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Year's Best SF 17
edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
HarperVoyager, 490 pages

Year's Best SF 17
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

Kathryn Cramer
Kathryn Cramer is co-editor (with David G. Hartwell) of Spirits of Christmas (1989) and Walls of Fear (1990). Her story, "The End of Everything" (1990), appeared in Asimov's SF magazine.

Kathryn Cramer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Space Opera Renaissance
SF Site Review: The Space Opera Renaissance
SF Site Review: Year's Best Fantasy 6
SF Site Review: The Hard SF Renaissance
SF Site Review: Year's Best SF 5
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
The Golden Age of Best SF Collections: A Chronicle

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

All of us who love short science fiction look forward each year to the release of the two senior annual best-of-the-year anthologies by Gardner Dozois and David G. Hartwell/Kathryn Cramer, the latter of which is now only the slightly smaller of the two. For the record, the Hartwell and Cramer volume this year has only four stories of its 24 that are also included in the Dozois -- although as usual there are many other authors who have different stories chosen for each -- and perusing both remains essential for all serious SF readers.

As always, while seeking to focus on the core of the science fiction field (as they remind us every year), Hartwell and Cramer have chosen a varied spectrum of styles and subgenres in the stories they include in this 17th annual volume, ranging from hard to sociological SF, from near-future to far-future settings on and off planet, from conventional to experimental styles, some stories primary engaging the reader emotionally and some primarily intellectually -- a testament to the breadth of the field and their own broad editorial tastes. It is hard to envision any type of core-SF story currently being written that they have excluded.

I see evidence here of a continued resurgence of adult SF stories with youthful protagonists, including several of the better stories in this volume. Ken Liu's "Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer" is an emotionally engaging post-singularity story of a young girl who has moved to virtual reality with her father having a final tour of the physical world with her mother who has remained an "ancient" and plans to leave the planet. Mercurio Rivera's "Tethered" is an eerily strange coming-of-age story set on Titan where humans intimately interact with aliens living among them. Nnedi Okorafor's "Wahala" is a fascinating story of a telepathic teenage girl in the Sahara traveling to meet a ship of Mars colonists. In Madeline Ashby's "The Education of Junior Number 12" the youthful protagonist is actually a self-replicating humanoid living with his "father" illegally as homeless outcasts. Nancy Kress's "Eliot Wrote" tells of a young man struggling to deal with losing his mother and soon his father, in a story that will resonate with any reader who was frustrated as an intelligent teenager with adults who seem not to listen.

But the best of all of the stories with teenage protagonists is the final story of the volume, "The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman. This long and absolutely brilliant story is set in her well-imagined "Twenty Planets" far-future and tells of a girl on a planet ruled by Taliban-like extremists who becomes embroiled in a bigger interstellar conspiracy. It is both emotionally and intellectually engaging, and succeeds on every level -- character, setting, theme, style and plot.

Two of the best stories here are from Gordon Van Gelder's Welcome to the Greenhouse anthology, including one that also features a young female protagonist, Judith Moffitt's "The Middle of Somewhere" which tells the emotionally powerful story of a young girl in the near future who learns for the first time to truly care about other people and the natural world, both threatened by climate change. The other story from that volume is Bruce Sterling's brilliantly imaginative far-future tale, "The Master of the Aviary." (I thought that "True North" by M. J. Locke and possibly also "Eagle" by Gregory Benford from that anthology were also worthy candidates for best-of-the-year volumes.)

Two of the stories here are of special interest to me as it relates to my primary career as a scientist seeking to cram some small amount of scientific fact into the foundation of the massive edifice of public policy. The first is Robert Reed's "Our Candidate," a story primarily told in fable mode with modern archetypical characters and setting and plot merely serving the primary focus of its ideas and themes. But it succeeds in portraying better than anything else I've read the reasons why political public policies are seldom based on truth, and why political science so often trumps physical science in setting public policy. The second is Pat McEwen's "Home Sweet Bi'Ome," a light and somewhat humorous story that nevertheless does a good job characterizing the complex dual biological and psychological underpinnings of the broad modern hyperallergic syndromes that appear to plague some people.

There are also two very fine SF murder mysteries included in the volume. The first is Elizabeth Bear's excellent robot murder mystery about a robotic female sex toy that appears to have murdered her owner -- but why? The other murder mystery is Gwyneth Jones's "The Ki-Anna" which tells an intriguing story of a woman who travels to a far planet to learn why and how her sister died among the strange indigenous aliens.

There are also many other superior stories in the book. The volume opens with Ken MacLeod's curiously titled "The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three," a somewhat metafictional story about SF writers in a future extrapolated by MacLeod's uniquely Euro-leftist political views. Karl Schroeder's "Laika's Ghost" is a fine story set in the post-cold-war Russian steppes as protagonists seek evidence of clandestine development of a hand-portable nuclear device, and reminds me of various stories by Bruce Sterling in similar settings. Greg Benford's "Mercies" is a thoughtful tale of a man who goes back in time to kill mass murderers before their crimes. On the light side, there's Neil Gaiman whose "And Weep Like Alexander" provides a tongue-in-cheek explanation regarding why many of the envisioned future-inventions of the past did not occur. One of the strangest stories is Karen Heuler's "Thick Water" about four explorers stranded on an alien world who appear to be profoundly affected psychologically and physically by the planet. Tony Ballantyne's "The War Artist" provides an insightful look at the job of capturing the sights, sounds and feelings of a near-future war. Michael Swanwick's lushly titled "For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not be Back Again" tells the engaging story of a young Irish-American visiting Ireland for the first time before going off-planet, and getting embroiled in a political conspiracy. Genevieve Valentine's "The Nearest Thing" is an intriguing story about a company that creates high-tech "memory dolls" that mimic deceased loved ones which also provides insights into the politics of high-tech corporate culture.

Hartwell and Cramer also provide a short introduction to the volume that comments primarily on the evolving infrastructure of science fiction literature -- the increase on e-publishing and changes in print markets -- but does not comment on the overall state of the science fiction. I, for one, would like to see them expand their introductions to provide their insights on the on-going development of the literary genre each year.

Judging by this collection, I think that 2011 was another strong year for short science fiction, from writers both old and new. Hartwell and Cramer's Year's Best SF 17 is must reading for all fans of quality science fiction.

Copyright © 2012 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.

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