Year’s Best SF 10. David G. Hartwell, Kathryn Cramer. Eos, 2005.

The tenth in the Hartwell/Cramer series. As is my wont I shall progress serenely through the book from p1 (actually from vii) to p496, re-using reviews of stories which I read in their original appearance, and reviewing stories new to me, with occasionally pithy comment on the inclusion of the story in this volume.

Bradley Denton. Sergeant Chip.
Originally in F&SF, September 2004.

When it appeared last year, I wrote:

    The view from the front-line – but with a difference. The correspondent is Chip, a dog in the K-9 corps, who tells how he and his master, Captain Dial, found themselves being used as pawns in a political game, deep in the jungle. Betrayed, and fired on by their own side, Chip has to drawn on his substantial resources. The story is told through his dictating his story to a refugee girl who he is helping. Denton handles the dog’s viewpoint probably as well as it can be done and the story has impact.

Gregory Benford. First Commandment.
Originally in : SCI FICTION

Each year I make a resolution to read all the stories on SCI FICTION, and fail miserably. This year I’m doing better than recent years, but for 2004 I’m going to have to rely on the stories reprinted in the annual Hartwell/Dozois/Haber volumes.

A near future Earth in which we are terra-forming parts of Earth to help feed the population, and in doing so, causing some destruction to the local flora and fauna. A Global Inventory is underway, in which the vanishing species are being collected and recorded for posterity. There are objections to the Inventory, from Christians who feel that this contradicts the commandment given by their God to Adam to name the beasts. As in Arthur C Clarke’s ‘Nine Billion Names of God’, once the task is done, humanity has to pay the price.

Not Benford’s best by a long way, and I’m not quite sure of the science behind the myths created by one of many religions through humanity’s history having such an effect on the planet. But, for the Creationists amongst us, probably a A++.

Glenn Grant. Burning Day.
Originally in ‘Island Dreams: Montreal Writers of the Fantasic’ –

The intro to the story referred to it as a ‘police procedural’ which isn’t quite accurate and could put people off – it certainly had me wary from the outset. With strong resonances with the recent I, Robot film in tone and style, an intriguing murder mystery is addressed by two cops – the POV cop, an android, and his human partner. Grant is helpful enough to explain how we have got to the point of such highly developed robotics without the much heralded Singularity getting in the way, and he plays out some dynamics with regard to how we are treating androids, robots and hybrids. The murder victims are androids, who were about to celebrate their children ‘coming of age’, and Grant has some clever ideas about how androids will develop, their relationships (including a sexual side), and the constraints they put on themselves, and have put on them.

The policing element, which would be at the forefront for a truly ‘police procedural’ story doesn’t dominate, and Grant slips in a near twist at the end. OK, the story doesn’t push back any boundaries, but, along with Doctorow’s ‘I, Robot’ homage from Infinite Matrix , nice to see a return to some robot stories after quite an absence.

Terry Bisson. Scout’s Honor.
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.

Pamela Sargent. Venus Flowers at Midnight.
Originally in : Microcosms

A very interesting post-9/11 story. The story is set about a century hence, with global warming having had a major effect on our sea levels, and a particularly damaging one on the eastern seaboard of what is currently the United States of America, where the story is set. The US of A is in very reduced cirumstances, with global domination belonging to Islam. Karim al-Anwar is one of the ruling Mukhtars, paying a diplomatic visit to the fragmented communities of North America. The locals are keen to please, eager for any help which may be sent their way as a result of his visit.

However, his gaze is on more distant horizons, as he is a radical, keen to look forward, rather to the past, and has dreams of terraforming Venus, a dream he can live out through virtual simulations which he creates.

The role reversal is an interesting one, pointedly mirroring the current situation (the global superpower ignoring Kyoto, dreaming of visiting Mars, coining money through Third World debt service payments, and studiously ignoring famine and pestilence elsewhere on the planet).

Gene Wolfe. Pulp Cover.
Originally in : Asimovs, March 2004

When it orginally appeared I wrote :

    A short piece by Wolfe, getting into the head of a young man who has designs on the daughter of his boss. However, she becomes betrothed to a man of greater pedigree, although of a much different pedigree as we have finally revealed – for the Pulp Covers to which Wolfe refers, which feature young maidens being threatened by aliens with tentacles are not the real threat : for the aliens will be much more insidious and it is the aliens with testicles of which we should be afraid

Ken Liu. The Algorithms for Love.online
Originally in : Strange Horizons

Philip K Dick paranoia in the style of Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’. Following the latter’s structure and tone, we accompany Elena as she leaves hospital, and we gradually have the present and the past revealed. Elena has had huge success creating intelligent dolls, starting with Clever LauraTM. However, we find that as she progressively developed even smarter dolls, to the extent that they could breeze through the Turing Test, she has become somewhat concerned that humans themselves may indeed be slavishly following algorimths of the type she has been coding into her creations.

Ray Vukcevich. Glinky.
Originally in : F&SF, May 2004.

When it appeared I wrote :

    The pick of the issue for me. A story difficult to describe, suffice to say that a private eye finds the world he is in is suddenly somewhat, bizarrely, different.

Janeen Webb. Red City.
Originally in ‘Synergy’

A story which started well for me, but then faded away somewhat. An academic has reluctantly brought his wife with him to visit an ancient Indian city, and as they struggle through the heat and on the dusty roads, the interplay between the pair and their driver, Singh, appears to augur well. But it all gets a bit muddy, primarily with the very loose third-person perspective, which jarringly jolts between the three in mid-paragraph at points.

The academic is visiting to explore the purported gateway to an earlier time in the city’s history, which is duly found, but the strident wife in walking through to disprove any magical qualities, finds herself transported back centuries. She is captured, taken to the harem and (ahem) digitally ‘prepared’ for the evening to come by a eunuch (sadly there is no such action and she has to … hmm, maybe best not to mention that bit). Anyhow, she finds herself as a human piece in a large-scale chess match. And as she, in her role to be Queen, is about to be toppled .. the story ends.

Jack McDevitt. Act of God.
Originally in : Microcosms

A neat shorter story, in a monologue/transcript format, in which we have related the events following a small scale Big Bang which the scientists involved used to create a microscopic Universe. Rather than just observing, the scientists intervene, and evidently trangress certain boundaries in doing so.

Robert Reed. Wealth.
Originally in : Asimovs, May 2004

When reviewing this in its magazine appearance, and following an Allen M. Steele ‘Coyote’ installment I wrote:

    In constrast, I would submit Reed as my idea of what a short SF story writer should be – someone producing a lot of stories notable for being a) generally excellent b) almost invariably new stories, rather than revisits to previous stories. In this vignette a mansion on Mars is saved from dereliction by an AI which has quite major (and human) plans for its future.

Matthew Hughes. Mastermindless.
Originally in : F&SF March 2004.

When it appeared originally I wrote ;

    The protagonist realises with a start that his facial features and his intellectual capacity are suddenly less impressive than they usually are. Fortuantely his AI is still AOK, the I remaining an I rather than being reduced to i. Worse still, he is financially in reduced circumstances. Evidently transdimensional nefariousness is being enacted.Your enjoyment of the tale will IMHO hinge on the extent to which you like the smart alecky tone of the AI and the banter between the two. Suffice to say, I struggled through the story, and coming to write this review a few days later, have no recollection of the denouement.

Several further stories featuring Mr Hapthorne have appeared subsequently in F&SF.

Jean-Claude Dunyach. Time, as it Evaporates..
originally in : The Night Orchid

Dunyach has had some of his short fiction appear in Interzone – Unravelling the Thread (Interzone July 1998 and Hartwell #4), All the Roads to Heaven (Interzone June 2000), Orchids in the Night (Interzone Oct 2000), Watch Me When I Sleep (Interzone Dec 2004). Each of these stories has been of a high quality, and this story is no exception. It has one of those rare settings which will stick in the mind : a Muslim town in a valley has been saved from a global calamity as there is in effect a pool of time which has been captured by the the mountains on all sides. However, as time gradully evaporates, the depth of this ‘lake’ is gradually reducing and they can see the surface gradually moving down towards them.

Marwan the muezzin is still about his daily call to prayers, even though the top of the minaret is now about the surface of the time lake, where death waits. His faith is tempted by his sister, who braves disgrace in falling in love with a man from outside the village, and a man who is not of the faith.

Stories like this really are a wake up call, IMHO, to a lot of SF (for example the Hapthorne/Coyote series mentioned above).

James Stoddard. The Battle of York.
Originally in : F&SF, July 2004.

When it appeared originally I wrote:

    Some 3000 years after the passing of America, the history of the early days of the country lives on, through a not altogether reliable mythology. Stoddard has a huge amount of fun bringing together a wide range of American icons and historical figures – General Custard, Waynejon (The Pilgrim), General Washington and his horse, Silver. You get the idea. I reckon that I got most of the references. Maybe I’m getting cynical, but I wonder home many Americans under 20 would get the references -and- be able to spot where the story deviates from what actually happened.?

Liz Williams. Loosestrife.
Originally in : Interzone #193, Spring 2004.

When it appeared in the last Pringle-edited Interzone, I mused:

    A very bleak story. Relatively near-future London, with the city and the society in a shambles, and with Aud, a young woman with a mild learning disability, doing her best to care for her baby. We find out that fertility is far from being taken for granted, and there is a mystery about where her baby came from. As she flees to the relatively safer shores of Ireland, we find the chilling truth about her ‘baby’. Excellent.

James Patrick Kelly. The Dark Side of Town.
Originally in : Asimovs Apr/May 2004

When it originally appared I wrote : >

    A young woman finds that her husband has been spending their hard-earned savings on virtual sex. She is frustrated and annoyed and decides to follow him into his fantasy world. Once there, she realises that his escape from reality has been a sensible decision, and chooses to stay with him

Steven Utley. Invisible Kingdoms.
Originally in : F&SF, Feb 2004

In its original appearance I stated :

    Another in the author’s Silurian Tales sequence – although rather than visiting the past/alternate Earth with a team of scientists, we find out what has happened to a devious billionaire who has used his money to bring something back through the portal. The story is a bit at odds with the others in the series, in terms of its slightly ironic tone and use of TM when mentioning various software programs. IMHO it would have been better to have set the ‘story’ in another setting, and thus not have been constrained by maintaining consistency with the setting of the Silurian Tales.

Sean McMullen. The Cascade.
Originally in : Agog! Terrific Tales – nb more likely to have been in Agog! Smashing Stories [url]

A young university student is watching the first Mars landing on TV in a bar when he picks up/is picked up by a young woman. It transpires that she has come quite close connections to the space program, but also very strong views on where that program should be going (manned space flight). She, it transpires, is on the run from The Powers That Be, but is resourceful enough to implement, as the last living member of her team, their plan to ensure that the first Mars Landing is not just a single short visit.

An entertaining piece of what nowadays is probably called ‘science thriller’.

Charles Coleman Finlay. Pervert.
Originally in : F&SF, March 2004.

When it appeared last year I wrote:

    A bizarre piece of fiction, whose opening line sets up the story nicely : “There are two kinds of people in the world, homosexuals and hydrosexuals. Finlay posits a world where same sex love is one norm, and those in the small minority who find the opposite sex attractive, quench their urgings in spawning pools, where the young men wade into pools into which the females have lain eggs, to perform their onanistic part of the ritual. The young protagonist does not fit either camp.

Steve Tomasula. The Risk-Taking Gene as Expressed by Some Asian Subjects.
Originally in : The Denver Quarterly.

A Sturgeon Award Finalist, but one which I struggled through and simply didn’t ‘get’. Stylishly written, but I just couldn’t get a hook into either the plot or the characterisation. One to return to at a later date.

Neal Asher. Strood.
Originally in : Asimovs, December 2004.

When it first appeared I wrote :

    A young human with a terminal illness is disappointed to find the technically far superior alien race now on Earth have no answer to his cancer. However, another alien race, who initially appear to be offering to hasten his demise have in fact a much more positive role to play in his future.

James L. Cambias. The Eckener Alternative.
Originally in : All Star Adventure Stories

A young student at a Temporal College is fixated on Zeppelins, and breaks the rules to make several incursions into the past to try to ensure their longer term use in aviation. Fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t gone anywhere that hasn’t been explored in greater depth in many other places. Was this the best from All Star Adventure Stories?

Brenda Cooper. Savant Songs.
Originally in : Asimovs Dec 2004

When it first appeared I wrote:

    A scientist with an autistic spectrum disorder is probing deeply into quantum mbrane theory, and ends up racing her AI, PI, to make contact with another self in another quantum reality. When PI beats her to it, the scientist is shattered.

Discussion

The size of the volume precludes making a truly representative sample of the year which includes longer length short SF, but in fitting in a couple of dozen stories from a wide range of sources (magazine, online, anthologies), as well as finding some French, Canadian and Australian stories, Years Best SF 10 offers a strong collection. For me some of the choices from the magazines weren’t ones that I would have chosen, but you pays your money and you makes your choices.

Mind you, I’ve paid my money and Amazon have just (literally!) delivered Dozois #22 (you would think St Martins Press would send me a review copy, wouldn’t you) and that’s my holiday reading (7 days and counting) sorted.

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