Visions of Paradise

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Year's Best SF 16

I read two annual best-of anthologies regularly because they are the two which are devoted exclusively to science fiction: Dozois’ and Hartwell & Cramer’s. On my recent trip to Myrtle Beach, I read the 16th installment of Hartwell & Cramer’s Year’s Best SF 16, and it had the usual mix of stories from prozines, online zines and original anthologies, running the gamut of the entire sf umbrella.

The opening story, and one of the best, is Joe Haldeman’s “Sleeping Dogs,” about a war on a distant planet which, when it ended, all the Earth soldiers had their minds wiped so they had absolutely no memory of their wartime activities. Decades later, after security has loosened considerably, the narrator returns to the planet in an attempt to regain his memory of precisely what activities he had during the war. Both the glimpses of the planet, and the former soldier’s memories, are fascinating and well-told, as you would expect from Haldeman.

I am not usually a big fan of Vernor Vinge, too much high-tech wet dreams, but “A Preliminary Assessment of the Drake Equations...” was a more traditional story about exploratory missions to distant worlds seeking alien life. In the middle of the story was a short anecdote which, by itself, would have been one of those perfect, memorable sf stories such as Fredric Brown or Bob Leman wrote regularly. As good as the overall story was, that anecdote was even better.

Cat Sparks’ “All the Love in the World” is set in a near-future post-apocalyptic Australia where a group of people have blocked off their small community from the craziness outside it. They have become most self-sufficient with one exception. They have exhausted their supply of medicine. So when the narrator leaves their community in search of some badly-needed medication, she finds that things are considerably different than she expected. This is a moving and hopeful view of the future.

Alastair Reynolds’ “At Bukokan” hypothesizes that the public eagerness for bigger and more extreme thrills will take some unexpected directions in our high-tech society. While its premise is a bit outrageous, Reynolds makes it both believable and interesting.

If you enjoy a good mystery based on determining the validity of an historical event, then Jack McDevitt is the writer for you. His series of mysteries set hundreds of years in the future featuring Alex Benedict is my favorite recent sf series. His story “The Cassandra Project” is based on the resurrection of America’s space program a few years in the future, just as the Russians release a series of pictures taken by their 1960s space program, one of which seems to show a dome on the far side of the moon. When a public relations agent for NASA compares the picture to one taken by the Americans, he finds no dome there. The solution to what seems a minor mystery at first proves to be anything but minor.

There are other good stories by writers such as Terry Bisson, Vandana Singh, Michael Swanwick, Greg Benford, Robert Reed and Paul Park, 21 stories in all. While I did not think this volume was quite as good as the previous 2 in the series, some of that might just be my specific taste as opposed to that of other readers. Overall, it is definitely recommended reading.


  • Nice review, you've convinced me to pick it up. I've been contemplating doing so but hadn't largely due to the ol' "so many books, so little time" conundrum. Yet that hasn't stopped me from amassing books over the years, so why quibble about just one more. :)

    By Blogger Carl V., At 11:00 AM  

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