Visions of Paradise

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Year's Best SF 14

In the mid-1990s I read several annual best-of-the-year anthologies until I went through a year-and-a-half sf burnout during which I stopped buying all f&sf, including those annual volumes. When I gradually returned to reading sf, I resumed buying Gardner Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction, even filling in the missing volume #13. But I never resumed buying David Hartwell’s Year's Best SF (which, by this time, was co-edited by his wife Kathryn Cramer), although I did eye it occasionally. I guess the main reason I did not do so was that I was now also reading historical fiction, thus not buying as many f&sf books as I did previously, and there were too many worthwhile volumes being published each year for me to commit to a regular annual purchase.

This past Christmas though one of my gifts was Year’s Best SF 14 which I immediate began reading, and I am glad that I did. Lately I have grown weary of much of what goes under the guise of “science fiction” but is really anything but: contemporary fantasy, slipstream, magic realism, basically mainstream fiction which pokes around the edges of science fiction. Thus it is good to read a book which is unpretentious science fiction, running the gamut from traditional problem-solving, hard sf, space opera, future history, and everything else which filled the pages of magazines such as Galaxy, Worlds of IF and Worlds of Tomorrow when they were my favorite zines in the 1960s.

The book opens with Carolyn Ives Gilman’s “Arkfall” which tells of a strange world where everybody lives in underwater habitats, and the protagonist is trapped on a runaway habitat with an offworlder whose attitudes are considerably different than natives who have centuries of training in being non-selfish and nonviolent. This story combines storytelling, a wondrous world tour, and a character study, three ingredients in the very best sf. It also passed the test of a great sf story: it convinced me to read one of Gilman’s sf novels as well.

Paolo Bacigalupi is one of the finest new sf writers, but at times his version of near-future dismal sf turns me off as much as his writing interests me. My favorite story of his was “The Fluted Girl,” which was one of my favorite sf stories of the past decade (or current decade, depending on whether you accept that 2010 is a new decade or not). “Pump Six” started out as if it was going to bore me with its recitation of calamities in a near-future New York City, but Bacigalupi’s writing kept me intrigued as the story itself grew more and more interesting. It reached its peak when it skewered post-collapse education with a visit to Columbia University.

Cory Doctorow is an anomaly, an author totally consumed with high tech whose stories always appeal to me. He obviously knows the difference between gushing about his love of technology and story-telling, and “The Things That Make Me Weak and Strange Get Engineered Away” (an unfortunate title which has no effect on the story itself) is a strong story about a bastion of anti-social nerds locked away from society whose main function is keeping tabs on society for the over-protective post-9/11 government, and what happens when one of its members temporarily leaves the hideaway and visits the bigger world. Good stuff.

Ted Kosmatka’s “N-Words” is a story about racism, but not the type its title might lead you to believe. The “N” referred to are neanderthals who have returned in the same manner that dinosaurs returned in Jurassic Park, but the neanderthals turn out to be considerably different than anthropologists have surmised. The story’s last line is a classic and worth the entire story.

Alastair Reynolds is one of my two favorite hard science / space opera writers (along with the multi-talented Stephen Baxter) and “The Fury” is a very good story which is part police-procedural and part human interest story which ends up being more thought-provoking than a typical Reynolds story. It tells of a security expert for a near-immortal emperor who investigates an assassination attempt which would have succeeded except the emperor’s mind was quickly downloaded into one of dozens of available replacement brains. The story’s main concern though is questioning how much punishment for an evil deed is just, especially when that punishment might causes repercussions far worse than the original evil act.

There are numerous other good stories as well, such as Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s “Boojum”, Robert Reed’s “The House Left Empty” and Ann Halam’s “Cheats’ (a rare VR story which I actually enjoyed). All right, now I regret having never returned to buying this series, and I’m wondering if it is possible for me to fill in my collection with the missing 10 issues.


  • I loved the early World's Best SF collections edited by Don Wollheim. Those books introduced me to some great Roger Zelazny short stories. I need to get back to reading one of these series. Would you recommend the Dozois as the best one?

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 6:11 AM  

  • I have not picked up any of Hartwell's collections before, but I will be picking this up, you've sold me!

    By Blogger Carl V., At 4:35 PM  

  • Every why has a wherefore.........................................

    By Blogger 相信, At 5:17 AM  

  • It depends on your outlook which is the best. Hartwell's leans more towards traditional sf, while Dozois often prefers cutting edge sf. If you enjoy fantasy mixed with your sf, then Strahan is probably for you.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 1:35 PM  

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