The Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy returns in Volume IV with a brilliant and wonderfully bizarre 14-story collection. Editor Emily-Brill Holland brings talented Aotearoa voices to the foreground, showcasing the exciting literary scene on our home turf.
The charm of short fiction lies in its ability to draw you immediately into new worlds and, within a few brief pages, have you pondering some bigger questions. This anthology, with its particular sci-fi and fantasy focus, is perhaps one of the best illustrations of short fiction’s appeal. The settings are unusual and captivating, or in other instances uncanny; you’re absorbed in fantastical, eerie narratives, and are left with poignant observations about your own reality. In our increasingly uncertain and unstable world, the themes explored in this collection hit particularly close to home. We contemplate the ways life could change in the face of a climate crisis; we reflect upon the absurdity of human behaviour through pandemics, and bizarre incidents, and when confronted with difference. It’s devastating and hopeful at the same time.
One of the standout stories, for me, was Samantha Lane Murphy’s Rabbit. It follows a young woman who lives in a village consisting of only women. That is, until the sisters (with names like Favour and Peace and Charity) head to the village of brothers, and everything is upended for our young protagonist Promise. Murphy’s prose is gorgeous, and leaves you with plenty to think about. You witness the natural world with awe and wonder; you feel the tumultuousness of new womanhood; you consider ideas of goodness and evil, power and obedience, suffering and survival.
“Mother says that it sounds like I am experiencing a sense of losing control. She says that I am processing a change of understanding about the world.”
Another favourite was Plague Year, a darkly comedic little piece that reimagines COVID-19 as a vampire pandemic. Author Anuja Mitra’s observations are so on-the-nose, it’s frankly a little scary:
“For every discovery about the thing we were fighting, there was new research contradicting it. For every expert opinion, there were the deniers, the internet trolls, the fear-mongering fanatics, sticking to them like gum on a park bench.”
Even in the context of a plague for which the symptoms are “unusual pallor”, “dental changes” and an “uncontrollable thirst for blood”, our human behaviour is recognisable. This piece highlights just how crazy we become when we’re flooded with panic and paranoia.
Overall, this anthology is an excellent snapshot into the weird and wonderful world of Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy. The occasional piece didn’t resonate quite so well with me, but I think there’s something in every story that readers can draw from. Whether you want to visit different universes (M. Darusha Wehm’s A Thorn in Your Memory; Andi C. Buchanan’s Below Salt-Heavy Tides), see strange creatures (Rem Wigmore’s Basil and the Wild and Why We Make Monsters); contemplate the state of our world (Melanie Harding-Shaw’s Data Migration; Nat Baker’s Last Bird Island; Octavia Cade’s The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels, And How World Trees Are Not A Substitute), or dip your toes into something unusual or fantastical (James Rowland’s Interview with Sole Refugee from the A303 Incident; Juliet Marillier’s Washing the Plaid), this collection is certainly worth picking up.
Full list of stories
- I Will Teach You Magic - Andi C. Buchanan
- A Thorn in Your Memory - M. Darusha Wehm
- Rabbit - Samantha Lane Murphy
- Clutch. Stick. Shift. - Tehnuka
- Plague Year - Anuja Mitra
- Basil and the Wild - Rem Wigmore
- Data Migration - Melanie Harding-Shaw
- Domestic Goddess - Kirsteen Ure
- Below Salt-Heavy Tides - Andi Buchanan
- The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels, And How World Trees Are Not A Substitute - Octavia Cade
- Why We Make Monsters - Rem Wigmore
- Interview with Sole Refugee from the A303 Incident - James Rowland
- Last Bird Island - Nat Baker
- Washing the Plaid - Juliet Marillier
Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 4
edited by Emily Brill-Holland
Cover art by Rebecca Hawkes
Published by Paper Road Press
More Aotearoa Science Fiction and Fantasy
Previous volumes of Year's Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy
- Science Fiction reading guide
- New Zealand science fiction booklist
- Fantasy Fiction reading guide
- New Zealand fantasy booklist
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