Side Quest: from Malak to After the Apocalypse

2011bThe Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Six

I didn’t have good luck with the first nine stories from this collection, but I’m sure that was just nine anomalies in a row.  Here are the next ten:

Malak by Peter Watts.  A drone develops (or gets programmed with, I can’t remember) a conscience, and decides to nuke its own HQ, because the humans only override its abort decisions, never its attack decisions.

Old Habits by Nalo Hopkinson.  A shopping mall contains a community of ghosts of people who died there.  The story raises the question of what will happen to the ghosts if they try to leave the mall, but never answers it.

A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong by KJ Parker.  A music professor visits his student, a composer who is in prison, condemned to death.  I didn’t spot any SF/F element.

Valley of the Girls by Kelly Link.  A story with some interesting social ideas, but it’s marred by time jumps and by trying too hard to be mysterious with terminology early on.

The Brave Little Toaster by Cory Doctorow.  A very short, fun and silly story about networked appliances.

The Dala Horse by Michael Swanwick.  I read this story earlier in my side questing.

The Corpse Painter’s Masterpiece by M Rickert.  Another story without any SF/F, but it did have jumps in time and POV character, even within the same sentence.

The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu.  I discussed this story in one of my magazine reviews.  Short version:  a touching story, but the fantasy element is either minimal or nonexistent, depending on how you interpret things.

Steam Girl by Dylan Horrocks.  Another long, dull high-school story.  There’s no SF/F element, unless a steampunk cosplayer character makes the story SF/F.

After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh.  I read this story earlier in my side questing.

My average rating (5 star system) of the above stories:  2.60

Suggested use for this collection:  convincing writing hobbyists that they must be the greatest authors ever to walk the face of the Earth.



  1. If there are no SFF elements I’d want my money back.
    Makes me wonder what the editor was on when deciding which stories to include…

    1. If you added up stories with no SFF at all and stories where the SFF is a minor element that could easily be cut, I’ll bet you’d have well over 50% of modern SFF short stories that get published in anthologies and magazines.

      1. Hang those editors!

  2. LOL I’m wondering whether Doctorow’s story is available somewhere else.
    The blurb reminded me of a blog post I did 3 years ago (reblogged this a.m. due to something more recent).

    1. I haven’t tried it out, but it looks like this is an audio recording of it:

  3. […] I didn’t have good luck with the first nine stories in this collection, or the next ten, but here are the last eleven […]

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