Visions of Paradise

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Year’s Best Sf 15

I read the first three volumes of David G. Hartwell & Katheryn Cramer's annual best-of series many years ago, then in the crush of books to read I skipped the next 11 volumes before my daughter-in-law gave me #14 as a gift one year, and I realized how good the series actually is. Just like #14, the stories in #15 are “unpretentious science fiction, running the gamut from traditional problem-solving to 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.” But they are not deliberately old-fashioned sf, being thoroughly modern in approach and technique, just not obsessed with high-technology to the exclusion of good story-telling and such traditional tropes as sense of wonder and thoughtful speculation.

The fact that this volume is the best of the 6 I have read so far is a good sign that either Hartwell & Cramer are not losing their love of sf or that the sf field, even as it shrinks under the oppressive weight of fantasy and urban schlock, is going through a particularly fertile period right now. The stories in the volume come from a variety of sources: 13 stories from prozines, 2 online and 9 from original anthologies and collections.

My favorite stories include the following:

Alastair Reynolds’ “The Fixation” is a tale of how events in one universe can effect those in a parallel one unexpectedly;

Sarah L. Edwards’ “Lady of the White-Spired City” is a moody tale with a fantasy ambiance about a galactic traveler who returns to a world she had visited hundreds of years ago where she had a child which she abandoned to return to space;

Robert Charles Wilson’s “This Peaceable Land” is a scary alt history of what might have happened had the Civil War been averted by President Stephen Douglas;

Vandana Singh’s “Infinities” is a warm peon to mathematics (a subject dear to my own heart) about a math teacher in India who is obsessed by infinity. An engrossing tale, which unfortunately faded out rather than reach a fitting conclusion;

Michael Cassutt’s “The Last Apostle” is an alt hist about two Apollo astronauts who discover unmistakable signs of life from ancient Earth on the moon, and decided to conceal it;

Chris Robinson’s alt history “Edison’s Frankenstein” which hypothesizes the discovery of a new power source in the mid 18th century which both ends the Civil War and makes Thomas Edison’s discovery of electricity irrelevant.

There are numerous others fine stories by Yoon Ha Lee, Bruce Sterling, Nancy Kress, Gene Wolfe, Peter Watts (his Hugo-winning “The Island”), Brian Stapleford, Paul Cornell, Stephen Baxter and others. This volume is must-reading for fans of traditional science fiction with a modern emphasis.


  • Any editor who refers to Galaxy, Worlds of IF and Worlds of Tomorrow has to be good.

    I never read any of the Hartwell anthologies. Some of them are now on my reading stack.

    Once again, I have to thank you.

    By Blogger Jim Black, At 9:08 PM  

  • That was my comparison of Hartwell's selections to Pohl's magazines, not his. But I think it was a valid comparison.

    By Blogger adamosf, At 5:43 AM  

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