The Year’s Best Science Fiction. 31st Annual Collection. (ed Gardner Dozois, St. Martin’s Press, 2014).

dozoisThe juggernaut that is Dozois’ Years Best hits the #31 mark, with another chunky volume. Here are the contents, with the summaries of those stories I’ve read included. : book | : book

Ian R. MacLeod. The Discovered Country.
Originally in : Asimovs’s Science Fiction, September 2013.

When I read it last year I wrote :

    MacLeod brings a fresh take on the trope of humans uploading to a virtual space upon death. He posits a world where only the super-rich can afford to do this, and they take their money with them, with their virtual space economically more powerful than the world they have left behind.

    Into this setting comes Northover, a man who finds himself there slightly unexpectedly. He was not a supporter of uploading, but finds himself with the chance to roll back the years and renew an old acquaintance. It’s well told, information unfolding as the story progresses, with the final pages upping the ante, with believable characters and motivations, and more.

Lavie Tidhar. The Book Seller.
Originally in : Interzone #244

Last year I wrote :

    Another installment in Tidhar’s excellent ‘Central Station’ story sequence. Truth be told I read it a couple of months ago and enjoyed it, but somehow didn’t review it, and was faced with the option of rereading it in order to provide more than just a sentence, or providing just a sentence. So, the story features Carmel, the strigoi, and Achimwene, a bookseller, as links between characters from previous stories are drawn together

Nancy Kress. Pathways.
Originally in : Twelve Tomorrows

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    A more substantial story than others in the anthology so far, and the better for it. And it’s vintage Nancy Kress, with a very human/e story built on the technological development of using deep-brain stimulation with special algae to treat Fatal Familial Insomnia.

    There’s a bit of info-dumping in the story, and the young girl undertaking the treatment gets a helpful information sheet, which is shared with the reader.

    But that minor quibble aside, Kress does what she does best – creating some believable, flawed characters, and puts them in a believable, flawed setting (libertarian government and medical research funding), families, relatives, lack of knowledge, and lots more, as we follow a young woman from a small rural community having to make sense of a lot of things on her journey to deal with with her FFA. So, of the stories so far, this would be my first pick for a story to be in a Year’s Best.

Sunny Moraine. A Heap of Broken Images.
Originally in : We See a Different Frontier – a Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology

Jay Lake. Rock of Ages.
Originally in : METAropolis : Green Space.

Geoff Ryman. Rosary and Goldenstar
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction September/October 2013

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    Ryman provides a nice story based around a meeting between Elizabethan amateur astrologist Thomas Digges, friends of astronomy Tycho Brahe, including Messrs Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and one young playwright William Shakespeare, who is sufficiently influenced by the meeting to change the setting of one of his plays.

Karl Bunker. Gray Wings.
Originally in : Asimovs Science Fiction, April/May 2013

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    Bunker looks at the future gap between the haves and the have-nots, through one of the former, who is flying (unaided!) in a trans-continental race. When she crashes to earth and has to spend a night for the nano-repairs to take place, she gets a much more close-up view of the lives of people eking out a life at a subsistence level. No easy answers, just questions.

Carrie Vaughn. The Best We Can.
Originally in : and online here.

When it appeared last year I wrote :

    A neat update on Rendezvous With Rama, looking at just what might happen, or not happen, when evidence of an alien artefact drifting into our solar system is found. One of the team who spotted the vessel reflects on the time passed since that momentous event, and the politics and science that gets in the way of simply fast-tracking one of our spacecraft to rendezvous.

Paul J. McAuley. Transitional Forms.
Originally in : Twelve Tomorrows

Last year I noted :

    One of the slight drawbacks of the Twelve Tomorrow’s anthology is that with the focus being on near-future extrapolations of technology developments, and stories being mostly on the shorter side, it can be a case of set up the scenario – explore some extrapolations – exit.

    Here McAuley looks at biotech and ‘a-life’ – artificially created organisms. Here the plants created to mine minerals, drawing up trace metals into their roots, which are then harvested, have mutated, and the protagonist is part of a team protecting an area that has been zoned off, as a clean-up operation is in place.

    He explores some of the issues with a scientist he finds in the territory, who he subsequently bumps into later – but not by chance. It’s nicely down in its ten pages, but you know that McAuley could do a whole lot more with a bit more space.

Robert Reed. Precious Mental.
Originally in : Asimovs’ Science Fiction, June 2013.

Last year I wrote :

    Wowza, thinks I, virtually an entire half of the issue devoted to a Great Ship story. However, truth be told, I was running out of steam towards the end, as Reed does takes the reader, and the characters, a long way (and back), For devotees of the Great Ship there will be references and nuances that others won’t pick up, and there’s a tantalising peek being the backdrop curtains of the Great Ship stores (if such a thing as curtains can exist on such a scale of time and space) but for others the story does finish with perhap a frustrating lack of a big ending that a lengthy story might be expected to provide

Allen M. Steele. Martian Blood.
Originally in : Old Mars

Greg Egan. Zero for Conduct.
Originally in : Twelve Tomorrows

Last year I wrote :

    Being the inventor of room-temperature superconductivity would be a route to instant fame and riches. Unless you’re a young woman, in college, in Iran. Then things are not quite so simple. Fortunately, not only is Latifa gifted academically, she has the nous to overcome several obstacles to make the most of her invention…

    Nice to have a story from Egan, on good form, although (whisper)it could have been a little shorter, without losing anything…

Aliette de Bodard. The Waiting Stars.
Originally in : The Other Half of the Sky

Alastair Reynolds. A Map of Mercury.
Originally in : Pandemonium : The Lowest Heaven

Nancy Kress. One.
Originally in : and online here

Martin L. Shoemaker. Murder on the Aldrin Express.
Originally in : Analog Science Fiction and Fact September 2013

Jake Kerr. Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince.
Originally in : Lightspeed, March 2013 and online here

Ken Liu. The Plague.
Originally in : Nature, May 16 2013.

Sandra McDonald. Fleet.
Originally in : We See a Different Frontier – a Postcolonial Speculative Fiction Anthology

Michael Swanwick. The She-Wolf’s Hidden Grin.
Originally in : Shadows of the New Sun : Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe

Alexander Jablokov. Bad Day on Boscobel.
Originally in : The Other Half of the Sky.

Val Nolan. The Irish Astronaut.
Originally in : Electric Velocipede 26

Neal Asher. The Other Gun.
Originally in : Asimovs April/May 2013

    Another fast-paced story in a sequence that has previously graced Asimovs (Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck, and The Gabble). Very fast-paced, but with plenty of invention in there, as the techno (at times almost technoporn) is described in loving detail, pretty much the only thing slowing the story down.

    The Other Gun is a weapon hidden in the ‘body’ of the main character, who has lost a lot of his body, and some of his memory, and some of his humanity, the threat of the use of which part of the story thread hinges on. He’s in the employ of a bone-chilling entity, and has a Mesozoic raptor as a sidekick (see cover pic), and is chasing down some lost tech.

    It’s like reading Alastair Reynolds on speed (either the reader on speed, or Alastair Reynolds on speed). There are a couple of instances of one of my pet hates – no, not the use of the word atop, but references to 20th/21st century things – ‘stacked up like aluminium suitcases’ comes to mind : why would someone hundreds or thousands of years hence refer to these?

    The Other Gun is eventually used (bit of an anti-climax really), and as the protagonist is missing quite a bit of his mind, and there are hints that other participants know more about what is happening than he does, it’s difficult to get engaged as you are on a hi-speed rollercoaster, and you know that there will be ups and downs, twists and turns, but you know you will end up safely at your destination.

Lavie Tidhar. Only Human.
Originally in : Pandemonium : The Lowest Heaven

Ian R. MacLeod. Entangled.
Originally in : Asimovs December 2013

Last year I wrote :

    A clever, layered story that mixes technology and sociology and economics and human behaviour.

    Earth has faced climactic and economic change, and is coming out of a breakdown that has seen the gated communities of the wealthy replaced by communes, as most of humanity is now ‘entangled’ – linked, post viral outbreak, into an almost gestalt unity. To get the story going of course requires an outsider, and that is Martha Chauhan, previously Madhur, who fled the sub-continent with her father in her childhood.

    The story alternates between her in third- and first-person, as she herself has issues of identity, having survived a traumatic incident, the nature of which is only chillingly revealed at the end. It’s set in a snow-covered urban setting, with some half-built, empty buildings, and deserted, ransacked gated communities giving a strong sense of setting (‘the other houses with their blackened Halloween eyes stare back at her’). As it progresses, we find out more about Martha, and just what is going on.

    It’s a story that should be studied by tyro SF writers as an example of what a really good SF story should do. Evidently picked for Strahan’s take on the best of 2013, and rightly so.

Stephen Baxter. Earth I.
Originally in : Universes

Sean McMullen. Technarion.
Originally in : Interzone 248.

Last year I wrote :

    A story that starts out reading like a steampunk story, albeit with the young protagonist a man who has seen the future as being electric rather than steam. McMullen captures the tone nicely, the story reading like a Conan Doyle story. But then the story takes an interesting twist, and an alarming one, as the young engineer finds out just what lengths his employer will go to keep secret their work, and the source of the communications they are receiving becomes known.

    This sudden shift halfway through the story is unsettling – there’s actually no need for the employer to be found out to be someone quite willing to murder wantonly, and the source of the messages, and the nature of the love interest, are more than enough to up the narrative ante. And the story ends up with (this is intimated from the beginning) the protagonist giving the reader a catch-up of the 75 years since the events in the story took place, offering a very sobering message for a society obsessed with technology….

Melissa Scott. Finders.
Originally in : The Other Half of the Sky

Ian McDonald. The Queen of Night’s Aria.
Originally in : Old Mars.

Brendan DuBois. Hard Stars.
Originally in : The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November/December 2013

Last year I wrote :

    Science thriller from DuBois, in which the USA is reaping what it has sown. The evils of drone warfare has been visited upon the States, with the country paralysed by the next generation drones with AI that is drawing on a vast array of data sources to find, and neutralise, its targets.

    Those targets are military and political (there will be collateral damage of course) and this dark, taut thriller sees a small group of soldiers protecting a very important person, and the steps that they have to outwit the death from above, and the sacrifices they have to make.

James Patrick Kelly. The Promise of Space.
Originally in : Clarkesworld, September 2013

Damien Broderick. Quicken.
Originally in : Beyond the Doors of Death.

Content lists and reviews of stories from over three decades of Dozois’ anthologies here.

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