TOP 5 SPECULATIVE FICTION ANTHOLOGIES 2020
Love After the End: An Anthology of Two-Spirit and Indigiqueer Speculative Fiction
This collection of nine stories by as many writers—all of them Indigenous and 2SQ (Two-Spirit and queer)—takes decolonizing the genre one step further by centering Indigenous perspectives in boldly imagined worlds. These stories question the colonial nature of space exploration and settlement, challenge the whitewashed face of technological development, and highlight the devastating future that will result from present-day ecocide. All this, with casts of all-gendered characters who use a variety of pronouns and find queer love that doesn’t end in tragedy. Found families and 2S and trans validation abound. If there is a single point this anthology proves, it is that the future is both unabashedly Indigenous and gloriously queer.
For me, the strength of the individual pieces varies somewhat between “not bad” and “this author cleverly addressed so many complex issues that I feel the need to lie down after reading this,” which is to say I liked it very much and wished the collection was twice as long.
Standout story: “How to Survive the Apocalypse for Native Girls” by Kai Minosh Pyle
Contributors: Joshua Whitehead (editor), Nathan Adler, Darcie Little Badger, Gabriel Castilloux Calderon, Adam Garnet Jones, Mari Kurisato, Kai Minosh Pyle, David Alexander Robertson, jaye simpson, Nazbah Tom
A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope
Rife with ancient spirituality, mermaids, and physics-defying superpowers, this anthology is crammed full of the most spectacular stories you’ll read this year. Though some are more fantastical than others, every single one of these stories is deeply rooted in history and tradition, from the first major slave revolt in the Americas to a Yoruba goddess. There are space orcs and boo hags. There’s a familial curse and an app designed to perfectly predict your future. In keeping with centuries-long speculative fiction tradition, there’s even a WLW vampire.
What I love most about this collection is the diversity of Black cultures and experiences it represents. Enslaved Afro-Latinx people, Black people in the Old West, Black students at a majority-white school, a retelling of a Greek myth through the lens of hair-braiding, Caribbean lore, Gullah/Geechee lore, Southern folk magic—there are as many unique and creative perspectives as there are bestselling, award-winning authors. i.e. all sixteen of them.
Standout story: “Gilded” by Elizabeth Acevedo
Contributors: Patrice Caldwell (also editor), Amerie, Elizabeth Acevedo, Rebecca Roanhorse, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Sumayyah Daud, Justina Ireland, L.L. McKinney, Dhonielle Clayton, Danny Lore, Ibi Zoboi, Danielle Paige, Ashley Woodfolk, Charlotte Nicole Davis, Karen Strong, J. Marcelle Corrie
New Suns: Original Speculative Fiction by People of Color
This anthology is a bit more varied, as it features seventeen authors of different races, ethnicities, and cultural backgrounds. Which is not to say that the overall quality of the book is any less, only that the stories aren’t as interconnected without underlying themes that are common to all of them. I would argue that New Suns’ variation is actually its strength: anyone could pick this book up and find a story inside it that they like, because so many different faces, traditions, and beliefs are represented in it.
These stories run a whole gamut of tones and styles, from the depressing hilarity of alien tourists in an even more over-commercialized Manhattan to a softer, lyrical voice in a piece on devouring children. Some stories tend towards horror; others, comedy; still others, mythology. The one area in which the anthology does not vary is in quality: the authors range from established to emerging, and it is both a testament to Nisi Shawl’s curatorship and the barriers to publication for BIPOC that, if you did not know which authors were which, you would think they all fell into the former category.
Standout story: “The Freedom of the Shifting Sea” by Jaymee Goh
Contributors: Nisi Shawl (editor), LeVar Burton (foreword), Tobias S. Bucknell, Kathleen Alcalá, Minsoo Kang, Steven Barnes, Chinelo Onwualu, Alex Jennings, Alberto Yáñez, Jaymee Goh, E. Lily Yu, Karin Lowachee, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Indrapramit Das, Anil Menon, Andrea Hairston, Hiromi Goto, Rebecca Roanhorse, Darcie Little Badger
I’ll be honest: I haven’t read these next two books yet, but I feel confident in recommending them anyway. (You’ll see why.)
Latinx Rising: An Anthology of Latinx Science Fiction and Fantasy
Latinx Rising was clearly a labor of love for editor Matthew David Goodwin, whose work on this anthology grew into his most recent project, Speculative Fiction for Dreamers (forthcoming in August 2021), which is described as “the book that we wish had existed when we were younger and certainly want to exist for our children as they enter adolescence and begin to navigate their identity in the ever-shifting cultural landscape of the U.S.”
The anthology contains a whopping 20 stories—all previously published, many from prominent Latinx writers such as Carmen Maria Machado and Kathleen Alcalá. I’ve read some of these stories and some of these writers in other places, and just knowing that they’re a part of this project makes me excited to read it in the hopefully-not-too-distant future. In a fun crossover event, Richie Narvaez’s story, “Room for Rent,” was read on LeVar Burton Reads by, well, LeVar Burton, who also wrote the foreword of New Suns, which also includes a story by Kathleen Alcalá.
Contributors: Matthew David Goodwin (editor), Frederick Luis Aldama (introduction), Kathleen Alcalá, Pablo Brescia, Pedro Zagitt, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Daína Chaviano, ADÁL, Ana Castillo, Ernest Hogan, Junot Díaz, Richie Narvaez. Edmundo Paz-Soldán, Steve Castro, Alex Hernandez, Carmen Maria Machado, Giannina Braschi, Carlos Hernandez, Alejandra Sanchez, Daniel José Older, Carl Marcum, Marcos Santiago Gonzalez.
Broken Stars: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation
I may not have read the sixteen stories in Broken Stars, but I devoured Ken Liu’s previous anthology of Chinese science fiction in translation, Invisible Planets. Ken Liu is not only a masterful author in his own right; he’s a formidable translator and editor. One of the highlights of Invisible Planets for me was the inclusion of three nonfiction essays on Chinese science fiction, by Chinese authors. Broken Stars likewise includes three new essays, and—if Invisible Planets was anything to go by—I am certain they will make me reconsider the genre and its Western-centrism, as well as the very nature of writing as an art form.
Despite all the stories in the book being translated by the same person, the breathtaking depth and breadth of range across the stories in Invisible Planets proved beyond doubt in my mind Ken Liu’s mastery of both Chinese and English, and his prioritization of the author’s voice above all. I can only imagine his skill has grown in the three years between Invisible Planets’ publication and Broken Stars’.
Contributors: Ken Liu (editor, translator), Xia Jia, Zhang Ran, Rang Fei, Han Song, Cheng Jingbo, Baoshu, Hao Jingfang, Fei Dao, Liu Cixin, Anna Wu, Ma Boyong, Gu Shi, Regina Kanyu Wang, Chen Qiufan, Mingway Song