Review: Best of British Science Fiction 2016

The Best of British Science Fiction 2016

Editor Donna Scott has selected the very best short fiction by British authors published during 2016. Twenty-four stories, from established names and rising stars.

This anthology is an eclectic collection of science fiction with a very broad range of stories, writers and styles! It’s a fun read whether you’re into sci-fi or not, and it’s a brilliant introduction to the genre or an excellent selection of modern sci-fi, depending on your reading in 2016.

The anthology opens with a story I already knew from Fight Like A Girl: Joanne Hall’s Arrested Development, a wonderful and poignant story about a fighter just trying to win one more fight, one more paycheck. Peter F Hamilton’s Ten Love Songs to Change the World is next with a wonderful take on the 1960s hippy culture crossed with time travel, crossed with romance and the desire to change the world…

I admit the next couple of stories didn’t grab me quite as hard, although not through any fault of the writing. Eric Brown & Keith Brooke’s Beyond the Heliopause is a story of the edge of the universe and of home, a mix of sci-fi and faith: what is out there, beyond the heliopause? And what does that mean for humanity, and our relations to each other and the world around us? The Seventh Gamer by Gwyneth Jones takes the idea of the life around us in a different direction, looking at gaming culture, alternate realities, real life, aliens…it’s quite a long story and I admit I didn’t find the payoff entirely satisfying; it’s an interesting concept for a story though. Nick Wood’s Dream-Hunter has echoes of classic sci-fi: if you could control dreams in someone else’s mind, you could see their secrets – but what happens if you can’t control it? And Robert Bagnall’s Shooting the Messenger which, to be honest, I just found a bit weird: it’s a story of aliens getting in contact in a war zone, but no one believes it – I think?

The next few stories, however, I found wonderful. Neil Davies’ The Lightship is a brilliant mix of war story and horror: two races are fighting each other for control of an old ship, but something doesn’t like either of them…and Liam Hogan’s Ana is a wonderful, amusing metaphysical discussion of alternate universes from a child who’s scared of the monster under the bed. Jaine Fenn’s Liberty Bird has echoes of Arthur C Clarke, telling the story of a young man trying to win a race and fight for his future in a lovely mix of sci-fi and personal, and Sarah Byrne’s Joined is eerie and brilliant, with a story of the unforeseen effects of a technology to join two lovers together.

Heinrich Himmler in the Barcelona Hallucination Cell by Ian Watson is, I think, simply not to my taste: it’s a weird take on alt-history and time travel, with a dose of paradox theory thrown in, but would probably suit anyone with a taste for the absurd. I also wasn’t entirely sure about Una McCormack’s Taking Flight; it’s a story that weaves love, romance, politics, personalities and relationships, a futuristic take on how human creations would still fall into a tangled web of love and deception – but despite the excellent writing and the interesting narrator, I felt this could have been a stronger story.

People, Places and Things by Den Patrick is an eerie take on the apocalypse; people simple vanish, written out of existence – and how does that leave everyone else to cope? Paul Graham Raven’s Staunch is another take on the dystopian, with a small, loyal band struggling through the ruins of a broken England (and I loved the small touches in this) to get medical aid however they can, while trying to avoid talking about the secrets they hold.

The next couple of stories were definite favourites. Adam Roberts’ Between Nine and Eleven is amusing: I love the concept of the new weapon, and the story is a surreal and light-hearted take on the standard sci-fi space battles. Natalia Theodoridou’s Ajdenia is a beautiful, haunting story: sunlight is rationed, and a worker in a tunnel has to choose between a fleeting, brief hope of freedom, and getting that little bit of extra light – and I loved the tiny, beautiful twist at the end. And Sylvia Spruck Wrigley’s To Catch a Comet made me laugh; it’s a fantastic take on the bureaucracy and paperwork that impede a scientist trying to warn the world about a comet impact.

The next couple of stories are longer. How to Grow Silence from Seed by Tricia Sullivan looks at relationships and the world around, silence and plants, what humans are doing to the planet – it’s a mix of strange and familiar. In Tade Thompson’s The Apologists, the apocalypse has happened with Earth mostly destroyed (accidentally) – and even though the handful of survivors get to recreate it, there are arguments about how to do it! Ian Whates’ Montpellier is an almost modern-day look at drugs, home and family: an envoy revisits their childhood home to try to negotiate a truce with the people living there. And in Neil Williamson’s Foreign Bodies, refugees from a broken Earth are trying to adapt to a new world, with the disjointed meld of familiar and alien that it brings.

The final couple of stories are a good round-up to the anthology. Michael Brookes’ The 10 Second War focuses on an AI fighting a war inside a computer system, with the eerie feeling that it could be Earth. In Possible Side Effects by Adam Connors, a patient is writing to a world that he left behind – and wondering if he can pick up a life that’s carried on without him. And E. J. Swift’s Front Row Seat to the End of the World -is a look at the apocalypse as it arrives on Earth, at the people waiting, and about the things that become important: family, friends, and the connections we share before it’s too late.

The anthology is a wonderfully mixed bag of stories, and well worth a read – if only to catch up on 2016’s eclectic, brilliant takes on what the future could bring!