Mini-Review – Prehistoric, edited by SJ Larsson

PrehistoricPrehistoric is a collection of thirteen science fiction short stories edited by SJ Larsson, themed around humans and dinosaurs coming into contact in generally bloody ways. Overall, it’s not a bad collection. I admit to a fondness for dinosaur stories, and there are some good ones, here.

People who aren’t prone to dinosaurs, military science fiction, or monster stories might find themselves struggling. I wouldn’t have minded seeing a greater variety of dinosaurs, as T-rex, various raptors, and ankylosaurs tend to repeat throughout. And some of the stories don’t do fantastic service to the inclusion or depiction of female characters, in my opinion (though some do).

My present system for quick-reviewing short story collections is to copy and paste the contents page into my bullet journal and use coloured highlighters on title and author to indicate my feelings about a particular story. Red is bad. No highlight stands for a story that’s readable, neither bad nor good. Yellow is good. Green is fantastic.

Using that system, Prehistoric earned no red or green from me. The tally stands at:

Readable 38%
Good 62%

I view that as a ration justifying the purchase price.

The stand-out story of the collection is Alan Baxter’s Jeremiah’s Puzzle, which I won’t spoil but does have a T-rex action set-piece that would be splendid committed to film. (I’m thinking very natural Doctor Who adaptation.)

Also in the upper range of the good category:

Operation: Severn, William Meikle
Extinction, Rich Restucci
Closure, Tim Waggoner

Others getting the yellow highlighter of general goodness:

Apex, Jeff Brackett
The First Man On Earth, Geoff Jones
Lost Island, David Wood
Mantle, Rick Chesler

As I say, the remaining stories were not at all bad. I count “readable” as praise of any story’s chief virtue rather than damning faint praise. For a between-Jurassic-Park-movies fix of human on dinosaur survival of the fittest clashes, Prehistoric fits the bill well

Mini-Review – Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year, Volume Thirteen

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The first thing I read after deciding to put writing aside for a month of revivifying recreational reading was The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Thirteen, edited by Jonathan Strahan.

According to the introduction, this is the final volume in this anthology series. Colour me sad. This has been my favourite of the annual “best of” anthologies. I can and will follow Jonathan Strahan to his subsequent projects, but I’ll miss this one.

The anthology is exactly what it says on the tin: a collection of 29 stories published during 2018 gathered into one volume. My tl:dr review would be: it’s excellent; read it.

My longer review won’t be too much more substantial. I didn’t have time to take mountains of notes and deliver a vast, sweeping report. I just transferred the contents list to my bullet journal and, as I read, I left a highlighted the title of a good story in yellow and a great story in green. If the story were just fine, but not that special, it stayed unhighlighted. No stories ended up warranting a possible red highlight for actual badness, happily.

How did the anthology go?

  • Fine: 31%
  • Good: 28%
  • Great: 41%

Technically, three of the stories I rated as “fine” left me cold. I didn’t finish them. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to red highlight them. They were clearly well-executed short stories. They weren’t “bad”—just not to my taste.

Even so, it seems to me that 69% of stories in a volume being good to great is a solid hit rate, and the rest were, I stress again, nevertheless overwhelmingly an enjoyable read. I’d account myself very satisfied, overall.

Naming names, I would say the outstanding fantasy story in the collection is Garth Nix’s The Staff in the Stone. It was a really engaging high fantasy that crammed an awful lot of what’s good about that genre into a small space.

The outstanding science fiction story, for me, was Simone Heller’s utterly brilliant When We Were Starless, which was brilliantly written, sad, and hopeful.

Special mention for transcending categories of goodness has to go to Ursula LeGuin’s short Earthsea story, Firelight—which was wonderful and sad for many reasons.

Other recipients of the green highlight of general greatness were:

  • Mother Tongues, S. Qiouyi Lu
  • The Woman Who Destroyed Us, S. L. Huang
  • A Brief and Fearful Star, Carmen Maria Machado
  • Field Biology of the Wee Fairies, Naomi Kritzer
  • A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies, Alix E. Harrow
  • Okay, Glory, Elizabeth Bear
  • The Rose MacGregor Drinking and Admiration Society, T. Kingfisher
  • If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again, Zen Cho
  • Nine Last Days on Planet Earth, Daryl Gregory

All of that said, I can only repeat my earlier summary that the anthology was a splendid year’s best, well worth the reading and your recreational dollar.