Year’s Best SF 4. David G. Hartwell. Harper Prism, 1999

Not a true review, as the story summaries were written a couple of years ago before I got in to ‘proper’ reviews.

Alexander Jablokov. Market Report.
Originally in Asimovs.

Near future US in which the net has encouraged like minds to build real communities together. A son visits his parents in the midWest and begins to exorcise some father/son issues whilst his mother hunts game.

Gregory Benford. A Dance to Strange Musics.
Originally in SF Age.

Contact with Shiva, a planet with a piezoelectric form of like, with flat tile-like creatures. Initial reaction to the humans is dramatic (electric, in fact), but some of the travellers choose to become incorporated into the community. Hard SF with a nod to Hal Clement, but with a human dimension.

Norman Spinrad. The Year of the Mouse.
Originally in Asimovs.

The Chinese attempt to resist the irresistable encroachment of Disneyesque US society.

Mary Soon Lee. The Day Before They Came.
Originally in Interzone.

A mother and her son prepare for his birthday. The domestic excitement overtakes the rather more important news.

Rob Chilson. This Side of Independence.
Originally in Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Earth has reached the end of its useful life, and it is being aggressively mined for its last resources. However, some still choose to live on the planet, resisting the blandishments of those who cannot see the attraction of Earth.

Stephen Baxter. The Twelfth Album.
Originally in Interzone.

Alternate Worlds come into contact, with the Beatles and the Titanic being two examples of multiverse branching. A good knowledge of the Beatles will help enjoyment of the story.

Ted Chiang. Story of Your Life.
Originally in Starlight 2.

First Contact – describes (at times in a little too much detail and dips into Diagram Supplied territory) the struggle to communicate at even a basic level with extra-terrestrials. Once the fundamental principle behind the alien communication is resolved, progress is slightly better. Interwoven with an extremely well written mother-daughter story. The nature of the communication process necessary to communicate with the aliens, in which the whole is seen before any sequential processing can be undertaken, is used in the mother/daughter narrative, with the mother having knowledge of her daughter’s entire life and death throughout. Chiang doesn’t write much, but what he does write is well worth reading, and re-reading.

Robert Reed. Whiptail.
Originally in Asimovs.

This could easily be mistaken for an Ursula K Le Guin Hainish story (this meant as a compliment). In a single sex society (female) genmod has lead to the equivalent of various ‘breeds’ of women. A Dunlin visits the family of her Chrome.

Mary Rosenblum. The Eye of God.
Originally in Asimovs.

The first contact with a humanlike race, the Rethe, leaves humankind at a grave disadvantage. But the Rethe themeselves have an almost fatal flaw. Etienne, a human empath, is called upon to rescue a human from a cliff face. The location of the cliff face, and ensuing drama, resolves a number of issues. The alienness of the aliens is particularly well handled.

Michael F. FLynn. Rules of Engagement.
Originally in Analog.

Three soldiers and a war reporter reminisce. One recalls an encounter in which he was able, in virtual safety, use a powered armor suit to confront bandits in the mountains.

Michael Swanwick. Radiant Doors.
Originally in Asimovs.

A repressive regime in the future is sending refugees back in time through radiant doors. Struggling to face the flood of traumatised refugees, a glimmer of hope suggests that maybe the future can be prevented.

Jean-Claude Dunyach. Unraveling the Thread.
Originally in Interzone.

Short, deceptively sensitive story, in which the telling of the tale which lies in the weaving of a centuries old carpet is beautifully told.

Dominic Green. That Thing Over There.
Originally in Interzone.

Hartwell classifies this as Alternate History, which I cannot fathom. High in the mountains of China/Tibet evidence of a millenia old conflict comes to light. A superior form of being were wiped out, but their DNA will live on.

Mark S. Geston. The Allies.
Originally in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Humankind is under threat as aliens restore Earth to nature. A number of massive spaceships flee the Earth. One eventually returns to find many of the species subtly changed, but the aliens routed by man’s best friend.

Ron Goulart. My Pal Clunky.
Originally in Analog.

Some years after his heyday of a popular TV show with his robot dog, Ridge Gilby has a chance to return to fame and fortune. But whilst his path has been a downward one, the robot dog, Clunky, has had a much better time of it.

David Brin. Life in the Extreme.
Originally in Popular Science.

Bit of a mish mash. Starts off promisingly with derring-do hobbyist being shot into space, then rather trails off into an Origin of Uplift

Michael Skeet. Near Enough to Home.
Originally in Arrowdreams.

Alternate History based on the American Civil War, and the relationship with Canada. Where the reality and the alternate divide is a mystery to me, as is how this story can in any way be ‘clearly’ SF as Hartwell claims are all the stories in the book.

David Langford. A Game of Consequences.
Originally in Starlight 2.

As children learn, play with fire and you get burnt. On a hot, hot summer day two physicists learn that lesson as it gets even hotter.

Nancy Kress. State of Nature.
Originally in Bending the Landscape: Science Fiction.

A lesbian relationship which could not survive the death of a child is followed by one which attempts to survive in the protected environment of a high security, high income tower block many miles from the urban problems. The moral dilemmas are nicely framed.

Bruce Sterling. Maneki Neko.
Originally in Fantasy & Science Fiction.

Pocket communicators linked to the web facilitate a more interconnected society in Japan. An American who tries to buck the system finds herself in great difficulties.


Putting this page together a couple of years after reading the book in question, and reflecting on the stories, the conclusion – a pretty damn fine year for short SF, and a pretty damn fine collection!

2 thoughts on “Year’s Best SF 4. David G. Hartwell. Harper Prism, 1999

  1. Hi Mark,

    I was the co-editor of the Arrowdreams anthology where Michael Skeet’s “Near Enough to Home” was first published. I thought the historical alteration in the story was quite clear. The Louisiana Purchase never happens, and Britain (and thus Canada) get all that territory, extending Canada all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico west of the Mississippi. This block the US westward expansion, leads to Canadian “independence” much earlier and triggers the US Civil War a decade earlier. That’s why the RCMP officer hero of the story was a “Canadian from St. Louis” in the story.


  2. Mark

    Thanks for taking the time to clarify. I guess the fact that The Louisiana Purchase is a historical event that I have no knowledge about has a bearing on my not appreciating the alteration! We didn’t cover American history in the history lessons in England in the 1970s – it was very Anglo/Eurocentric!

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