Year’s Best Science Fiction, 22nd Annual Collection. Gardner Dozois. St. Martins Griffin, 2005

Pat Murphy. Inappropriate Behaviour.
Originally in : SCI FICTION

Dozois, started #5 in his Year’s Best with Murphy’s ‘Rachel in Love’, which was one heck of a way to start an anthology. (And perhaps a little unfair on the following stories, so good was that story).

This is of a similarly high standard. So much about it is to be applauded. The plot is fairly simply, building tension – a man is washed ashore on a remote island after his boat is wrecked on coral, and, badly injured, he has to rely on the operator of a remote controlled waldo in relaying detail of his plight – the problem : that operator has an autistic spectrum disorder, so having helped called is not quite that simple.

The story is told both through the perspective of the shipwrecked man, and the mechano/operator, and, later through the Doctor who is supervising the immersive therapeutic intervention that the operator, a young girl, is undertaken. Murphy handles the perspective of this young girl so well, creating an entirely believe worldview for her, and describing the patterns she sees and makes, and how she struggles to make sense of the very unpatterned world in which she lives. The appropriate/inappropriate behaviours she struggles to understand and explained, and in seeing the story through the later characters, we see, as clearly as I can remember seeing, four quite different perspectives.

Good to see a Murphy appearing in a Year’s Best after a bit of a gap.

Benjamin Rosenbaum. Start the Clock.
Originally in : F&SF August 2004.

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    Relatively new author Rosenbaum continues to impress with his fiction, and here he provides a v-e-r-y strong, assured piece. A relatively near future US sees children’s development being halted, enabling them to stay at a specific age for any length of time. The society is stratified by age groups, and we follow a group of nine year olds as they go house hunting – falling in love with a house in the shape of a pirate ship. However, one of the gang has decided that enough is enough, and wants to restart her biological clock, leading to tensions in the group.

David Moles. The Third Party.
Originally in : Asimovs, September 2004

When it appeared originally, I wrote (evidently not overwhelmed)

    A far distant planet, the colonists of whom have been left to themselves for many generations, is being fought over by two more advanced human factions. We follow the rivalry from the viewpoint of one of the factions, through someone who has been masquerading as an academic and who has developed a more than platonic relationship with one female student. As the rivalry spills over into open warfare and bloodshed, the roots he has put down on the planet make it difficult for him to flee, as the rest of his party do.The story has that somewhat condensed feel which many stories which feature a lot of action in relatively few pages – we have the quick set up, and then pell mell into attacks, escapes, dramatic cable car action etc.

Christopher Rowe. The Voluntary State.
Originally in : SCI FICTION – online

Also collected in Haber/Strahan’s Best of 2004, where I read it and wrote:

    An excellent, inventive story, some of the nuances of American state-level politics which may have slipped past me (knowledge thereof mostly gleaned from college gridiron). With intelligence imbued in all manner of things (most notably the protagonist’s car), a dark nearish-future in which the population are in thrall to an (almost)all-powerful political force. If you only follow one of the links from this review, follow this one. Nominated for both Hugo and Nebula’s and rightly so.

Nancy Kress. Shiva in Shadow.
Originally in : Between Worlds

Good to see a story from a source with limited access (the Science Fiction Book Club), especially as the story is such an excellent one.

The story starts with the three crew of the Kepler watching the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A* from a safe distance, as a miniature probe containing uploads of themselves, spears closer – on a one-way mission to get close enough to carry out much more detailed analysis. The three, consist of two male scientists, Kane and Ajit, and Tirzah who is there partly to, ahem, look after them.

Kress successfuly interwines the dynamics of the three on both the Kepler, and their uploaded analogues ‘on’ the probe, exploring faith, gender, and science in a masterclass. The only problem for me is that the story is so good that it shows up just how mediocre a lot of current SF of this ilk is (I won’t mention any Science Fiction and Fact magazines by name).

Paolo Bacigalupi. The People of Sand and Slag.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 2004

When it orginally appeared I wrote :

    Bacigalupi’s ‘The Fluted Girl’ (F&SF June 2003) was one of my favourite stories of last year, and in constrast to that fantasy tale, here he takes on SF. He postulates a not-too-distant future in which the Earth is a seething, war-reduced, inhospitable environment – or rather, an environment which would be inhospitable to us as we are now. In his future humanity has embraced nano-tech and genmod to the extent that even the sand and slag of the title can sustain us. A rapid response armed unit, guarding a mining operation, are able to do so with extreme prejudice thanks to the tech and the military hardware that they have at their disposal, and the near superhuman regenerative powers which they have. To my mind, the author goes just a little too far in this repsect!

    The nature of their humanity (are they really human?) is investigated through their finding (somewhat unbelievably) an honest-to-goodness dog. Searching their computer archives to find out how to look after such a beast, there are initial glimmers of humanity from them, but sadly not enough for the dog to survive.

Michael F. Flynn. The Clapping Hands of God.
Originally in : Analog Jul/August 2004

In its original appearance, in which noted that this story was ‘the best of the bunch’ in that particular issue of Analog, I wrote :

    (Story illustration of the type you just do not want any fellow commuters to see.) A team of humans traverse one of the Gates which opens onto a beautiful world. The idyllic life of the the indigenous intelligent life, whom the view from afar, is the backdrop to very human relationsips. However, having struggled with the usual First Contact conundrums, warfare between the locals and creatures from a neighbouring planet erupts, one of the humans pays the ultimate price.

M. John Harrison. Tourism.
Originally on Amazon.com

I read this in Haber/Strahan year’s collection, and wrote

    A story notable for its appearing on Amazon as a teaser for a novel. And the story reads as such, a short vignette, with an interesting trio of characters (bar owner, fat alien barfly, man who provides a service taking tourists into a mostly unexplained strange part of the city).

n.b. in the Haber/Strahan volume the story was entitled ‘Tourists’

Terry Bisson. Scout’s Honour.
Originally in : SCI FICTION

An oustanding short piece. Its protagonist is a scientist who clearly suffers from a borderline autistic spectrum disorder. An anthropologist, he is studying Neanderthals, and is intrigued when he appears to receive e-mails from a fellow anthropologist who hass evidently been sent back in time to study our near-cousins. The anthropologist is excited to read the email observations as it confirms his thoughts on the Neanderthals, and there is a clear kinship in that they, like autistics, have very little sense of more than the self. It really is an excellent piece of writing, compact, and if you haven’t read it yet, you should follow the link above. Now.

James Patrick Kelly. Men Are Trouble
Originally in : Asimovs, June 2004

Last summer I wrote :

    My reading of this story started with a double hindrance. Firstly, I made the mistake of deciding that sitting in the only vacant seat on the train carriage was a better option than standing for the 45 minute journey. Normally a no-brainer, but in this instance I hadn’t realised that all the other seats in that half of the carriage were taken by 16-year old schoolgirls coming back from a school trip to London. Had they been in uniform I would have spotted it straight away and avoided the empty seat, avoided the carriage (and possibly even avoided the train). However, they weren’t in uniform, and so as I sat down I began 45 minutes of inane conversation about boys, singing, clapping, shrieking, yawning, giggling, more conversation about boys… The second hindrance was finding that the last story in the issue was evidently in the hard-boiled detective milieu. Somewhat dispirited I kept my eyes on the book, studiously avoiding as best as I could the lame conversational gambits from the young ‘lady’ sitting opposite me.

    In the end I gave up tried to make sense of the story, and waiting until today to read it properly.

    The reason why finding the story was of the hard-boiled PI ilk is that as a rule such stories in SF magazines tend towards fairly banal humour and do very little for me. Fortunately, Kelly avoids such a convention, and actually goes to the other extreme, furnishing us with a story with a memorably setting and all-female cast (including the POV character).

    Kelly’s background is a near-future Earth in which aliens have arrived and got rid of virtually 50% of the human population – the male 50%. A couple of generations on and society is just about the same as it is now, the economy not as good as it was, but with robots supplied by the aliens providing a wide range of support, things could be worse.

    PI Fay Hardaway is (with the exception of her gender) straight out of central casting, nursing a Johnnie Walker habit, unlucky in love, and bemoaning the lack of business. However, when one of the aliens, through the services of one of the robots, puts her on a very good retainer to do a bit of missings person detective work, things start to look up.

    However, as is obviously going to be the case, Fay finds that things start to get complicated – very complicated. Girlfriends, mothers, priests, cops, pre-alien and post-alien generations, alien ‘seeding’ pregnancies, suicide cults – Kelly puts in a heap of ‘soft’ SF in a story that to me feels more like a James Tiptree Jr story than one written by a man (and if your knowledge of SF isn’t sufficient to work out the sense of that last sentence then it is you who will have to do some detective work hehehe).

Kage Baker. Mother Aegypt.
Originally in : Mother Aegypt and Other Stories

Nominally in Baker’s ‘The Company’ series, but IMHO a mediocre cod(ish)-fantasy, that just goes on and on and on and on. I’ll just have to beg to differ with editor Dozois on Kage Baker, as I simply don’t get her stories. At all. (And what’s a straightforward fantasy doing in an SF volume? Tsk.)

Vernor Vinge. Synthetic Serendipity.
Originally in : IEEESpectrum Online

Vinge’s ‘The Cookie Monster’ was praised widely a year or two back, but it just didn’t do anything for me. However, this is was much more to my liking, as Vinge takes a more Strossian approach (the aforementioned Cookie Monster was somewhat pedestrian) in portraying a near-future wired up world, through which some youngsters find out about some more traditional values at school.

Mary Rosenblum. Skin Deep.
Originally in : Asimovs, Oct/Nov 2004

Dozois normally recounts the number of times a particular author has appeared in the Year’s Best series to date. Well, sad git that I am, I can tell you that this is the third time this title has appeared. When the story orginally appeared last year this is what I said :

    A young guy, horribly burnt as a child, finds himself suprisingly chosen for some very hi-tech surgery, which will actually re-grown his face. The specialist shows him how his face would have turned out had he not been burnt, and welcomes him into his flat to rehabiliate. But it turns out that the specialist has a hidden agenda, trying to recreate his own son, lost in an accident some years ago. Having received the medical treatment, Eric has to decide whether he is willing to take on that burden.

Vandana Singh. Delhi.
originally in : So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy

A rare treat : coming across a new author in a Year’s Best anthology. Singh portrays Delhi past and present, through the eyes of Aseem, who is able to see that which has been, and which has yet to be. A vivid sense of place.

Albert E. Cowdrey. The Tribes of Bela.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, August 2004

In its original appearance my words of wisdom were :

    Cowdrey’s regular F&SF contributions tend to have a New Orleans setting, but here he goes for an all-action story on a planet called Bela. In a dramatic mix of themes and setpieces from films like The Thing, Alien, and Outland, a cop comes to investigate a spate of murders. There is some resistance to his presence from some quarters, but he is welcomed with open arms by others. He has to work out who is committing the murders – or if not who, what? All hell breaks looks in the latter half of the story, with a previously unsuspected alien presence wreaking having on the small scientific colony, not helped by the fact that the aliens have a human on their side. A desperate rearguard action takes place, as the dwindling number of survivors fight to stay alive until a scheduled cargo vessel arrives. There is a (too!) neat ending when having just picked up one survivor the cop sees throught the shuttle window the scientist who sided with the aliens getting her just desserts.

    An interesting departure for Cowdrey. The technique of using diary transcripts doesn’t quite work, IMHO, as the transcripts are not what you would get in any kind of diary log, but are narrative descriptions. The finding from the court of inquiry, the transcripts of which are evidenced to, provides a sadly believable ending.

William Sanders. Sitka.
originally in : Asimovs, April/May 2004

When it appeared last year I wrote:

    An alternate history piece-ette featuring Jack London and Lenin conspire to cause explosions at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. They are observed by far future observers. I’m not entirely sure as to what Sanders was trying to get across in the story, though.

Daniel Abraham. Leviathan Wept.
Originally in : SCI FICTION

Still online at SCI FICTION, and I would urge you to read it rather than this review. Near future but very hi-tech is threatening everyday life, and a crack team of anti-terrorists find themselves up against it. But the ‘it’ is far, far more scary than merely some religious zealots.

Colin P. Davies. The Defenders.
Originally in : Asimovs Oct/Nov 2004

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    A short story in which a young girl and her grandfather row out into a lake, and the girl finds out the sacrifices made by the denizens of the planet on which they have settled, and the role of humans in their heroic, but ultimately doomed, loyal support.

Stephen Baxter. Mayflower II.
Originally a PS Publishing chapbook

I gave this a big thumbs-up last year, and a lengthy review to which it would make more sense to link, rather then repeat here. Again, the reader is fortunate that St Martin’s Griffin continue to back Dozois with the size of book that they do, enabling such lengthy stories to be brought to the wider audience they deserve.

Caitlin R. Kiernan. Riding the White Bull.
Originally in : Argosy January/February 2004

Sort of Thomas ‘Silence of the Lambs’ Harris does SF, as Kiernan provides a First Contact story which messes with the heads of those in the story, and those reading it.

Brendan Dubois. Falling Star.
Originally in : Space Stations (DAW)

A rather depressing look at a near future SF in which computer viruses have royally fucked up IT and all that goes with it, reducing society to a 19thC largely arable existence. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the moral majority have got the upper hand, as ex-astronaut Rick Monroe finds out, to his cost. An excellent story.

Robert Reed. The Dragons of Summer Gulch.
Originally in : SCI FICTION

As ever, the problem for editor Dozois is not whether to include a Reed story, but which one. I was pleased to see that the one chose was one I hadn’t got round to reading, and which was well worth it.

You’d really have to call it Alternate History, although the story eschews the silliness that most AH gets into in terms of putting different people in different places (just for the sake of it). Here the postulates the existence of dragons in our ancient history, and sets up a neat little drama involving several groups and individuals scheming to benefit from a rich haul of bones and eggs which have been found.

James L. Cambias. The Ocean of the Blind.
Originally in : Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 2004

When it appeared last year I was somewhat down on it :

    A very Analog type of story. A team of scientists is studying alien life under the seas of a distant planet. The team is led by a universally unpopular chief scientist who has arranged for a special ‘stealth suit’ to be shipped to him that will enable him to get closer to the alien life than they are allowed (they are under strict instructions not to make Contact). Interspersed with a rather juvenile background involving his team thinking of ways to dispose of him, we have an insight into the alien life, by means of their very humanlike scientific debates.

    Fortunately there is some justice, as the unpopular braggart chief scientist finds that his stealth suit does not prevent him from the aliens detecting him, and their experimenting on him to discover his exact nature.

Interestingly, having done a quick search on BestSF.net I realise I have been similarly down on the only other three stories by Cambias I have read. At least I’m consistent!

Eleanor Arnason. The Garden : a Hwarhath Science Fictional Romance.
Originally in : Synergy SF

I’ve had a dig at Arnason – before – and as she has retread the aforelinked story I’m going to retread my criticisms. The previous story had protagonists who were humans in every nuance, other than not being human and being furry. The previous story had furry sappho couplings, and here we have furry man on man lurve. Oh really, I can’t be bothered to go any further with this review, life’s way too short.

Peter F. Hamilton. Footvote.
Originally in : Postscripts #1

Last year I wrote :

    Middle class angsters in London find themselves in a quandary by the opening up of a wormhole to a distant planet. Torn, because the private individual who has created the wormhole is only allowing certain types through – is the promised land, monoculture, monoethnic, libertarian, more attractive than the world they live in now

Paul Di Filippo. Sisyphus and the Stranger.
Originally in : Asimovs October/November 2004

Last year I surmised :

    A v-e-r-y clever story, possibly too clever as many readers may see this as simply an Alternate History, featuring philosopher Albert Camus, in a world where the French invention of the N-Ray has them throwing their weight around on a global scale, with their culture steamrolling its way across the world. (The N-Ray is called thus on account of having been developed in the french town of Nancy – thus being a Nancy Ray-Gun). Camus is given the opportunity to prevent the assassination of the French President by a visitor for the future, leaving him with a philosophical conundrum which will be spotted by those familiar to Camus’s work through either Philosophy 101 or via The Cure’s ‘Killing an Arab’. I have to admit my knowledge came via that latter route, nb The Cure have featured previously in Paul Di Filippo’s work (‘Doing the Unstuck’ F&SF May 2001).

Paul Melko. Ten Sigmas.

Originally in : Talebones, Summer 2004.

A very impressive story, short and spare. Melko takes an interesting mirrorview on quantum SF, and instead of actions spawning alternate branches, here a run-in with a serial murder starts to whittle down the realities in which the run-in ends with death. The only problem for me is that if Talebones can host such good SF then I may have to seek it out.

Walter Jon Williams. Investments.
Originally in : Between Worlds (SFBC)

I almost baled out of this very long story, as the political intriguing in Williams’ Praxis milieu was dragging just a tad. In my defence I had spent the best part of eight hours on the Sunday painting the bay windows and repairing the garden gate, and was somewhat knackered. I was brought short when I read ‘The question was how to reveal to Eggfont the relationship between Lord Mince and Lady Belledrawers’. What kind of bollocks is this? sez I to the wife. She was somewhat bemused, and I backtracked to find any recent mention of Lord Mince and Lady Belledrawers. Not finding any I turned the page and realised why the sudden silly names, and then suddenly, as far as the story is concerned, the shit hits the fan. Or as Dozois more delicately puts it, there is ‘..a sudden overwhelming problem that even the most far-sighted and Machiavellian of plotters could not have been expected to see coming’.

Klaxons blaring, there is a very major systems failure on board a spaceship, and the leisurely plotting and investigation suddenly become a matter of life and death. A long story, and I would imagine a good introduction to the Praxis setting. For me, I shall have to leave the reading of those novels to the quantum Earth in which the penchant of my alter-ego is for novels and not short stories.

Conclusion.

Interestingly there is very little overlap between this volume and Hartwell/Cramer’s #10 or Haber’s 2004. The three have chosen different stories from the Big 3 magazines, different SCI FICTION stories, and different anthologies. Put the three together and you have a lot of SF! Mind you I would choose to swop out a couple of the stories in this Dozois volume and slip in, from Hartwell/Cramer : Pamela Sargent. Venus Flowers at Midnight; Jean-Claude Dunyach. Time, as it Evaporates.; Liz Williams. Loosestrife. And similarly, from Haber/Strahan : Christopher Rowe. The Voluntary State.

I needn’t tell you that if you only buy one SF Year’s Best, buy this one. All Hail the Mighty Dozois.

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