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The Best of Nancy Kress

The Short:The Best of Nancy Kress” (Subterranean 2015) includes 21 stories of fantasy and science fiction from 1981 to 2014. This is one hell of a collection. My average rating is 3.93/5, or “Great”. Strongly recommended.

The story: I have been a fan of Nancy Kress for decades. It looks like the first novel of hers I read was was “An Alien Light” (1989 Arbor House/William Morrow). I am not sure if I read any of her short fiction before that. I suspect I have, as she appeared in various Gardner Dozois “Year’s Best” collections with regularity before then, but I don’t remember any details. Since then, I have continued to read both her novels and her short fiction.

I heard at a Discon III panel on Nancy Kress “that there was a ‘The Best of Nancy Kress” collection’”. The next day at the convention, I heard Gary K. Wolfe interview Nancy Kress.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Nancy a question at that panel, “How did you pick what went into it (the table of contents of ‘The Best of Nancy Kress’)?”

I was curious, as I had recently seen a few “Best of” collections with some mystifying inclusions and omissions. Paraphrasing her answer, this is what I heard. It had to include “Beggars In Spain” and be 200,000 words. She really loves the novella length, but that would be 5 stories and no more, which was not okay. For the rest, she went to the “fantastic web site” ISFDB for a list of her short fiction. She took her stories that she still likes from the list (she does not like all of them). She took the stories she liked and added the length from her files, and put them all on little pieces of yellow paper. She sorted them into “Must Have”, and also Tier 1 and Tier 2 “Really Like”. She kept adding and subtracting until she was happy with 200,000 words of stories. Next, she arranged the stories until she liked the order, with not too many short stories in a row, etc. Then, a wind blew in the window and destroyed the order. She did it again, with little rocks on top of the yellow pieces of paper. Then she sent the Table of Contents to Subterranean.

I walked out of that room knowing that I needed to read “The Best of Nancy Kress”.

I attempted to buy “The Best of Nancy Kress” (2015 Subterranean) for the Kindle from Amazon; Amazon told me I already owned it! I was quite surprised, as I did not remember that.

When I checked my Book Database, I had read it in 2018. My rating at that time was “Great”, and I noted “Wow! Lots of great stuff. Amazing.” I reread it again in fall 2022, this time taking detailed notes about the stories and how I felt about them.

Upon reread, there were many stories I just did not remember if I had read them or not. I know I read them all in 2018, but I was missing the details.

I did not see an editor listed anywhere. This does not always make any difference, but it’s good to know.

There is a great Introduction, with a fantastic story by Nancy about how fun it was to choose the stories. There are also story introductions, and some afterwords also by Kress. This supplemental essay content alone does not make a great “Best of” Author X collection, but it is a required element for me.

Stories that I remembered which I loved:

  1. Pathways“, a novelette from “Twelve Tomorrows“, Stephen Cass editor, 2013 MIT Technology Review.
  2. “Beggars in Spain“, a novella first published as a chapbook, 1991 Axolotl Press/ Pulphouse Publishing.
  3. Evolution“, a novelette, Asimov’s October 1995.
  4. Out of All Them Bright Stars“, a short story, F&SF March 1985.

Stories which I did not remember reading but loved:

  1. End Game“, a short story, Asimov’s April-May 2007.
  2. Laws of Survival“, a novelette, Jim Baen Universe December 2007.
  3. And Wild for to Hold“, a novella, Asimov’s July 1991.
  4. Margin of Error“, a short story, Omni October 1994.

“People Like Us” was the least of these stories for me, but even that was at 3.6/5 or “Very Good” on my personal rating scale.

Kress was able to include 5 novellas. She said that there were two other novellas she was unable to include:

  1. The Erdmann Nexus“, Asimov’s Oct/Nov 2008.
  2. Fountain of Age“, Asimov’s Jul 2007.

These would have been great choices, but I assume they were omitted due to length and related issues.

My overall rating is 3.93/5, or “Great”, for the 21 stories included, from 1981 to 2014. Including both the essay content (Introduction and story introductions and afterwords) and the stories, I thought this was a great collection. Strongly recommended.


And Wild for to Hold“, a novella, Asimov’s July 1991. A great story of time travel and Ann Boleyn, which lost the Hugo to “Beggars In Spain”. Nancy Kress  notes a long fascination with Ann Boleyn, and her desire to write an SF story featuring her. Hugo finalist and Locus nominee. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

Out of All Them Bright Stars“, a short story, F&SF March 1985. A great short story of a woman who really needs her waitress job, when an alien comes in. One of my favorite stories of encounters with an alien. I love this story on reread. Every word is perfect. I love the story of how, when at lunch with Connie Wills before the Nebula Awards, Connie told her to write an acceptance speech. She won, and was glad she did. Nebula winner, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1986 Bluejay Books. Rated 4.1/5, or “Superlative”.

Pathways“, a novelette, from “Twelve Tomorrows“, Stephen Cass editor, 2013 MIT Technology Review. Superlative story of fear, rage, and hope, and ambition too with prions and Fatal Familial Insomnia. Some of the best characters I’ve encountered in SF. This is just as good on reread, and it might be my favorite Kress story. I also love the Richard Powers cover on “Twelve Tomorrows”; I assume this has been used before for an older cover. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2014 St. Martin’s Griffin and “The Year’s Top Ten Tales of Science Fiction“, Allan Kaster editor, 2014 Infinivox. Rated 4.5/5, or “A Classic”.

Dancing on Air“, a novella, Asimov’s July 1993. It’s good to rediscover this story of bioengineering, genetic engineering, ballet, and families. Hugo and Locus runner-up, Nebula finalist, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1994 St. Martin’s Press . Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Unto the Daughters“, a short story, from “Sisters in Fantasy“, Martin H. Greenberg & Susan Shwartz editors, 1995 Roc/New American Library. A very good, feminist story of Adam and Eve, and the snake, who is also female. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

Laws of Survival“, a novelette, from “Jim Baen’s Universe, December 2007“, Eric Flint & Mike Resnick editors, 2007 Baen. A great story of aliens taking over the Earth, and things going to hell, and survival, and dogs! I love “Jill’s Five Laws of Survival”, with the last one changing to “Take the risk and love something.” Apparently, after getting a dog, Kress wrote a book, “Dogs”, which she could not sell at the time. She finds that you can kill off entire Star systems of humans, but you can’t touch dogs. I believe she was able to see the novel later. As a dog lover, I struggle with this story, but it’s a great story of survival in extreme circumstances. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2008 St. Martin’s Griffin. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

Someone to Watch Over Me“, a short story, first published in IEEE Spectrum, June 2014. As a parent, I find this story very horrific, of an insane (to me) mother who has opticans installed in her baby’s eyes. She is newly divorced with restraining orders, and she uses opticans to monitor her daughter’s surroundings. This is illegal, and I find it terrifying, an invasion for an infant that cannot possibly consent. It is interesting to me that I don’t remember reading this, although I am sure I did, without such a strong emotional reaction the first time. It was also interesting that The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) solicited stories of the near future for their IEEE Spectrum magazine, and this is one. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

The Flowers of Aulit Prison“, a Probability Universe novelette, Asimov’s October-November 1996. A great story of an alien race with some humans visiting, and reality, and shared reality. Very chilling yet great. Sturgeon and Nebula winner, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fourteenth Annual Collection”, Gardner Dozois editor, 1997 St. Martin’s Griffin . Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

The Price of Oranges“, a novelette, Asimov’s April 1989. This is a very good time travel story about two men, one with a potentially unhappy granddaughter. The other one brings back a young man from 1937 in the hope of helping the granddaughter be happier and more positive. Things work out, but very differently than hoped for. Hugo and Locus finalist, reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Seventh Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1990 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

By Fools Like Me“, a short story, Asimov’s September 2007. An interesting and horrifying tale of climate change and survival, where books are banned as one element of cutting down trees, which is a huge sin. The protagonist is very old, and the only one who remembers before the Crash. Reprinted in “The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Two“, Jonathan Strahan editor, 2008 Night Shade Books. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Casey’s Empire“, a short story, F&SF November 1981. Perhaps her greatest fairly early story, about a young man from Montana who wants to be an SF writer, and goes through academia, very painfully. He almost goes away with a spaceship from elsewhere, but his first SF novel has been accepted for publication. Very autobiographical per Kress. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

Shiva in Shadow“, a novella, from “Between Worlds“, Robert Silverberg editor, 2004 Science Fiction Book Club. I find it very interesting how I clearly remember some of these stories but there are others I don’t remember at all. A great story of exploration near the center of the galaxy, and the bifurcation of the 3 person crew into artificial, digital analogues of the crew, to survive and perform science where humans cannot survive. Things go very differently for the two sets of same people. Reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Second Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 2005 St. Martin’s Griffin/ SFBC Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

Grant Us This Day“, a short story, Asimov’s September 1993. A very good story of God as an entity who created the Earth and the Universe for a grant application. He did not make the cut, but the Committee notifies him that a finalist withdrew, and that his entry is kind of all over the place, and that revision to more coherence would help. We leave the story with God about to be crucified again. Rated 3.7/5, or “Very good”.

The Kindness of Strangers“, a short story, from “Fast Forward 2“, Lou Anders editor, 2008 Pyr. A great story about aliens who decide to help humans with overpopulation by a massive genocide for all large cities . They confirm, via experiment with the protagonist librarian involved, that humans do better in smaller groups. Locus finalist. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

End Game“, a short story, Asimov’s April-May 2007. An amazing story of a young man who realizes that all of our brains are full of static, with multiple thoughts over each other. His old “acquaintance”, a real estate agent he played chess with as a young man, is the protagonist. The real estate agent realizes that his “friend” succeeded somehow, and this kind of useful yet inhuman and uncontrolled focus is spreading, first to his wife and then to him. Definitely a horror story, although Kress never reveals the exact mechanism of the spread. Certainly a viral agent is possible. Reprinted in “Year’s Best SF 13“, Kathryn Cramer & David G. Hartwell editors, 2008 Eos/ HarperCollins. Rated 4/5, or “Great”.

My Mother, Dancing“, a short story, first published in French in “Destination 3001“, Robert Silverberg & Jacques Chambon editors, 2000 Flammarion, and first published in English in Asimov’s June 2004.  A great, heartbreaking story about one response to the Fermi Paradox. Immortal humans have concluded they and Earth life are the only intelligent life in the universe, and are seeding other planets with artificial life almost as a religion. They return to a planet, and find the population is less than expected. The intelligent inhabitants tell them of the ” Others”, and ask their “mother” for help. The humans refuse to believe the violation of their conclusions/beliefs, and flee. Locus nominee and Nebula finalist, and reprinted in “Science Fiction: The Best of 2004“, Karen Haber & Jonathan Strahan editors, 2005 ibooks. I also love the story title. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

Trinity“, a novella, Asimov’s October 1984. A great story about a scientific search for God using clone twins. Her first Nebula finalist, and reprinted in both “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Second Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1985 Bluejay Books, and “Terry Carr’s Best Science Fiction of the Year“, Terry Carr editor, 1985 Tor. Rated 3.8/5, or “Great”.

People Like Us“, a short story, Asimov’s September 1989. A rather slight story of social class in America, with a cutout alien. Kress’s afterword is more interesting than the story. Rated 3.6/5, or “Very good”.

Evolution“, a novelette, Asimov’s October 1995. (Best SF 1996) Wow. Great story, great characters about what comes after the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria. This is one of the ones I remember reading before. Locus finalist, and reprinted in “Year’s Best SF“, David G. Hartwell editor, 1996 HarperPrism. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.

Margin of Error“, a short story, Omni October 1994. I love the conflicted sisters and the revenge taken by one of them. Great characters, and fun to see Kress at almost short short length, which she acknowledges is not her forte. She also acknowledges that she writes often about pairs of sisters, but mentions that her sister is nothing like any of the ones she writes about. This story was not finalist for any of the Major SF awards, although it was included in the “The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1995 St. Martin’s Press. Rated 3.9/5, or “Great”.

“Beggars in Spain“, a novella published as a chapbook, 1991 Axolotl Press/Pulphouse Publishing. A fantastic story about the genetically tweaked “Sleepless”, the rest of the world, and a philosophy of contracts and mutual benefits. One of my favorites, with great characters. I love Kress’s afterword, where she recounts how it took 13 years to write this story, and how she credits Bruce Sterling at a workshop for encouraging her to write with realistic economics. This version of the story resulted. Hugo and Nebula winner, Locus runner-up, and reprinted in “The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection“, Gardner Dozois editor, 1992 St. Martin’s Press. I prefer the novella version to the novel. Rated 4.3/5, or “Superlative”.


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