I’ve been a fan of editor Neil Clarke’s Clarkesworld magazine for some time now. The stories are consistently good, if with a certain similarity of tone. I was interested to see what he would do with a themed anthology.
Happily, Updated has a wide array of styles. It’s true that the cyborg theme gets a little wearing – 26 stories about cyborgs is a lot of cyborgs – so there may just be too much of a good thing. But within that parameter, there’s variation in theme, concept, impact, and tone.
Clarke has attracted a lot of today’s newish writers for this anthology – there are few of the old guard here; in fact, maybe only middle guard. With few exceptions, though, the writers are good. The ones that do get off track tend to be aiming for a poetic or avant garde approach that ends up choppy, and, in one case, almost incomprehensible.
The best stories in the anthology:
- Always the Harvest by Yoon Ha Lee
The opener for the anthology is also one of its strongest stories, with an interesting and affecting look at alien contact. I believe I’ve only read one of Lee’s stories before (surprising, given how much she’s published), but I’ll definitely be looking for more.
- The Sarcophagus, by Robert Reed
This one takes its time to get going, and leaves out quite a bit of useful information, but eventually wends its way to a satisfying end.
- Oil of Angels, by Chen Qiufan
A study of memory, this has one of the best, most interesting, concepts in the book. The writing is a bit stilted, and ordinarily I’d put that down to translation. When you’ve got Ken Liu translating, though, who not only is a highly talented writer, but seems to have a second job translating Chinese authors, it’s hard to complain. The style makes it a bit hard to get beneath the surface of the character, but the story works well overall.
- Honeycomb Girls, by Erin Cashier
As with much SF, about the effects of technology on culture. The story is burdened with an awkward vocal style meant to emphasize the distance between two groups, but the bulk of the story is well told, with an interesting perspective on a possible future.
- The Regular, by Ken Liu
A mystery story clad in SF, but also genuine SF as a look at how humans are regardless of technology. What can I say? I try to be critical, but Liu seems to go from strength to strength as an excellent writer, plus near single-handed purveyor of new Chinese SF voices (and what a good thing that turns out to be).
- Tongtong’s Summer, by Xia Jia
Quite a few of the stories in this anthology are about family, and this is one of the best. Relatively simple construction and concept, but a moving story about love.
- Memories and Wire, by Mari Ness
Ness is another one of those writers who (for me) seems to have come out of nowhere to be everywhere. It’s a happy result. As with Ken Liu, Ness seems incapable of writing anything that’s not good. This story is a creepy, even disturbing, story about relationships. Frankly, I don’t know quite what to make of it, but it worked.
- Small Medicine, by Genevieve Valentine
Grandparents seem to figure quite a lot in this anthology. This story, about a young girl’s relationship with her grandmother, does a great job of presenting a child’s view of change.
If you want stories about cyborgs, this is the place to go. The stories here get at the idea from all sorts of angles, and most of them do it very well. In fact, there’s so much variation and skill here that this may be the definitive collection of cyborg stories. If you like cyborgs, get this. If you don’t like cyborgs, you should probably get it anyway (just read it in more, shorter sittings).