Year’s Best SF 7. David G. Hartwell. Eos Books 2002

As per my usual routine, a run through the stories in the order in which they appear. Those stories which I reviewed during 2001 will for the most part have the original review quoted.

Nancy Kress. Computer Virus.
Originally in Asimovs, April 2001.

In my review last year I wrote:

  • A widow, her fellow-scientist husband murdered by an eco-nut, has moved into the ultimate hi-tech secure house. But no sooner has all the wizardry been explained than a fleeing AI seeks refuge in her systems, holding her and her children hostage as the agents of the government close in. As her son falls ill with the strep throat, she uses her husband’s invention, allied to her son’s illness, to free them before the FBI waco the house. Suffers slightly from the rather too unsubtle way the situation is set up – the description of the house’s security system is literally only just finished being described before the said system is invaded and we get into the meat of the story. Almost a Nancy Kress meets Stephen King: except that Stephen King would have got a 700plus page novel out of the storyline!

Terry Bisson. Charlie’s Angels.
Originally in SCI FICTION

A jokey in style story about a supernatural private eye, set in New Orleans, similar to the milieu of Albert Cowdrey’s stories in Fantasy and Science Fiction.

An ancient, terribly ancient artefact has been unearthed, and proves to be very much not of this earth. To my mind the jokey style of the story simply sits on top of an otherwise straight story, and the whole doesn’t quite work.

Richard Chwedyk. The Measure of All Things.
Originally in Fantasy & Science Fiction, January 2001

In my original review I wrote (mis-spelling the author’s name!)

  • Tom Groverton runs an animal rescue centre – with a difference. Instead of abandoned or mistreated cats or dogs, his charges are intelligent bio-toy dinosaurs. Created and genetically tweaked to be small and cute, with a short life-span and limited intelligence, the dinosaurs turned out small, but they were also highly intelligent, and long-lived – certainly beyond the love or attention span of a child (the Toy Story theme). A visitor, an adult seeking his childhood stegosaur companion, visits. Chedwyk manages to keep the story from being too saccharin.

Simon Ings. Russian Vine.
Originally in SCI FICTION

When I read this in Dozois’ 19th Annual Collection, I wrote:

  • The story starts in Paris, with love in the air. But with a difference. Earth is under the yoke of the Puscha, aliens whose technique for bloodless takeover was to take from humanity the gift of reading.The story moves to rural Suffolk, with a love affair between Connie, an alien, and an earthwoman, who despite the difference between the races, and the difference in the power of the two, have evidently found love – or at least companionship.Deceptively simple, but a story which gets its hooks into you.

Michael Swanwick. Under’s Game.
Originally in SCI FICTION

Swanwick has been providing regular ultrashort stories for SCI FICTION, and as is the case with such fiction this has a simple premise, and little else. Orson Scott Card’s ‘Ender’s Game’ conceit is taken to the logical nth degree, with a most typically teenage teenager having control of galactic destinies.

Brian W. Aldiss. A Matter of Mathematics.
Originally in -read below!-

The copyright listing identifies this story as appearing in ‘Supertoys Last All Year Long’ in 2001. It actually appeared, two years previously, in the ‘Moon Shots’ anthology, albeit under a different title (Apollo Asteroid) and in a slightly different format. You can forgive the editors for not spotting that, but bizarrely, that previous story appeared in Hartwell’s ‘Years Best SF 5’. Duh?

When entering details of that story into the ‘Best SF Database’, I summarised the plot as:

  • Joyce Bagreist’s discovery of computing based upon the colour spectrum, prompted by an understanding of the true nature of the Northern Lights, leads to an understanding that our maths is a purely local construct. An asteroid impact on Moon further shows the extent to which we are but a very small part of a much much larger totality.

Edward M. Lerner. Creative Destruction.
Originally in Analog, March 2001

My original review stated:

  • The November 2000 Analog featured ‘Dangling Conversations’ in which First Contact is made through radio transmissions. Lerner picks up the story a generation later, when the death of a close friend and a post-dated cryptic message from her puts Justin Matthews on the track of what could be a major conspiracy. The xenotechnomist has to use all his programming skills to cover his information trail as he uncovers an audacious and highly illegal plot to trade technology. Perhaps for some just a bit too much detail on the I.T. side, but then again this is Analog whose readers will surely lap it up. One other minor quibble – as in the first story the main character sorts everything out and even comes up with the neat solution: the lab-coated multi-skilled scientist as hero.

David Morrell. Resurrection.
Originally in Redshift

Hmm. In his intro. to this story, Hartwell mentions that Morrell is a writer with a long track record who only turned his hand to short SF last year. Having non-SF authors write SF was evidently part of Redshift’s editor, Al Sarrantonio’s plan. Well, to my mind, this one is a pretty poor example of SF.

The plot is mawkish and improbable: middle-age father suddenly develops terminal disease and has just days to live. He is put into deep-freeze to hopefully wait for cure to be found for his disease. Young son swears to grow up and find a cure for dad’s disease. Forty-ish years later, son, now grown up, finds cure for disease! Dad is underwhelmed at being woken up after so long a time. Dad/son relationship is awkward as son is now older than dad! Son gets struck down with a stroke, and will almost certainly die, so dad pops him into deepfreeze to await medical science advancing to the point when he can be treated.

James Morrow. The Cat’s Pajamas.
Originally in F&SF, Oct/Nov 2001

When I reviewed this in its original magazine appearance I wrote:

  • A most peculiar story. Part HG Wells (Island of Dr Moreau), part Orwell (Animal Farm), part Lindsay Anderson’s film ‘O Lucky Man’ (..shiver..) After a quick, impulse wedding, Vickie and Blake happen upon Pollifex Farm, and live to regret it. Blake quickly ends up with his brain floating in a vat which is on a library trolley, in a nightmare experimental laboratory where human/animal mutations are being created. QZ-11-4, an integrity gene, is the prize which Dr Pollifex seeks. And he succeeds – but how will the local population react to the strange mutants with impeccable integrity? Will the local villagers turn to flaming torches, or elect them? A strange read, as the tale is told with humourous description throughout, but a bit like the characters, doesn’t quite fit together too well.

Michael Swanwick. The Dog Said Bow-Wow.
Originally in Asimovs Oct/Nov 2001

My original review:

  • As you will now if you have been reading my reviews for some time, humour in SF is not one of my favourite reading matters – primarily because a lot of SF humour is so rarely funny. Swanwick proves that it can be done, in a wonderfully bizarre/baroque sort of futuristic-steampunk-ishy way. Sir Blackthorpe Ravenscairn de Plus Precieux is an upright, walking, talking dog of some class, who falls in with a rum sort of cove when visiting London. A plot is hatched in which the very heart of the English monarch (a gross, maggot like Queen, symbolising, perhaps….) is threatened. Gads sir, a palpable hit!

Ursula K. Le Guin. The Building.
Originally in Redshift

Hartwell chooses a Big Name, but the Shortish Story is Off Little Consequence. A few pages sketching out an alien world and its inhabitants, and outlining the strangeness of the two races, one of which has an unfathomable urge to build.

Stephen Baxter. Gray Earth.
Originally in Asimovs, December 2001

In my original review I wrote:

  • Baxter provides a ‘side-bar’ to latest ‘Manifold 3: Origin’ novel. The conceit is that there are numerous quantum Earths (a currently ‘hot’ topic). Baxter proposes a mysterious ‘red moon’ which travels between alterante realities, under the control of an elder species. As in his novel, there is a link between our Earth and one in which a hominid race became ascendant. Mary, a homo sapiens, has been stranded on an Earth with a major axial tilt, generating months long winters and months long baking hot summers. She is stranded having returned a group of hominids to this strange earth, her transportation having been damaged beyond repair upon landing. This main character is evidently featured in the Manifold series and consequently the enjoyment of this story will be the more for those of you familiar with the novels.

Terry Dowling. The Lagan Fishers.
Originally in SCI FICTION

An interesting read. An alien infestation is growing at random on Earth, strange shrub-like plants that are architectural in design, evidently mimicking buildings and features from Earth.

Sam Cadrey finds one growing in his garden, and he determines not to hand control over to the authorities and the experts, but to play a more active role in harvesting the hedges. He finds out, however, that the ability to mimic is greater than is evidently known, and the alien artefact/plant furnishes a pretty good replica of his deceased wife. But there appears to be another alternative, which offers Sam a proper First Contact.

An excellent, intriguing story.

Thomas M. Disch. In Xanadu.
Originally in Redshift

Another dip into one of the major anthologies from 2001. Disch provides two perspectives on afterlife. In the first the male protagonist is in some kind of commercial virtual afterlife. When the downpayments for said afterlife prove problematic, he has to pay his way, but instead of washing the dishes in the kitchen, he takes on a female form and provides another kind of service.

A curious story, always staying just out of the reach of comprehension.

Lisa Goldstein. The Go Between.
Originally in Asimovs, March 2001

When I orginally reviewed this story I said:

    Majli Iris arrives on Malku, a newly appointed Ambassador, to negotiate an expansion to their presence on the planet. The Hrawu have taken to the dogs brought to the planet, and Majli ponders what this promiscuity of affections may mean. A violent attack on a Hrawu threatens to disrupt the negotiations, but in the end leads to a revelation about the nature of the alien/canine relationship.

    Another good, though not outstanding, story.

Gene Wolfe. Viewpoint.
Originally in Redshift

Another big name author with a story from the Redshift anthology.

The tone of the story is redolent of Philip K. Dick, and the plot similar to Stephen King’s ‘The Running Man’. A man is given a large sum of money, and his face is transmitted on TV. He therefore becomes the hunted, and has to hide. However, his experience as a hunter allows him a better chance of survival than most.

Throughout the story there are a few twists and turns, with characters turning the tables on each other. And finally the hunted becomes the hunter.

A quite gritty Wolfe story, although far from his best, and not readily identifiable as being one of his stories.

Gregory Benford. Anomalies.
Originally in Redshift

Yet another story from Redshift, and yet another Big Name. And again, not Earth shattering (apart from the plot, that is). Silverberg also collected this story in his annual collection, and reviewing it there I said:

    The moon is found to have shifted ahead of its orbit. The scientists of the world are bemused, until one suggests an explanation. The nature of the explanation, and its implications for the future of Earth are worrying.

Alastair Reynolds. Glacial.
Originally in Spectrum SF5

Hartwell looks beyond the US for the only time in the volume. When reading this story last year I wrote:

    Reynolds has had several stories appear in Interzone, including ‘Galactic North’, and ‘A Spy In Europa’, which have been collected by Gardner Dozois in recent annual collections, and ‘Hideway’ published last year. ‘Merlins Gun’ was published in Asimovs (May 2000) and ‘The Great Wall of Mars’ was published in Spectrum last year, and this story is a follow-up to ‘Great Wall of Mars’. I’ve enjoyed all of the aforesaid stories with few reservations, so it with a bit of disappointment that I have to report being slightly less enthusiastic about this story. Whereas the others are uniformly quite inventive, far-future stories, this, whilst retaining a far-future setting, comes across as a more workmanlike story – a distant planet with a secret to be found, and a mystery to be solved. Still good, mind you, but more of an Analog story than, say, an Asimovs story, if you get my drift.

Reynolds now has a trio of hefty novels to his credit, the first two of which I have read, and are proper ‘tour de forces’ (or ‘tours des forces’?).

James Patrick Kelly. Undone.
Originally in Asimovs, June 2001

My original review:

    Kelly volunteers that for this story he is standing on the shoulders of the giants Cordwainer Smith and Alfred Bester. The story starts far, far future, with a seriously post-modern genmod human called Mada, fleeing across multi-dimensional multi-chronological space. The ship’s AI (actually a DI – Dependent Intelligence) is a bit of a wuss, panicking because the chasing Utopians have put an identity mine five minutes downwhen of them. Desperate situations call for desperate measures, and Mada’s evasive action is quite dramatic : jumping to the even further far future (two 10th of a galactic spin).

    Mada makes her way to humanity’s homeworld, and finds it a strange, sparsely populated place. The contrast in this second half of the story to the first is sharp. The story slips close (albeit with the rider about Kelly doffing his virtual plume-ed cap to Cordwainer Smith/Alfred Bester) to a faux-Medieval cod-pastoral idyll.

    She decides to re-populate the planet (and *that* genmod transformation is a real treat) and re-start humanity on its way to the stars. In the climax Mada makes a major personal choice.

    An enjoyable story, well-written and inventive. In previous reviews I have bemoaned the Eleanor Arnason ‘Lydia Duluth’ stories for lack of invention – I would use this story to exemplify what I think good SF is about : more ideas in a couple of pages than a tranche of Lydia Duluth stories.

Discussion

A strange collection. Several stories from Redshift, none of which, to my mind are worthy of inclusion. The SCI FICTION selectees are mostly of a high standard. The Asimovs/Analog/F&SF stories could almost have been chosen at random as they don’t, to my mind, stand out from the vast majority of stories from those magazines during 2001. The inclusion of the Aldiss story in both Year’s Best SF #5 and #7 is worrying – how does something like that happen? There is to my mind, a sneaking suspicion that Hartwell has several names in mind each year, and they get a story in on the strength of their name rather than the story itself.

So, having read Silverberg’s and Dozois’ Years Best, what of the selection of the three anthologies?

Dozois has, of course, the advantage of size (!) in that he can include more longer stories, and more stories per se. (Last year Hartwell tried with his #6 to boost up his number with a number of micro stories form Nature), and his collection had to my taste, the biggest proportion of stories whose inclusion I agreed with. Silverberg’s collection was more to my taste than that of Hartwell’s, although I do object to Silverberg’s collection being put together absurdly quickly, and presumably excluding some stories published late in the year from inclusion.

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