A whopping 31 eclectic stories in speculative mode, expertly selected from 2011's large and diverse output.
Hard to determine standouts from such a spiffy bunch, but here goes. Ken Liu offers a delicate, limpid and thoroughly heartbreaking magic-realist tale of a Chinese girl purchased and brought to America as a bride. In Neil Gaiman's capable hands, an elderly Sherlock Holmes, not altogether unaccountably, takes up beekeeping in China. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, E. Lily Yu's smart, predatory wasps draw intricate, exact maps and enslave anarchist bees. Paul McAuley writes tellingly of alien artifacts creating havoc along a Norfolk coast drowned by global warming. Cory Doctorow's humorous "The Brave Little Toaster" consciously takes on, and trounces, Thomas M. Disch's famous fantasy-parable. Ian McDonald pens a saga of terraforming Mars, whose gritty realism conceals a surprise but all-too-plausible ending. Jeffrey Ford steps up with a trademark, squirm-inducing yarn of a saint's grisly relic. From Kij Johnson comes an engagingly peopled, beautifully realized tale of an engineer bridging a most peculiar and dangerous river. A seeming fantasy that turns into a weird future information war deserved to be, and hopefully will become, much longer (yes, Michael Swanwick, that's a hint). Humans watch in helpless astonishment as aliens attack Venus—and, even stranger, Venusians fight back, as Stephen Baxter describes. Robert Shearman presents an art gallery whose vast paintings do vastly more than just illustrate an entire year of history. Hardly less impressive: A girl's grandiose fantasies of an alternate Mars turn out to be the real thing (Dylan Horrocks); a microscopic black hole (Caitlin R. Kiernan); alien parasites (An Owomoyela); a musicologist's revenge (K.J. Parker); Libba Bray's train-robbing girl gang; unspeakable biological experiments (Nnedi Okorafor); Ellen Klages offers "Goodnight Moons" as if written by Robert A. Heinlein. Also includes worthy contributions from Karen Joy Fowler, Catherynne M. Valente, Geoff Ryman, Hannu Rajaniemi, Peter Watts, Nalo Hopkinson, Kelly Link, M. Rickert, Maureen F. McHugh, Peter S. Beagle, Robert Reed, Bruce Sterling and Margo Lanagan.
Especially valuable for readers who enjoy short stories but have neither the time nor the inclination to seek them out.