3.5 average rounds up to 4 stars. (And if you go by pages, it'd be a bit higher, since the longest story is one of the best...) ;-)
***** Ken Liu - The Paper Menagerie. "'The Paper Menagerie' is the first work of fiction, of any length, to have swept the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards." I cried. OK, usually when I say "I cried" I mean one tear escaped my eye... This story made me cry a whole bunch of tears. A story of the disconnect between parents and children, the gap between cultures, and magical origami.
*** Carolyn Ives Gilman - The Ice Owl. Sets up a very nicely done world and situation: a rebellious teenage girl and her flaky, irresponsible mother, flitting around known planets at lightspeed after a political disturbance/genocide analogous to the Holocaust. (It's called the Holocide, and there's even looted art.) However, the ending is completely unsatisfying, feels rushed, and falls flat. It's one of those where you get the feeling that the author feels like you ought to think her characters made the right decisions - but they clearly didn't, nor does it work from a dramatic perspective.
*****Connie Willis - Ado. Re-read - this was published in 1988, but since Willis was awarded the Nebula's 'Grand Master' award this year, it makes sense for a story to be included here. This tale of a near-future teacher struggling to add Shakespeare to the syllabus deftly skewers political correctness and censorship. Sadly, it's just as timely today as when it was first written.
**** Katherine Sparrow - The Migratory Patterns of Dancers. First piece I've read from this fairly-new (I believe) author. In style and theme, it reminds me a lot of Connie Willis - I don't think it's just the proximity in this volume. In an ecologically ravaged near-future, genetically modified men are hired to perform dances that recall the behaviors of the extinct birds whose genes they now carry. But the dancers are trapped by both economics and the procedures they have allowed to be executed on their bodies.
*** Amal El-Mohtar - Peach-Creamed Honey. Poem. It's kind of a nice, sexy, sensual poem, but there's nothing SF/fantasy-oriented about it.
*** David Goldman - The Axiom of Choice. Hmm. There's no SF/fantasy element to this story, unless you consider that referring to the format of a Choose-You-Own-Adventure book to make a point about whether or not humans have free will is science-fictional. I don't. The story, about a musician whose life goes down the tubes after he's badly injured in a tragic accident, is OK, but the philosophical aspects feel a little forced.
**** John Clute - Club Story. Not a story, but a piece of literary analysis, gathering together collections of stories set within a framing device as a genre, and tracing that from history to modern science-fiction. Well-written and interesting.
**** Geoff Ryman – What We Found. This story does contain a science-fiction concept: What if the act of observing scientific facts causes those ‘facts’ to ‘wear out’ and change? But mostly, it’s a story about a man (an African scientist from a modest background) dealing with a family history of mental illness that has torn generations apart. Vividly, sensitively and believably written.
**** Jo Walton – Excerpt from Among Others. (Skipped it, since I read the book just recently. But I did really like the book.)
** Nancy Fulda – Movement. A sad and rather wishful story from the point of view of an autistic girl faced with the possibility of an experimental treatment that may cure her – but make her less ‘special.’ Well-written, but I’m deducting a star for my personal dislike of romanticizing brain dysfunction.
**** Ferrett Steinmetz – Sauerkraut Station. Traditional sci-fi novella from the point of view of a young girl who’s grown up on a remote way station in space – servicing travelling spaceships and serving up homemade sauerkraut and sausages. A brief friendship with a diplomat’s son will end up as a pivotal moment, as her family’s station is caught between two sides of a vicious war. Though he’s better known, lately, for his blogging, I’d read more sci-fi by this author – I feel like his style would be well-suited toward longer novels.
*** E. Lily Yu – The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees. I feel like maybe I missed something here. Or maybe the 'something' just wasn't there. I liked the set-up, the conflict between the two insect species and the revolutionary faction amongst the bees. But I didn’t feel that it all pulled together.
** Brad R. Torgersen – Ray of Light. Aliens mysteriously dimmed the sun’s light, causing the last human survivors to hide deep under the frozen oceans, depending on geothermal energy. Nice idea, but the execution, concentrating on a dad’s looking for his rebellious and wayward daughter, a mother who committed suicide, and a dramatic revelation, felt a little bit trite to me. The initial infodump, with the excuse of ‘explaining the situation to a young child’ also felt forced.
*** Delia Sherman – Excerpt from The Freedom Maze. Excerpts are kind of annoying. This seems like it’s a YA book, with the premise that a spoiled young girl is whisked back in time to the ‘Good Old Days’ when her family owned a big plantation house. Unfortunately for her, she immediately assumed to be a mixed-blood bastard – and therefore a slave. Could be good, but I’d need to read the whole thing to have an opinion.
** CSE Cooney – The Sea King’s Second Bride. Aesthetically, this poem about a modern woman opting to marry a Sea King and live with him under the waves, did not appeal to me. I just didn’t like the word choices or the rhyming style.
*****Kij Johnson - The Man Who Bridged the Mist. A beautiful and romantic fantasy novella of an engineer who arrives to build a bridge over a river of poisonous mist, and the ferrywoman whose life has been devoted to crossing that treacherous expanse. Evocative, thoughtful, and bittersweet.