Reviews

David G. Hartwell Doesn't Disappoint with 'Year's Best SF 18'

Each story touches on different issues, ponders different concerns, and asks different questions. Each story has a distinct message and voice.


Year's Best SF 18

Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Length: 416 pages
Edited by: David G. Hartwell
Price: $15.99
Format: Paperback
Amazon

Editor David G. Hartwell opens the introduction to Year’s Best SF 18 with the line “This is a book about what’s going on now in science fiction.” And if the stories in this book are any indication, some pretty great things are going on in the world of sci-fi.

Each story touches on different issues, ponders different concerns, and asks different questions: If you knew your future, would you change it? What happens when immortality has been achieved but space is limited? What will an ice-free Antarctica be like? Is science a right or a privilege? Each story has a distinct message and voice. Which is why each of the 28 short stories is worthy of mention, analysis, and discussion--but that would also make for a painfully long review. So keeping in mind that each story deserves close examination, here are a few things that Year’s Best SF 18 can teach us about what’s going on in sci-fi today.

First, great sci-fi can be found almost everywhere. Hartwell places stories from established writers, like Bruce Sterling and Gene Wolfe, next to stories from some relative newcomers (including Joe Pitkin and Deborah Walker). He pulled from traditional sci-fi publications; S & SF and Asimov’s are well represented, but so are publications like Nature and the now defunct Eclipse Online. The authors themselves hail from Australia, the UK, the United States, India, and France.

Another thing--sci-fi writers know how to craft a first sentence. Consider a couple of my favorites: “In spite of her name (an elegant, whimsical female name which meant Perfumed Winter, and a reference to a long-dead poet), Nguygen Dong Huong was a warrior, first and foremost,” or “When Stanley Betterman awoke Monday morning he didn’t know that everyone else in the world was naked.” And then there are the opening lines that don’t sound like sci-fi at all but set the stage for some wonderful world building: “Long ago, just after Heaven was separated from Earth, Nü Wa wandered along the bank of the Yellow River, savoring the feel of the rich loess against the bottom of her feet”.

Today’s sci-fi writers also often have a sense of humor. Readers should expect to chuckle when reading “The North Revena Ladies Literary Society”, where book club meetings can be lethal, or “Application”—a short story where a computer sends his former owner to jail.

World building is alive and well in modern sci-fi, and these sci-fi writers don’t need novel-length spaces to create a world. “Liberty’s Daughter” by Naomi Kritzer is just over 20 pages but presents a fully developed futuristic world of man-made islands some 200 miles off the coast of California. In roughly the same number of pages, Indrapramit Das’ “Weep for Day” takes us back to a world with knights, where train travel is new and exciting, and where Nightmares are captured and killed.

“Weep for Day” reminds us that, as Hartman notes in the introduction, “We are moving through decades of change, and as SF--often called the literature of change—represents that, we have to change in our daily lives as well, and that is not always comfortable”. And there is something decidedly “uncomfortable” about “Weep for Day”, both for the audience and the narrator when she realizes the Nightmare she sees “knew terror”.

But sometimes the most uncomfortable or thought-provoking moments aren’t found in the military stories or the ones with worlds that are only vaguely familiar. “A Love Supreme” tells the story of a physician and her dying father and includes lots of details about medical systems that might, for some, hit too close to home: “Care is rationed. HMOS have made medicine a corporate algorithm, doing the greatest good for the most people”.

Another example of change? Communication styles. Are tweets and texts replacing more thoughtful forms of oral communication? Nikki J. North’s exquisitely told “Branches on My Back, Sparrows in My Ear” lets readers ponder what a nonverbal society might be like.

Once again Hartwell proves to be a savvy editor and not just because of his story selection skills--he also provides interesting biographical notes for each author and background for all the stories. While each story appears to be selected on its own merit (as opposed to thinking about what would create a cohesive or thematic anthology), Hartwell shows the connections. For example, three stories were part of the Palencar Project and were based on a painting by John Jude Palencar.

Perhaps more importantly, Hartwell lets us know where each of these short stories was first published. After all, one of the joys of the any “Best of” book is that it leads us to so many other potentially wonderful stories.

9

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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