This is another book I checked out of the library. Since I've been writing a lot of short stories myself, I figured I should read short fiction by other writers. This book gave me a chance to read fiction by a wide variety of Nebula nominees and award winners, including several writers I'd never read before or even heard of. I found several new (to me) writers with unique and amazing voices. A few of the stories weren't all that appealing to me, I could see why they had been chosen for these awards, and I was glad to read them all the same.
My favorite stories included "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate," "Captive Girl," and "The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park after the Change." Ted Chiang's "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" is an amazing scifi/fantasy story inspired by the Arabian Nights. It had stories within stories, and kept me guessing about the ultimate fate of the protagonist until the very end. Chiang's depiction of time travel is actually based on how most physicists think it would actually work, which gave the story a fascinating basis in science.
"Captive Girl," on the other hand, is one of the most disturbing stories I've ever read--it made me question my understanding of love and sacrifice, until I was completely unsure how I should feel about the main character's choices (and whether she truly had any choices). Yet, it's the story's moral complexity and ambiguity that make it so compelling, an uncanny, unflinching masterpiece.
"The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among Dogs" has a story that's rich in folklore and stories, and I found the dog characters Johnson depicts fascinating. The plot was tense and compelling as well. While this story takes a particularly dim view of human nature (I'm not convinced most people would abandon their dogs once they learned to talk), it does capture the horrors of mass murder and the terrible justifications for genocide we hear all too often.
I enjoyed several other stories as well, even if I felt they were a bit problematic. "Stars Seen Through Stone" has well-drawn characters, including the odious Joe Stanky, but somehow it's plot doesn't feel climatic enough, though I found the denouement satisfying."Always" is an interesting depiction of immortality, but the ending felt a bit too ambiguous for me to enjoy it. "Titanium Mike Saves the Day" was fun to read and had great moments, but felt a bit uneven (loved the ending, though). The book has poems and essays as well as stories, and I overall liked reading those.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who's interested in science fiction and fantasy short stories, particularly if you want discover new writers.