The British Science Fiction Association doesn't usually publish fiction (unlike the other major UK SFF organisation, the British Fantasy Society); its periodicals contain reviews, analyses and other articles. So it was a surprise to find that their most recent postings contained three short-story collections. One consists of the four stories on the shortlist for the BSFA Short Fiction Award for 2008. The next is a special edition of their normally non-fiction "magazine for writers", Focus, which this time contains the six shortlisted stories specially written for a competition to mark the 50th anniversary of the BSFA. The third is a sampler edition of Postscripts, "The A to Z of Fantastic Fiction" (from www.pspublishing.co.uk), with stories from previous editions.
BSFA Awards 2008: short fiction shortlist
Two of the four stories I had already read and reviewed, since they originally appeared in Interzone magazine. These are Crystal Nights by Greg Egan (Interzone 215) and Little Lost Robot by Paul McAuley (Interzone 217). To save you from rummaging through the history of this blog, I'll reproduce what I said here:
Crystal Nights, by Greg Egan: One of the world's richest men is paying the best programmers to evolve artificial intelligence by developing initially simple virtual beings then applying a carefully controlled process of natural selection. With the aid of a new generation of superfast computers, the evolutionary process is extremely quick and soon the AIs are beginning to outstrip their human creators, with unexpected results.
Little Lost Robot, by Paul McAuley: A different take on Saberhagen's Berserker series, this time seen from the viewpoint of an ancient but still all-powerful robotic killer spaceship. Problems arise when the ship detects signs of life in a system which seems strangely familiar.
The other two stories are:
Exhalation, by Ted Chiang (first published in Eclipse 2): Set in an enclosed, robotic civilisation with no knowledge of other forms of life. The narrator, one of the robots, conducts experiments into his own nature and functioning, concluding (in an amusing take on creationist notions) that there must have been an "Intelligent Designer", and predicts the end of their existence.
Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter's Personal Account, by M. Rickert (first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October/November 2008): A dystopian future set in a society governed by religious fundamentalism, where women found guilty of having abortions are publicly executed.
The pick of the bunch for me was Ted Chiang's story, very strong in the "sense of strange" gained from letting a denizen of an alien environment describe his life in a very matter-of-fact way.
Next, the stories in Focus, starting with the winner of the competition (the others are in alphabetical order).
Nestbuster by Roderick Gladwish
A doctor visits a man called Abraham and his family on a remote farm on a distant planet, to carry out some tests. It gradually emerges that Abraham is a former "nestbuster" – a soldier with highly enhanced capabilities to fight a war with aliens. These soldiers had been successful in winning the war but very few had survived, most committing suicide if they weren't killed in battle. The doctor wants to know why Abraham is still alive, but it turns out that he has another agenda altogether – and that Abraham has a secret.
Time's Chariot by Nina Allen
An intense relationship between a brother and sister living in a strange family, well described but not obviously SF.
Surf Town by James Bloomer
The Mesh Surf Pro Tour is arriving in town, using advanced technology to whip up the sea into waves to challenge any surfer. One resident, a former surfing champion who left the circuit when the artificial wave generators were introduced, is not pleased to see them. He has no intention of being drawn into the circus, but…
This is seemingly an alternative history story, since the champion surfer is called Bodie Miller, presumably a reference to the current US skier Bode Miller, one of the most successful competitors in recent winter sports championships.
The Mark by Nigel Envarli Crowe
The separate but intertwined stories of three women, related but of different generations, commencing with a Chernobyl nuclear accident and showing the long-term consequences for humanity.
Maria Via Lilly by Gary Spencer
A future world in which the dying can be scanned to generate a virtual copy (including the personality) which can be viewed on-screen, living in the environment created by the recorded memory. But what happens if the copy is stolen and duplicated for others to enjoy?
Rescue Stories by Andrew West
A space-ship crashes on a stone-age world, far from any chance of rescue. The crew can last for a long time in hibernation waiting for the natives to develop sufficiently advanced technology to help them, but only if the crew intervene to speed up the natives' development, which proves to have a drawback…. It brings to mind a similar story, although the ending is different.
On to Postscripts. This contains ten previously-published stories from Stephen Baxter (Eagle Song – the consequences of receiving a transmission from the stars), Ray Bradbury (Juggernaut – the hazards of moving house), Ramsay Campbell (Direct Line – a modern horror story), Peter F Hamilton (Footvote – the consequences of a wormhole providing access to another habitable world being opened in England), Joe Hill (Best New Horror), Stephen King (Graduation Afternoon – a horrifying image of what might happen), Paul MacAuley (The Thought War – zombies with a difference), Lisa Tuttle (Closet Dreams – more contemporary horror, without any fantastic elements), Gene Wolfe (Comber – life on a floating city), and Al Robertson (Sohoitis – a god lives in Soho). The emphasis is too much on horror for my taste, but an interesting read nonetheless.