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The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eighteenth Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Press, 617 pages

The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eighteenth Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine and the annual anthology series The Year's Best Science Fiction, now up to its 18th annual volume, as well as many other anthologies. He has won more than 10 Hugo Awards as the year's best editor, and 2 Nebula Awards for his own short fiction. His short fiction appears in Geodesic Dreams: The Best Short Fiction of Gardner Dozois. He is the author or editor of better than 70 books, including the anthologies The Good Old Stuff and The Good New Stuff. He's also edited such theme anthologies as Dinosaurs! and Dog Tales!. He lives in Philadelphia.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction: 17th Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Solar System
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Werewolves
SF Site Review: Future War
SF Site Review: The Good Old Stuff
SF Site Review: Nanotech
SF Site Review: Isaac Asimov's Detectives
SF Site Review: Roads Not Taken: Tales of Alternate History
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fifteenth Annual Collection

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nick Gevers

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It goes without saying that this is an eminently worthwhile book, one of SF's major institutions, now in its eighteenth volume. There are many highlights here, selected in spite of certain predictable editorial pitfalls (such as undue obeisance to established names, and an occasional seeming unawareness of how contrived and clotted data-dense Hard SF diction can become). Any year's output of short fiction is bound to be beyond ready summary; perhaps it is best to go by theme, tracing skeins of trend through Dozois's Labyrinth.

Alternate History SF forms a surprisingly large bloc this year, and for all some commentators' skepticism as to this sub-genre's right to be counted as SF, it fully earns its prominence in this instance. "A Colder War" by Charles Stross is a vision of a late 20th century overwhelmed by its fratricidal hostilities, which creatures out of Lovecraft's Mythos are horrifyingly well placed to exploit; this tour de force chillingly expands the envelope of the uchronia's expressiveness, in a nightmare turned infinite and sideways. Stross' other entry, "Antibodies," is almost as effective: here, with the same ruthless intellectual sleight of hand, AIs are depicted amok in many timelines, and the fragility of the human race acquires an almost unbearable emphasis. Charles Stross is the new genius of British SF, and other writers, even Americans, are, at least for now, in his shadow; but his ingenuity is matched in some respects by Steven Utley in "The Real World," the best of his Silurian tales to date. A time-traveller returns to his present knowing that it cannot really be home, that it is a simulacrum only; but as he probes its textures, he learns a profound existential lesson, even amid the ever-falser pomps of Hollywood. Enlightenment well earned.

Analog writers Rick Cook and Ernest Hogan continue the Alt. Hist. fest with a curiously alluring novella, "Obsidian Harvest," a faultlessly narrated gumshoe detective thriller set in an Aztec Empire victorious over the Spanish and perplexed by Peruvian dinosaurs; the scenario is full of logical holes, but pre-Columbian Mexico was sinister in spades, and that legacy is successfully continued here, a milieu of daggers and dark beliefs. A similar eerieness of affect attends Michael Swanwick's "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O," which salts the timelines with heroism, and grief, and mischief, with all the author's characteristic savage ingenuity. But a sour note must be sounded. "Oracle" by Greg Egan, seemingly included on name rather than merit, is a clumsy farrago of ungainly ideas and polemical platitudes, a vision of Alan Turing and C.S. Lewis in philosophical battle which is true neither to them, nor to their period, nor to the issues concerned. Egan is a master of extrapolation, but his hindsight is an intolerable mixture of vindictiveness and the unprovable. No more sermons, please. Don't orate, speculate.

Perhaps alternate history, being all about subversive glances to the side, is best written obliquely, ironically, in the manner of Stross and Swanwick. A delicacy of a different sort animates the better Near Future SF stories, an acute attentiveness to the nuances of present becoming; this is the acid test in that bracket. "The Juniper Tree" by John Kessel is a superb examination of tendencies in sexual politics, a treatment of masculine obsolescence in the context of a lunar utopia. Susan Palwick's "Going After Bobo" is rather laboriously cute, but does make its claustrophobic point articulately enough. A similar sense of desperation on the cusp of radical change infuses "The Cure For Everything" by Severna Park, with a greater if less responsible sense of release at the end. "Snowball in Hell" by Brian Stableford is unreadable, so its argument (something about the reverse of the Gadarene Swine) will remain blurred. But redemption is at hand in two magnificent novellas, "Radiant Green Star" by Lucius Shepard, a lush vision of new terrors and ageless responsibilities in the Vietnam of a few decades hence, and "Tendeleo's Story," the latest addition to the Chaga sequence, Ian McDonald's marvellous panorama of Third World plights and possibilities. Also very strong is "Patient Zero" by Tananarive Due, although its hopelessness is a strong intimation that we are in the process of becoming nothing at all, and the near future had better offer something more appetizing than that. In the Near Future category, then: one utter misfire, two near misses, and four impeccable (if in one case impeccably gloomy) direct hits. And there's also "The Suspect Genome," a long novella by Peter F. Hamilton, in fact too long to be subject to any comment whatsoever.

The further future gets its due also, entertainingly, if at times hamfistedly. "The Birthday of the World," which may conceivably fall into Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish series, is one of her finest stories, a crafty yet lyrical intensification of the plight of the last free Incas, shifted to another planet and another species and placed under intense anthropological scrutiny. "Savior," a bleak yet expansive novella by Nancy Kress, is a fascinating look at Earth across centuries of chaos and biotechnological adaptation; the focus is a mute alien beacon in the American wilderness, and the end of its silence is brilliantly, and disorientingly, rendered. "Reef" by Paul J. McAuley, one of his Quiet War tales, is gaudily bedizened with concept but curiously lifeless at core (here the hamfistedness comes in); and "Crux" by Albert Cowdrey is a glib, fast tour of a devastated future ruled in the spirit of Genghiz Khan, with time-travel acrobatics and fleshly amusements not quite compensating for the brash immaturity of their telling. But no such criticisms for "On the Orion Line," a new and probing space opera in Stephen Baxter's Xeelee sequence; or "Great Wall of Mars," one of the most dramatic episodes yet in Alastair Reynolds' continuing future history of humans and Inhibitors; or for "The Great Goodbye," Robert Charles Wilson's contribution to Nature's vignettes of the emerging millennium, a searingly cunning exercise in the tricks of literary perspective. Far vistas of time do well for themselves this year, with only two partial blots on the cosmic escutcheon; maybe there's a future after all, for SF no less than ourselves, Ms. Due's prognostications notwithstanding.

So a fine anthology again, this Eighteenth Annual Collection, its inevitable blips and anomalies only a mild distraction from the feast of fictions. There won't be a better reprint SF anthology this year; but then, at this size and with this editor, how could there be?

Copyright © 2001 Nick Gevers

Since completing a Ph.D. on uses of history in SF, Nick Gevers has become a moderately prolific reviewer and interviewer in the field of speculative fiction. He has published in INTERZONE, NOVA EXPRESS, the NEW YORK REVIEW OF SF, and GALAXIES; much of his work is available at INFINITY PLUS, of which he is Associate Editor. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa.


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