The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens, edited by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden (Tor, 2005)

When I first stumbled across this particular anthology, I couldn’t resist it. After all, I love YA science fiction and fantasy, and I love short fiction. So finding a collection which combined both those loves seemed tailor-made for me. I was definitely interested to see what stories passed the editors’ high standards, and how they stacked up against what I read – or didn’t read –
in the past year. I was happy to see that while some of the stories gathered within were familiar, just as many came from sources I missed. The end result: an interesting mix of young adult short fiction.

First up is Kelly Link’s “The Faery Handbag,” which is an offbeat tale of a magical handbag which contains an entire world within its depths. Open it, and discover great wonders, or perhaps surprising horrors; it’s all in how you look at the situation. S.M. Stirling’s “Blood Wolf” is a welcome return to Stirling’s Nantucket series, in which the island of Nantucket, as well as a Coast Guard training vessel, were transported back in time to the Bronze Age. A generation after that initial transition, the world is a vastly different place, with 20th Century philosophies, ideals and techniques mixing with Bronze Age civilizations. Now a young man has ventured forth from his tribe to experience the fabled magic of Nantucket, where he promptly runs afoul of strange people and stranger customs. Is there a place for him here, or will he fare poorly in the new world?

Lynette Abbey’s “Sleeping Dragons” is an interestingly multilayered tale about family, mythology, and of course, dragons. Very little is as it appears on the surface, and it’s up to a girl to protect her little brother from the destiny that awaits him. Garth Nix gives us “Endings,” a quick story about a man with two daughters, two swords, and two endings to his tale. Everything is interconnected, in the end.

David Gerrold’s “Dancer in the Dark” is, on the surface, about a boy sent away from everything he’s known to live in a strange new place. Underneath, there’s a lot more going on involving light, dark, truth, and beauty. Adam Stemple’s story, “A Piece of Flesh” is a traditional changeling story, a fairy tale in which a boy recognizes the unnatural being which has replaced his infant sibling and has to do something about it. His success, however, is not going to be an easily-gained thing.
Also in the changeling mold is Delia Sherman’s “CATNYP,” about a young woman who’s grown up in the New York -between the real world and Faery. Trapped between worlds and as restless as any teenager, she embarks upon something of a quest to find her true place, and discovers a whole lot more, including the enchanted lion of the New York Public Library. For a true blast from the past, the editors have included a classic: Rudyard Kipling’s “They.”

Other stories include Theodora Goss’ “The Wings of Meister Wilhelm,” Leah Bobet’s “Displaced Persons,” and one of the best stories of the year in any age group, “Sergeant Chip,” by Bradley Denton. The last is about an overly-intelligent, highly-trained military canine and the lengths to which he has to go in order to fulfill his orders and protect his companions.

Helpfully, the editors also include plenty of “If you like this tale, then try…” in their introductions to each story, thus giving the unfulfilled reader plenty of directions in which to turn their attentions. What can I say? This is bound to be the first in a yearly series, and that makes me very happy. The selection of stories here is excellent, providing a wonderful sampling of the wide range of fiction aimed (directly or indirectly) at the young adult audience, and there’s plenty to please in here. Previously, I’d praised Patrick Nielson Hayden’s other YA anthologies for filling a valuable, much-needed niche; The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens is another fine addition to that particular bookshelf, and a logical extension of the “Year’s Best…” trend in general. I’m already looking forward to next year.

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