Design a site like this with
Get started

The Best of Elizabeth Bear

The Short: I really enjoyed “The Best of Elizabeth Bear” (2020 Subterranean). Rated 3.67/5, or “Very Good”. Recommended.

The Full Story: I’ve been a fan of Elizabeth Bear for a while. The first novel I read by her was “Dust” (2008 Bantam Spectra), a very good generation ship story.

Since then, I’ve read more than a few of her novels, and more than a few pieces of her short fiction. “Ancestral Night“, her 2019 White Space universe novel, is my favorite novel of hers. I loved her 2012 collection “Shoggoths In Bloom” (2012 Prime Books), and I’ve loved a fair amount of her short fiction since then.

I was quite excited to see “The Best of Elizabeth Bear” announced in 2020. Reading it in February 2021, my comments were “I just finished reading ‘The Best of Elizabeth Bear’, 2020, Subterranean Press. This includes SF, fantasy, horror and other stories and novellas that are hard to categorize, from 2005 to 2019. It’s a doorstop of a book, with over 550 pages of fiction. Favorite stories for me included ‘Shoggoths In Bloom’, “Boojum’, ‘This Chance Planet’, ‘Tideline’ and ‘In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns’. Two Hugo winners. All in all, I really enjoyed it. Recommended!” Although I did not mention it originally, she is also the winner of a Sturgeon Award and two Locus Awards, not to mention two Hugo Awards for fancasts, and has numerous award nominations and reprints.

There is an excellent and insightful Introduction by C. L. Polk that does a good job of discussing Bear’s fiction and giving story specific thoughts. I am glad to see this, as something of this nature is definitely a mark of what I expect from a “Best Of” collection for an author.

There are 27 stories in this anthology.

While my overall average rating of 3.67/5, or “Very good”, is acceptable to me, I am somewhat disappointed that there were 11 stories in my 3.1 – 3.5 range of “Good”. This could just a result of my personal taste, but to me this is a somewhat disappointing result in a “Best Of” collection for an author of this magnitude.

My first question is, “Were stories left out that would have been more appropriate to include?” I took a look at Mark R. Kelly’s Science Fiction Awards Database (thanks Mark!) to see what other Elizabeth Bear stories had significant award nominations or significant reprints. Stories that I feel could have been included are:

  1. The Red Mother“, 2021, Locus Award #6. Published after this book, it would be a good candidate in my opinion if this “Best Of” had been published later.
  2. Lest We Forget“, a short story from Uncanny May/Jun 2019, was a Locus finalist.
  3. Follow Me Light“, a short story from the Sci Fiction website Jan 12 2005, was reprinted in these anthologies:
  4. Wax“, a New Amsterdam novelette, from Interzone #201 Dec 2005, had these award nominations and a reprint:
  5. The Ile of Dogges” (by EB & Sarah Monette), from Aeon Aug 2006, was reprinted in these anthologies:
  6. Cryptic Coloration“, a novelette from “Jim Baen’s Universe“, Eric Flint & Mike Resnick editors, Jun 2007 Baen, had these award nominations and reprints:
  7. Mongoose” (by Sarah Monette & EB),a Boojum novelette from “Lovecraft Unbound“, Ellen Datlow editor, 2009 Dark Horse Books had these award nominations and reprints:
  8. The Ghost Makers”, an Eternal Sky short story from “Fearsome Journeys”, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2013 Solaris, was reprinted in these anthologies:
  9. The Hand is Quicker”, a novelette from “The Book of Silverberg: Stories in Honor of Robert Silverberg“, Gardner Dozois & William Schafer editors, 2014 Subterranean Press, has these award nominations and reprints:

I can’t say that these are all better choices than the 11 stories I wondered about above, but I suspect some of them are. I am sure there were reasons for inclusion and non-inclusion, but this does make me wonder.

Second, was there an editor involved? I have not found any evidence of this. I don’t see an editor listed. I could be missing this; perhaps the editor is noted on the dust cover, which I don’t have. Regardless, I think any author can use a good editor, even if it’s only to have a different set of eyes on story selection. I hope there was an editor involved, but I don’t know.

Third, were too many stories included for a heftier page count value beyond what the quality of the stories would warrant?

I do know that over the last ten to twenty years, “Best Of” author collection have become heftier, compared to what was common in the 1970s and 80s. 550 pages and up have become common.

Fourth, was this “Best Of” collection issued too soon in Elizabeth Bear’s career? I do wonder if perhaps it is a bit early in her career to put out a “Best of” collection of this many pages, but this may have more to do with publishing than anything else and perhaps I am out of touch.

We all want quantity and quality, and a huge page count can lead to us feeling like we received good value. I wonder if these factors can lead to a dilution of the quality of a “Best Of” collection.

Regardless of these questions about story inclusion and the overall success of the stories included, I really enjoyed reading “The Best of Elizabeth Bear”. I did finish reading all of the stories. I do recommend it to others.

Now I need to read the rest of her “New Amsterdam” stories, as I enjoyed “The Body of the Nation” here.

My Book Database has this as “Great”. My overall average story rating was 3.67/5, or “Very good”. I am inconsistent, and I can live with this.

Detailed Review/Comments: Spoilers Everywhere!

Covenant“, a short story, first published in “Hieroglyph: Stories and Visions for a Better Future“, Kathryn Cramer and Ed Finn editors, 2014 William Morrow/HarperCollins. Interesting, well thought out story of a serial murderer who is “right-minded” and then, after a sex-change and whatnot, ends up needing to escape from a rapist/murderer. This “right-minding” may be a precursor to what shows up in her White Space universe novels, “Machine” and “Ancestral Night”. Good characters. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year: Volume Nine“, Jonathan Strahan editor, Solaris 2015, “The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction“, Allan Kaster editor, 2015 Infinivox, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2015 St. Martin’s Griffin.

She Still Loves the Dragon“, a short story, Uncanny Magazine, January-February 2018. A story of a woman who loves a dragon, and survives it, changed. I liked this a lot. I get the feeling I have read it, but unsure where. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Tideline“, a short story, Asimov’s Science Fiction, June 2007. A great story of a failing AI war machine and a young man, after an apocalyptic war. Hugo and Sturgeon winner, Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2008 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 4.1, or “Superlative”.

The Leavings of the Wolf“, a short story, Apex Magazine, November 2011. I liked this story a lot, with the crows, the woman who has a failed marriage, and the wolf, rather related to Norse mythology. Not sure if this is a fantasy or a metaphor. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

Okay, Glory“, a novelette, from “Twelve Tomorrows“, Wade Roush editor, 2018 The MIT Press. I really liked this story of a very antisocial, eccentric tech billionaire whose AI controlled house is hacked to confine him until he pays a ransom. He finally has to become a better person, to the AI, and a better friend, to escape. A Locus finalist. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

Needles“, a short story, from “Blood and Other Cravings“, Ellen Datlow editor, 2011 Tor. A story about vampires in the desert city of Needles. A desire by one to be slightly different, a tattoo. This felt slight. Rated 3.1/5, or just barely “Good”. 

This Chance Planet“, a short story,, October 22, 2014. A great story in a somewhat future Russia, perhaps Moscow, about a woman hoping and planning for more, a useless wannabe rocker boyfriend, and a dog who perhaps is more than the dogs we know today. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

The Body of the Nation“, a New Amsterdam short story, first published in “Garrett Investigates“, a Elizabeth Bear “New Amsterdam” collection, 2012 Subterranean Press. A very good alternative world/history story of a Crown Investigator and sorcerer in New Amsterdam. Reminded me somewhat of Randall Garrett’s “Lord Darcy” series, in a good way. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Boojum“, a Boojum universe short story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, from “Fast Ships, Black Sails“, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer editors, 2008 Night Shade Books. A great story, I love Black Alice and Vinnie, and an interesting end for “Boojum”. A Locus finalist, and reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 14“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell editors, 2009 Eos/HarperCollins, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2009 St. Martin’s Griffin, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy”, Rich Horton editor, 2009 Prime Books. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

Although not germane to my appreciation of the story, the first time I encountered “Boojum” was in the Gardner Dozois “The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of The Year’s Best Science Fiction” (2019 St. Martin’s Griffin). The story listed in the Table of Contents, the copyright page and on the story heading page is actually “Mongoose”, another superlative “Boojum” universe story. It is not clear if Gardner Dozois had really intended to include “Boojum” or “Mongoose”; Gardner was no longer alive. Both stories had appeared in “Year’s Best” anthologies by Gardner. Elizabeth Bear was no longer certain which one Gardner intended to include (personal communication to Piet Nel). There is some evidence that Gardner intended to include “Mongoose” and this was an editing/publishing mishap, but we’ll never know for sure.

The Bone War“, a short story, F&SF September-October 2015. A great story of the wizard Bijou the Artificer and her effort to bring a dinosaur back to mechanical/magical life, combined with feuding academics. I loved the joy put into the recreated dinosaur, and the name. Good characters. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns“, a Sub-Inspector Ferron Mysteries novella, Asimov’s January 2015. A great update on the locked-room murder. I loved the characters and where it went, and the setting in a future India. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2013 St. Martin’s Griffin, “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2013 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2013 Prime Books, and “The Year’s Top Short SF Novels 3“, Allan Kaster editor, 2013 Infinivox. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

Shoggoths In Bloom“, a short story, Asimov’s March 2008. Won 2008 Hugo novelette award. A great story, with great characters and insightful treatment of shoggoths and their self determination. Hugo winner and Locus runner-up, and reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Three“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2009 Night Shade Books, “The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction“, Allan Kaster editor, 2009 Infinivox, “Year’s Best Fantasy 9“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell, 2009 Tor, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2009 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2009 Prime Books. Rated 4.4/5, or “A Classic”.

Skin in the Game“, a short story, from “Future Visions: Original Science Fiction Inspired by Microsoft“, Jennifer Henshaw & Allison Linn editors, 2015 Microsoft. Another story of transmitting/sharing feelings, emotions, etc. of a performer (rock star here). I liked the characters and enjoyed the ending. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.

Hobnoblin Blues“, a short story, from Realms of Fantasy February 2008. Good story of Loki as a fallen/exiled god, rock journalists, and the end of the world Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.

Form and Void“, a short story, Fireside Winter 2012. A story of a maybe friendship and a change into a dragon, and entitlement. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.

Your Collar“, a short story, Subterranean Online Spring 2008. An enjoyable story of the minotaur, and a queen. Rated 3.3/5, or “Good”.

Terrior“, a novelette, from “Harvest Season: An Anthology by SF Squeecast“, Bill Roper editor, 2014 ISFiC Press. A very good story of a high tech tycoon trying to come to grips with the war business his company does. He chooses to visit Normandy to address the ghosts of the dead, past and future. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Dolly“, a short story, Asimov’s January 2011. A great story of a robot sex-toy that no longer wants to do that, murder, and potential emancipation. All the characters are good. Reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 17“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell editors, 2012 Harper Voyager, and “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection”, Gardner Dozois editor, 2012 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Love Among the Talus“, a short story, Strange Horizons December 2006. A princess, perhaps among descendants of the Khan, not wanting to marry, and magic, and a witch. Well done. Rated 3.5/5, or “Good”.

The Deeps of the Sky“, a short story, from “Edge of Infinity“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2012 Solaris. A very good story of first contact in the winds and turbulence of a giant planet. A Locus finalist. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

Two Dreams on Trains“, a short story, Strange Horizons January 2005. A good story of an indentured mother in a New Orleans floating city from sea level rise,  and her artist son, and tagging a space ship. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Third Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2006 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

Faster Gun“, a novelette, a 2012 original. A nice story of Doc Holliday, a crashed alien ship with a survivor, and a team from an alternate future timeline looking for that alien. And Johnny Ringo. A Locus finalist, and reprinted in “Some of the Best from 2012 Edition”, Liz Gorinsky, David G. Hartwell, & Patrick Nielsen Hayden editors, 2013 Tor. Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.

The Heart’s Filthy Lesson“, a novelette, from “Old Venus“, Gardner Dozois & George R. R. Martin editors, 2015 Bantam Books. A very interesting and well written story of a Venusian researcher traveling through the jungle to prove an archeological hypothesis about extinct aborigines. Good characters, great story. I’m ignoring that the story is impossible without terraforming, but I assume that is part of the framing for “Old Venus”. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2016 Edition“, Rich Horton editor, 2016, and “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Ten“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2016 Solaris Prime Books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Perfect Gun“, a short story, from “Infinity Wars\”, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2017 Solaris. A very good story of a morally challenged mercenary, and the AI combat suit he buys used and illegally. They part ways under difficult conditions. Rated 3.5/5, or “Very good”.

Sonny Liston Takes the Fall“, a short story, “The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Original Works by Speculative Fiction’s Finest Voices“, Ellen Datlow editor, 2008 Del Rey/Ballantine . A good story of Sonny Liston; I’m not sure if it is genre or not. Rated 3.4/5, or “Good”.

Orm the Beautiful“, a short story, Clarkesworld Magazine January 2007. A pretty good story of the fate of the last dragon. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

Erase, Erase, Erase“, a novelette, F&SF September/October 2019. An interesting story of a very troubled woman, abused as a child and a cult member as an adult, trying to forget and then trying to remember. A Locus finalist, and reprinted in “The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy“, Diana Gabaldon editor & John Joseph Adams, series editor, 2020 Mariner Books. I rated this as 3.4/5, or “Good”, but clearly some disagreed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: