon as possible.
Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield (excerpt) – This is definitely another novella that I immediately bought for later consumption. It tells the story of a notorious highway robber named Alice Payne, and also a war across time, in which Major Prudence Zuniga is trying to change history. Very interesting idea, well executed in what I’ve read so far!
Artificial Condition by Martha Wells (excerpt) – Murderbot is awesome. That is all.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal (excerpt) – I’ve already read this book, but I can tell you that this book, especially the audiobook version (which is also narrated by the author) is one of my favorite audiobooks of all time. If you’re down with some alternate history American space program with awesome ladies being awesome (and yet still being fallible, and human), please do read this one. Then listen to it.
So, that was the showcase, and I have to say that this anthology has made my TBR bigger as a result! Which… isn’t a bad thing at all (except for my wallet but who listens to them). It’s hard to give an anthology a star rating, because each story in it is entirely a different experience, but I’d say that overall, I had 5/5 stars of fun with this one. There are more stories in here that I loved rather than didn’t, and so that was a good time!
Thanks to all of the authors, as well as the editor, and the SFWA for the review copy!~