Year’s Best SF 8. David G. Hartwell. Eos Books 2003


As per my usual routine, a run through the stories in the order in which they appear. Those stories which I reviewed during 2002 in their original appearance will for the most part have the original review quoted.

Bruce Sterling. In Paradise.
Originally in : F&SF, September 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    An all-too-rare story from Sterling, and one which highlights just what we have been missing. A touch of near-future technology, but it is the circumventing of the darker side of that technology, in its capacity to monitor and inform, upon which the story hinges. A love story, would you believe, in which East meets West and love is seen to be possible at first sight. And an evocative one at that. Top quality.

Michael Swanwick. Slow Life.
Originally in : Analog, December 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    Standard Analog fayre from an author whom you wouldn’t immediately associate with Analog. Lizzie O’Brien is part of an expedition on Titan, hamstrung slightly by media fascination and online chats with members of the public back home. Whilst a turbot-cam (and, yes, that is right – a turbot-cam as opposed to a turbo-cam) navigates a methane-ammonia sea, Lizzie takes to the skies in a balloon. And as you might expect, a problem occurs: her harness jams, threating to float her off to a lengthy airborne death. A dream which she had prior to the harness jamming returns, in greater detail. Is she communicating with some form of native intelligence, or is she cracking up under the strain of her imminent demise?

    Whilst Lizzie feels herself as being increasingly alone, the intelligence she is communicating with is finding the shock of being not alone as threatening its existence. Lizzie plunges into the sea, to be rescued by turbot-cam.

Eleanor Arnason. Knapsack Poems.
Originally in : Asimovs, May 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    A tale of the Goxhat, an interesting multi-bodied entity with a further multiplicity of limbs and facial features. A wandering poet of this race stumbles upon the scene of a massacre in the hills, one member rescuing a singleton infant. Upon taking refuge in the castle of a local lord, a poem is required in his honour, the absence of which will lead to severe penalty. Despite the attempts of a magician in the lord’s employ to sabotage the poem writing by inducing sexual activity, a suitably honorific poem is written and delivered, and the Goxhat poet escapes in the dead of the night.

    An intriguing story, although I have to admit not finding the characters quite as enthralling as the author evidently does in her introduction to the story!

    One joy for me was finding another Arnarson inappropriate reference (see a previous review for mention of duct tape, silver party ballooons and decaff coffee etc.). In this alien environment, when the multiple bodied poet is bathing in a rock pool, a servant of the lord provides ‘soap and towels’ as if they were working in a contemporary health spa!

Geoffrey A. Landis. At Dourado.
Originally in : Asimovs, Oct/Nov 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    Hard SF at its best – science and humanity blended together expertly. A station servicing ships toing and froing through wormholes is the setting. The main character, Cheena is a barmaid, and her lover is a sailor, whose ship is lost. The tale has been told countless times since man first took to the seas, but Landis gives it emotional resonance as the tricks played by the time distortions mean that even though her lover has died/will die, he returns to the bar for what is to be his final stopover. And she must not, can not, let him know his fate, in order to prevent any causal paradoxes.

Robert Reed. Coelacanths.
Originally in : F&SF, March 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    In the Dec 2001 issue of F&SF, Reed’s ‘Raven Dream’ brought us a strange story told as if through a distorting lens. This story is similarly unsettling, with a variety of perspectives on what are somehow linked events. A strutting far future man, at once proudly erect and aware of humanity’s greatness, yet at the same time aware that the future will bring by constrast even higher achievement. A microscopic being, young children, and small humans living to a different time cycle (with echoes of the setting of ‘Raven Dream’).

    A range of far and post-humanities are described in loving detail, although the big picture remains difficult to grasp!

Ken Wharton. Flight Correction.
Originally in : Analog, March 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    Obviously there are lots of Analog readers who lap this kind of stuff up. A discredited scientist spots an evident conundrum with regard to the space elevator on the Galapagos Islands. Can he spot the technical issue and solve the problem. You betcha.

    Actually, I’m being a tad unfair as the scientist’s relationship with his wife, the tensions caused by his infidelity, and his having to make up his mind over his future, are all actually well-handled, which is more than is often the case with stories of this ilk.

Robert Sheckley. Shoes.
Originally in : F&SF, February 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    A neat, whimsical piece, in which shoes with an AI try to mould themselves to their new owner. Or, rather, to mould their new owner to the shoes

Charles Sheffield. The Diamond Drill.
Originally in : Analog

In my original review I wrote:

    A short short story. Sheffield probably thought up the story whilst flossing his teeth one morning. Not that the story relates to dentists drill (if that is the leap my mind has just made), but to the scientific test to determine whether something coming through customs is in fact a diamond.

Ursula K. Le Guin. The Seasons of the Ansarac.
Originally in : The Infinite Matrix

In its reprint in F&SF, February 2003, I wrote:

    Previously F&SF published ‘The Social Dreaming of the Frin’, which was a ‘sociological extrapolation’, although more in essay form than story form. This is another extract from her forthcoming collection, and has a bit more of a story to it, although it remains a sketch in essence.

Richard Chwedyk. A Few Kinds Words for A E Van Vogt.
Originally in : Tales of the Unanticipated

A piece of verse.

Charles Stross. Halo.
Originally in : Asimovs, June 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    Now this is what I call Science Fiction. Halo continues the story of hi-tech semi-anarchistic Manfred Macx, although through the viewpoint of his daughter, whose conception was one of the more remarkable episodes in recent short SF. (hem hem).

    Humanity is now in space, joining the lobsters (you’ll just have to read the back stories to catch up, dude), out as far as Jupiter, nearer to the teasing undecipherable message from outside the solar system which has been an underpinning if submerged background to the stories to date. Amber, a generation beyond Mafred, is even more wired-up to the processing power which is available. She is out in space thanks to a plan whose cunning was worth of her father (in fact it came via her father and his French partner). Liberating from her domineering mother, or so she thinks, Amber’s freedom is threatened by her mum taking the drastic step of becoming a muslim. Is the young woman about to fall under the jurisprudence of muslim law?

    Naturally she finds a way out of a sticky situation, and (rather too quickly for my liking) we have an excellent denouement which, and this is difficult to believe if you have read the previous stories, takes the story forward by a quantum leap. More!

Terry Bisson. I Saw the Light.
Originally in : SCI FICTION, October 2002

In my original review I said:

    Some decades hence, humanity has given up on the space program. Until, that is, there is a sign of life on the moon. A beacon beckons, and a crew is hastily put together. The black pyramidical beacon appears to offer us hope, but in the end, we are seen to be little better than domesticated animals, like the pet pooch at the beginning of the story.

A. M. Dellamonica. A Slow Day at the Gallery.
Originally in : Asimovs, Oct/Nov 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    A human visits a xeno-museum, with a mission to damage/defile one of the exhibits in order to influence politicking over artwork from Earth on ‘loan’ to the aliens. Things go badly wrong.

Paul Di Filippo. Ailoura.
Originally in : Once Upon a Galaxy

The ‘Once Upon a Galaxy’ anthology theme was that of fairy tales. Here Di Filippo updates the story of ‘Puss in Boots’, which features wicked stepmothers and stepbrothers, patricide etc., as with all good fairy tales, but with an SFnal background. Fine as far as it goes, but not outstanding.

J. R. Dunn. The Names of All the Spirits.
Originally in : SCI FICTION, July 2002

The dark loneliness of space, and the sacrifices men have to make, are handled well in a story in which an investigator visits a mining operation, to find out whether one of the miners has been in contact with the burgeoning threat of escaped AIs that are congregating in our solar system. Particularly striking is the concept of the miners transferring themselves between mining operations by being fired through space in their spacesuits, going into a self-induced coma to eke out oxygen and supplies during the low-cost, high-risk passage. And when a men finds himself in those situations, he is truly alone.

Carol Emshwiller. Grandma.
Originally in : F&SF, March 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    In a recent On Spec we saw Superman as being adopted by a Canadian Jewish family. Here the super/wonder woman is in her dotage, her superhero days long gone.

Neal Asher. Snow in the Desert.
Originally in : Spectrum SF 8

In my original review I wrote:

    A mixture of High Plains Drifter and Dune, in which an albino gunman travels the desert, a price on his head. Actually, the price is on his cojones, as his DNA is attractive to others – the reason: his longevity. His gun-totin’ skills have kept him one step ahead of the bounty hunters to date, until he faces some very professional characters. He is saved (in more ways than one) by a mysterious female, who offers him a chance to escape his planet. A well told story, although with a bit of a feel of being in a graphic novel. The only quibble for me being the rather Hollywood type denouement, with the female gunslinger having Terminator II-type capabilities, which rather balances the odds in their favour!

Greg Egan. Singleton.
Originally in : Interzone, February 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    I have to admit disappointment with this story. I approached it with eager anticipation – a lengthy story (which Interzone provide only too rarely) and one from Greg Egan at that! Egan looks at the quantum nature of life from a slightly different perspective – that of choices made, and actions taken or not taken. A young Australian decides to defend a stranger being beaten up, and in doing so sets his life off onto a different path to that which he was taking, due to now being confident enough to approach an attractive colleague.

    The story, which is episodic, jumps a decade. Returning from a project which is attempting to cleanse radioactive contaminated desert in Iraq to find his wife is pregnant. The bad news: she miscarries. During this segment the issue of Many Worlds is raised, and an one too subtle dig in the ribs of cheesy Alternate History stories is made.

    Eight years on: some technicals tuff about quantum effects playing a role in consciousness is provided, as the protagonist begins his work on the Qusp – a quantum singleton processor. This gets a little Schrodinger Cat-ty for me – a debate about whether a computer can run in parallel different programs without knowing about it blah blah. Alongside this the couple consider raising an AI child.

    Nine years on: the QUSP research has moved on, to encompass white mice (meeses), anbd the decision is made.

    Two years on: the child is ‘delivered’. Somewhat bizarrely the AI is placed in a babies body, as opposed to being a purely software construct.

    Ten years on: the child is now 10 and public opposition to such children is mounting.

    Nine years on: the daughter is now a young woman but has run away from home. In searching for her the parents are tracking fetishists who have a ‘thing’ about having sex with such AI/prosthetic ‘humans’ (they appear to all intents and purposes human, so I’m not sure what the attraction would be!) The abscondee is found and returned to the family bosom.

    A curious story IMHO – it felt almost like work done towards a novel, with the structure and key passages done. The several episodes didn’t really work for me, and an author as good as Egan could have found some mechanism for handling the concepts in something other than strictly chronological.

Robert Onopa. Geropods.
Originally in : F&SF, July 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    A group of elderly residents of a nursing home pool their resources, and their constitutional rights, to constitute a ‘geropod’ – a multi-body collective. Between them they manage to chase some similarly aged and inclined senior babes, and seek revenge on a son-in-law, in an enjoyable romp.

Jack Williamson. Afterlife.
Originally in : F&SF, February 2002

In my original review I wrote:

    I was a bit unmoved by Williamson’s Hugo-winning “The Ultimate Earth”, but enjoyed this shorter story hugely. Whilst “The Ultimate Earth” was a sprawling story, this is much more compact, focused and human. A small community on a remote star find their way of life, a simple life based on faith, is disrupted by a visitor from another planet. His spaceship crash lands and his ruined body is laid to rest in a room in the village. When, in the next morning, his body has repaired itself, the message he has to give the community shatters it. Returning some time later as a saviour, his godhead persuased village members to shun their back on their ways and to give their immortal souls to him.

    One he is unmasked as a criminal, the pastor’s son has a choice to make, which sees him leaving his family and life far behind him in terms of space and time – a form of afterlife.

    An excellent story.

Gene Wolfe. Shields of Mars.
Originally in : Mars Probes

Wolfe paints a vivid picture at the conclusion of the story, a human and an alien, both long resident on Mars, playing a swordfighting game, as they did as children. The backstory is that of a now-deserted tourist town, an oxygen manufacturing plant that has been wound down but is under terrorist threat. But as for plot etc., nyah.

Nancy Kress. Patent Infringement.
Originally in : Asimovs, May 2002

    A few pages of exchange of memo and lawyer letters (saves having to spend time writing narrative and dialogue etc!) in which the unwilling contributor of DNA to a superflu virus treatment makes a big mistake in attempting to gain royalties

Michael Moorcock. Last Sorceress of the Silent Citadel.
Originally in : Mars Probes

Moorcock has great fun in revisting planetary romances of the Leigh Brackett (to whom the story is dedicated) and ERB type, and of course, Moorcock’s own earlier works in that vein. Indeed the main character is at one point anagrammatically named Tarzan, and Moorcock similarly has anagrammatical fun with British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

Captain John MacShard, a hero amongst heroes, has to go deep within himself to rescue the maiden and defeat the Sorceress of Mars.

Conclusion

I had read the majority of the stories included this year, and had I read Mars Probes would have been close to 100%. As you can see from the tone of the reviews, I concur in the majority of cases with Hartwell’s choices.

Big advantages over the Silverberg/Haber collection are that this volume has twice as many stories, and has editorial introductions to the stories. (Mind you they mis-spell the title of Arthur C Clarke’s story ‘The Sentinel’ and erroneously state that several of Neal Asher’s stories have appeared in Spectrum SF).

Another minor quibble is that the two Mars Probes stories are so close together – separating them further would have helped.

So, IMHO, if your pocket (either budget-wise or physical-size) doesn’t stretch to the forthcoming Dozois anthology, then I would put this collection some way ahead of the Silverberg collection.

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