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Year's Best SF 5
edited by David G. Hartwell
Avon EOS Books, 400 pages

Year's Best SF 5
David G. Hartwell
David G. Hartwell is an editor at Tor Books, as well as being a highly-respected author in his own right. He wrote Age of Wonders (1984), and has been editor/anthologizer of such works as The Dark Descent, Masterpieces of Fantasy and Enchantment, Northern Stars (with Glenn Grant), and the relatively new annual volume, Year's Best SF.

David Hartwell Website
ISFDB Bibliography
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Golden Age of Best SF Collections: A Chronicle
SF Site Review: Northern Suns
SF Site Review: Northern Stars
SF Site Review: Year's Best SF 3
SF Site Review: The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Greg L. Johnson

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In terms of sheer numbers, it's hard not to believe that the science fiction short story is alive and well. Year's Best SF 5 packs twenty-seven stories and one poem into its 400 pages, and this is the smaller of the two annual "year's best" collections. There's not enough room in a review this size to discuss each individual story, so the attempt instead will be to focus on the highlights, note a couple of lowlights, and try to discern any trends represented by the stories in this year's anthology.

As is becoming a hallmark of Hartwell's Year's Best SF anthology, several of the stand-out stories are from young and relatively unknown writers. Australian Chris Lawson's "Written in Blood" is a moving tale of a young Islamic geneticist's struggle to live up to her father's faith. "100 Candles" by Curt Wohleber is equally effective in its portrayal of a woman whose children are changing beyond her comprehension. And Hiroe Suga's "Freckled Figure" takes us inside the life of a Japanese comic arts fan. The characters in all three of these stories confront their own frailties and must decide the best way to be true to themselves. Each is a good example of how a writer can create a memorable character and a world for her to live in, all in the space of a few words.

Not everyone succeeds at this. In both Sarah Zettel's "Kinds of Strangers" and Mary Soon Lee's "Lifework," characters undergo sudden emotional changes in the middle of the story. And, while the change of personality adds to the dramatic tension of the plot, we don't understand the characters well enough to see it as anything but arbitrary.

If there is one theme that does emerge from a reading of these stories it is one of evolutionary change for human beings and the possibility of immortality. Michael Swanwick's elegant "Ancient Engines" focuses on a manufactured person's desire to live forever. "Border Guards" by Greg Egan features a lonely woman who has simply changed the nature of human existence. Egan also introduces us to a new sport, quantum soccer. In Geoff Ryman's "Everywhere," a young boy discovers a new form of afterlife when his grandfather dies. Tom Purdom's "Fossil Games" relates political and philosophical battles among a group of space-exploring humans who feel that evolution has passed them by.

There are also several classically good science fiction adventure tales and at least two stories that defy categorization. Robert Sheckley's "Visions of the Green Moon" is a story of a Broadway songsmith's search for inspiration, while Gene Wolfe's "Has Anybody Seen Junie Moon" can only be described as a sort of hard science fiction tall tale. Told from the viewpoint of a circus strongman, Wolfe's tour de force describes anti-matter in a down-home dialect and features a broad tip of the hat to R.A. Lafferty. It provides a welcome bit of humour in a collection that is otherwise fairly serious in tone.

Year's Best SF 5 draws its material from both the established professional magazines like Asimov's and Interzone and the small press magazines such as Transversions. Since hardly anyone can keep up with all the short fiction published every year, Year's Best SF 5 offers a fine way to sample a selection of the good ones.

Copyright © 2000 by Greg L. Johnson

Reviewer Greg L. Johnson's own summation of the best of 1999's sf can be found in the latest edition of What Do I Read Next? His reviews also appear in the The New York Review of Science Fiction.


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