Science Fiction & Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Fiction

Fantasy

The Dragon of Dread Peak (Part 2)

Back in originspace, Basher sobbed in Doom Maiden’s arms. Sparks stared at the ground. I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I wanted to punch something. Mostly I wanted to punch myself. Or maybe Domino. If only he had listened to me! Why did I ever think I could be a leader? Not even my best friend listened to me when it counted. How could I have been so stupid? How could he? “We’ll get him back,” Basher said. She was frantic. “He’s still alive. Right, Sparks? He’s still alive.”

Science Fiction

Crossing the Midday Gate

Dan Linh had walked out of the Purple Forbidden City not expecting to return to it—thankful that the Empress had seen fit to spare her life; that she wasn’t walking to her execution for threefold treason. Twenty years later—after the nightmares had faded, after she was finally used to the diminished, eventless life on the Sixty-First Planet—she did come back, to find it unchanged: the Midday Gate towering over the moat; the sleek ballet of spaceships between the pagodas and the orbitals; the ambient sound of zithers and declaimed poetry slowly replacing the bustle of the city at their backs.

Fantasy

The Dragon of Dread Peak (Part 1)

When I made the decision to take up an after-school job closing trans-dimensional portals into pocket-worlds full of dangerous monsters and traps, I thought it would be easier—or at least more fun—than working the counter at a fried cockatrice joint or selling newssheets on a street corner at the crack of dawn. My team’s first outing into dungeonspace—when we defeated The Cavern of the Screaming Eye on our first try—had gone pretty good. Since then, we’d been running low threat level, poorly synced dungeons as practice, the kind that don’t actually kill you if you take damage inside them.

Science Fiction

The Walk Up Nameless Ridge

It was difficult to sleep at night, wishing good men dead. This was but one of the hurtful things I felt in my bones and wished I could ignore. It was an ugly truth waving its arms that I turned my gaze from, that I didn’t like to admit even to myself. But while my bag warmed me with the last of its power and my breath spilled out in white plumes toward the roof of our tent, while the flicker of a whisperstove melted snow for midnight tea, I lay in that dead zone above sixty thousand feet and hoped not just for the failure of those above me, but that no man summit and live to tell the tale. Not before I had my chance.

Fantasy

The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle

This story is at least a thousand years old. Its complete title is “The Tale of Mahliya and Mauhub and the White-Footed Gazelle: It Contains Strange and Marvelous Things.” A single copy, probably produced in Egypt or Syria, survives in Istanbul; the first English translation appeared in 2015. This is not the right way to start a fairy tale, but it’s better than sitting here in silence waiting for Mahliya, who takes forever to get ready. She’s upstairs staining her cheeks with antimony, her lips with a lipstick called Black Sauce. Vainest crone in Cairo.

Science Fiction

Longing for Stars Once Lost

The ship dies in orbit above an abandoned world. Kitshan curses. Metal bones shudder around him as the last of the ship’s breath is sucked into vacuum. His skill at the helm and hasty patch jobs have kept the engines together, but luck is scarce out here, and his is gone. The ship is unminded. Lifeless metal, basic programming, and manual flight operations are things he can tolerate better than another consciousness wrapped against his. The viewscreen flickers and a cold vista stretches across the interior curve of the cockpit: the small star, bright and distilled against the void.

Fantasy

Shoggoths in Traffic

We stole the cherry red 1984 Corvette at noon, when Random was inside the strip club for Tuesday’s Wings and Things and otherwise occupied. At one, we stopped behind a Denny’s to swap the plates, even though it felt dangerous to have paused knowing that Random would be standing in the badly maintained asphalt parking lot staring at where he’d left the ’vette and coming to certain conclusions. “It’s okay,” Abony said as I held the license plate in place and she screwed it on. “Take deep breaths.”

Science Fiction

Ugo

That’s how Cynthia and Ugo met. The Easter egg hunt had just started when little Cynthia noticed a dark, short-haired nine-year-old boy, all alone, sitting by the church steps. Her first impression of him was his quietness, and the way he stared at her. When she told him (well, shouted) that it was impolite to stare at strangers, and why wasn’t he running like all others?—the dark-haired boy walked quietly over and told her that they didn’t need to hurry.

Fantasy

A Pound of Darkness, a Quarter of Dreams

There was something sinister about the representative’s perfection. The oiled and combed dark hair, the even white teeth, the polished fingernails. His immaculate dark jacket and trousers, the pressed collar and cuffs of his shirt. He looked as if he’d dressed in the shop itself, not ridden up the damp valleys from Manchester on some dirty, smoking steam train, inevitably acquiring the grime and the dust from the tired upholstery of a grubby carriage. No one who had undertaken the walk down the wet high street should have kept their shoes so polished and shiny.

Science Fiction

Carthago Delenda Est

Wren Hex-Yemenni woke early. They had to teach her everything from scratch, and there wasn’t time for her to learn anything new before she hit fifty and had to be expired. “Watch it,” the other techs told me when I was starting out. “You don’t want a Hex on your hands.” By then we were monitoring Wren Hepta-Yemenni. She fell into bed with Dorado ambassador 214, though I don’t know what he did to deserve it and she didn’t even seem sad when he expired.