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The Year's Best Science Fiction, Thirteenth Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois, editor
St. Martin's Press, 592 pages

Best SF
Past Feature Reviews
A Look at SF's Annual Report by A. John O'Neill

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Let's get a few things out of the way straight off. Yes, Dozois is editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine and, yes, there are as many stories here from Asimov's as all other magazines combined (if we exclude Omni Online from the ranks of Dozois' competition, which I admit is debatable). In short: big deal. Dozois calls 'em as he sees 'em, and the results speak for themselves.

Second, Dozois' definition of SF does tend to be a little more, erm, generous than most. In fact, it's downright all-embracing. In his 1995 movie summation he includes the Hugh Grant vehicle The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain, which I think we should chalk up to a certain generosity of spirit and simply move on.

Third, Dozois' ambitions for SF are obvious. You won't find many examples of the Stanley Schmidt (esteemed editor of Analog) school of SF -- where science fiction is first and foremost the literature of ideas, and The Problem and The Solution are often the characters that linger longest in your mind. Dozois' brand of SF is much more literary, and with rare exceptions (such as Geoffrey A. Landis' "A Walk in the Sun" and Charles Sheffield's "Out of Copyright"), there aren't terribly many examples of SF from the unabashed "gosh-wow" camp. Which is a shame, but the quality of writing throughout the books remains consistently high. This is the kind of book you can confidently loan to your sister-in-law, the English critic. The one who bought you the Kafka collection for Christmas, with that cool bug thing.

So where are the problems? Well, for one, take this quote from Dozois' intro to the anthology's opening work, "A Woman's Liberation" by Ursula K. Le Guin: "Ursula K. Le Guin is one of the best-known and most universally respected SF writers in the world today. Her famous novel The Left Hand of Darkness may have been the most influential SF novel of its decade, and shows every sign of becoming one of the enduring classics of the genre -- even ignoring the rest of Le Guin's work, the impact of this one novel alone on future SF and future SF writers would be incalculably strong... Here she returns to the star-spanning, Hanish-settled community known as the Ekumen, the same fictional universe that provided the background for her most famous novels." Nothing wrong there except that it also happens to be, word for word. the introduction to the opening work in last year's collection, "Forgiveness Day," by Ursula K. Le Guin. At least the closing novella by Brian Stableford, "Mortimer Gray's History of Death", gets a fresh intro, although it cribs some of the adjectives from last years', "Les Fleurs du Mal," also by Stableford.

The problem here is not Dozois' creative economy -- frankly, after thirteen years of polishing introductions for the same writers, I don't fault him for sticking with what works. And it's a small point, anyway. The problem is the gradual feeling of sameness creeping into his collections. Both this one and last year's include a second Hanish novella by Le Guin and share a healthy overlap of writers. In fact, a look at the current contents page turns up many of Dozois' regular crowd: more than half of the twenty-two writers were around last year, and there are only two new faces. As SF's designated taste-tester and talent scout, we should probably be concerned if Dozois' taste has gotten a bit stale.

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