Last Year’s Sci-Fi Was More Genre-Bending Than Ever
The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2022, which collects 20 of the best fantasy and science fiction stories of the past year, features a wide range of characters and settings. Guest editor Rebecca Roanhorse made the final selections for this year’s volume.
“This is not your father’s science fiction and fantasy collection,” Roanhorse says in Episode 538 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I’m excited to see what people are writing, and where the genre is going, and what sort of new voices can be discovered, and how far we can push boundaries and still tell universal stories.”
P. Djèlí Clark‘s genre-bending “If the Martians Have Magic” features Haitian priests battling the alien invaders from The War of the Worlds. “I always think my stories are too weird,” Clark says. “That’s just normal. I always think, ‘This story is going to be weird,’ because I throw in there what I want. And the more people might think, ‘Well, wait a minute. It’s this Martian invasion, what is a Haitian vodun priest doing in there?,’ the more I know that people might think that’s a little weird, the more I want to do it.”
Series editor John Joseph Adams read thousands of stories in order to assemble a longlist of possible candidates. One of the stories in the book, “The Algorithm Will See You Now” by Justin C. Key, just barely made the cutoff, being published in the anthology Vital: The Future of Healthcare on December 31. “It’s a small press, and I don’t know if they realized what they were doing by releasing it literally on the last day of the year, just because of award eligibility reasons and, for instance, for this, I could have easily missed it,” Adams says. “I’m glad I didn’t, obviously.”
Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley was especially impressed with the story “Delete Your First Memory for Free” by Kel Coleman, which tackles the theme of memory erasure, an idea that’s been explored in science fiction films such as Total Recall and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
“I can’t think of one other than ‘Delete Your First Memory for Free’ that treats memory erasure as basically just a good thing,” Kirtley says. “I think the natural way for the story to go is to have this theme that if you erase your mistakes and erase your pain, then you’re erasing yourself and what makes you human and what makes you an individual, so it was a novel treatment to have the idea, ‘Maybe this would just be good.’”
Listen to the complete interview with Rebecca Roanhorse, P. Djèlí Clark, and John Joseph Adams in Episode 538 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
David Barr Kirtley on “Skinder’s Veil” by Kelly Link:
The basic setup is that there’s this flailing grad student, and a friend of his is housesitting this house in remote Vermont, and she has a family emergency and asks if he can cover for her. He agrees, and goes out to this house, and she gives him these directions that the guy who owns the house has a lot of friends that stop by, and if they show up at the back door he should let them in and just let them hang out, do whatever they want. But the owner might show up, and he will come to the front door, and under no circumstances are you to let him into his own house. So it’s this very, very odd, intriguing setup, and that was really hitting me reading it, that when you create a mystery like this—why can’t you let the owner into his own house?—it just makes you want to read the story so much and find out what’s going on.
P. Djèlí Clark on “I Was a Teenage Space Jockey” by Stephen Graham Jones:
I grew up in the ’80s, so I remember a lot of [arcade games]. The whole time I’m reading Stephen’s story I’m also thinking of The Last Starfighter, because so much of it is clearly based on growing up in the ’80s with arcade games. And yeah, I was at the arcade. Now, I didn’t have the bully problem. Bullies didn’t last long in my neighborhood, that’s all I’ve got to say. You didn’t last long if you were a bully in my neighborhood, that wasn’t going to happen. There wasn’t a pecking order like that. It was going to be rough on you if you decided, “I’m going to take up the occupation of bully.” So that was stuff that I would see on TV, and I’d be like, “Look at these bullies. These are interesting creatures.”
John Joseph Adams on science fiction vs. fantasy:
We want [The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy] to be equally appealing to both people who say they like science fiction and people who say they like fantasy, and so we want to have it 50/50. But then there are these stories that are touching on both things, that could be either, or both. And so how do you count those when you’re cramming them into slots? … In general, a little drop of fantasy in a story that’s otherwise entirely science fiction kind of makes it fantasy. It’s like the fantasy is so powerful—there’s so much powerful magic in that drop of fantasy—that it turns the whole story into fantasy. Because science fiction is supposed to be speculative, and theoretically possible based on actual, existing scientific knowledge, and so when you drop in magic, then everything is kind of touched by this fantasy.
Rebecca Roanhorse on “Let All the Children Boogie” by Sam J. Miller:
I feel like this story really captures that nebulous time in adolescence where you’re trying to figure out who you are, and everything feels sticky and new, and music is a balm in your life … I think that’s a feeling you have in adolescence, that these songs are so emotionally profound for me, because I’m trying to find words to figure out who I am and what is my identity, and these artists seem to have some sort of insight into life that you don’t have as a teenager. So I thought this story was very effective. I thought it was very, very cool, just capturing that moment in time and what that feels like, and how intense that friendship can be, or that budding romance can be, and how someone like David Bowie, of all people, can capture that in a way that you yourself cannot articulate.