Visions of Paradise

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Zima Blue

I do not believe there are absolutes in art, so it is not surprising there are several critically-acclaimed works of science fiction which do not appeal to me at all. William Gibson’s Neuromancer swept all the major awards its year of publication, yet I never particularly liked the book. In fact, I thought its successor Count Zero was much better. There are other examples as well. I did not like either of Vernor Vinge’s Hugo-winning Best Novels, and I only read one-sixth of Lord of the Rings before abandoning it.

For these reasons, I do not approach best-of-the-year anthologies expecting them to live up to that title. While most editors have overlapping taste to my own, it is very unlikely we would have precisely the same taste in what stories deserve to be acclaimed as the very best in any given year. Thus, I approach best-of-the-year anthologies as I would a particularly superior issue of a prozine, and I usually find the stories in the volumes run the gamut from near-classics to disappointing.

Recently I read the 23rd volume of Gardner Dozois’ mammoth Year’s Best Science Fiction, and it fit my idea of a strong anthology very well. Of its 30 stories, at least half of them were better than average sf, especially:

Harry Turtledove’s alternate history “Audubon in Atlantis” in which Columbus reached Atlantis, a continent lying between Europe and America;
Ian McDonald’s “The Little Goddess,” a tale of a future India;
Robert Reed’s “Camouflage,” a mystery set on his Great Ship;
Bruce Sterling’s historical fantasy “The Blemmye’s Strategem”;
Gene Wolfe’s “Comber,” set on a world of floating cities;

Besides these and other fine stories, the book contained one bona fide masterpiece, Alastair Reynold’s “Zima Blue” which in a mere twenty pages examined the relationship of art versus craftmanship, the nature of memory, and whether it is possible to, paraphrasing Thomas Wolfe, ever truly go home. Keep in mind that “Zima” pushed my personal pleasure buttons with its basic premise of a journalist investigating an artist obsessed with his art, since stories of passionate people, whether artists or writers or scientists, are among my favorite type of stories. That being said, for me this was one of the finest stories of the entire decade, and should have been an award winner.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home