It is ironic but fitting that Mercedes Lackey is the editor of “Nebula Awards Showcase 2016” (Pyr, $18, 412 pages), as Lackey is best known for professionally written but seriously lightweight fantasies and yet here is editing, as she admits, fiction that supposed to make you uncomfortable.
This is part of the constant tug-of-war of genre fiction, as many – like myself – read it more for entertainment than art. But writers are writers, and even those who appear to be aiming low usually have much more ambition behind the scenes.
This conflict is evident in the selections for the book, as some of the stories are quite clearly meant to be literature, and others are more focused on entertainment. For example, “When It Ends, He Catches Her,” is clearly written by someone looking to make a creative statement about life. “Yesterday’s Kin,” on the other hand, was much more entertainment – or, to put it another way, it created an unusual situation involving, in this case, aliens (of a sort) coming to Earth and fundamentally altering society. The story then plays out in unknown and unusual realms, which are much more macroscopic than character driven.
“Jackalope Wives” combined both of these traits into a single story, but that is not an easy task, and especially in a short story, tends to leave one or both strands unfulfilled.
The same dichotomy is clear in “Invisible Planets” (Tor, $24.99, 383 pages), which is a compendium of Chinese science fiction and fantasy. Some stories have been translated into English before and even won major prizes, but all in all, the anthology reveals the same faultlines that we see in “Nebula Awards Showcase 2016.” That is to say, some of the stories are barely science fiction or fantasy at all, while others explore entirely different worlds and societies.
In terms of running out to buy either one of these books, if as a reader you land on one side of the fence or the other, you’re bound to be…