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The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
edited by Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's Griffin, 658 pages

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois
Gardner Dozois was the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine for many years and is the editor of the annual anthology series The Year's Best Science Fiction, 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: Escape from Earth
SF Site Review: One Million A.D.
SF Site Review: Galileo's Children
SF Site Review: Strangers
SF Site Review: Future Sports
SF Site Review: The Year's Best Science Fiction, Eighteenth Annual Collection
SF Site Review: Space Soldiers
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 D. Douglas Fratz

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Each year for almost three decades, the massive collection of science fiction stories edited by Gardner Dozois has been the most important book of the year for lovers of short SF. While the shorter best-of-the-year volumes provide a valuable complement, it is Dozois that provides the most comprehensive reading experience, and the best guide to where the field currently stands, and where it is likely going in the future, and this 29th volume is no exception.

The stories selected by Dozois this year range from very good to brilliant, and there is no real reason -- or benefit to potential readers -- to trying to pick the best of the best. If you enjoy short science fiction -- and I would argue that short SF continues to exceed SF novels in quality -- then you must read this anthology annually, cover to cover.

But it is very useful and interesting, I think, to use the 35 stories that Dozois has selected to assess where we are at the moment in the evolution of out literary genre, and where we seem to be headed.

First, although veteran writers with more than a decade of experience still dominate quality short science fiction, there continue to be new writers and fresh voices arriving. I count at least a dozen writers who have come into prominence the past ten years in this volume, American, British and Australian. Of the veterans in the book, only half are Americans. On a per capita basis, UK, Canada and Australia authors are writing more top-class short SF.

It also is evident that traditional science fiction themes, styles, narratives and settings still dominate the field. Some of these stories would been very comfortably written in the 50s -- Tom Purdom's "A Response from EST17," "Dolly" by Elizabeth Bear, and David Hutchinson's "The Incredible Exploding Man" are notable examples -- and Pat Cadigan's "Cody" is pure 80s cyberpunk. But there are also more than a dozen cutting-edge stories that are very characteristic of the styles and tropes of more recent years, including many -- clearly influenced by the "slipstream" movement -- that blur the distinction between science fiction and fantasy. Examples of these science-fiction-with-the-feel-of-fantasy stories (often set in an indeterminate far future) include "A Soldier of the City" by David Moles, "The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick, "The Dala Horse" by Michael Swanwick, "The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman, "Silently and Very Fast" by Catherynne Valente, "The Cold Step Beyond" by Ian R. MacLeod, "The Vicar of Mars" by Gwyneth Jones, "Ghostweight" by Yoon Ha Lee, and "Dying Young" by Peter M. Ball. But perhaps the most notable example in the book is Kij Johnson's "The Man Who Bridged the Mist," a brilliant novel of character set on an isolated planet with static late 19th century technology. It slowly becomes clear to the reader that this is not hard science fiction. Although there are no overt fantasy elements, the mist that flows atop the rivers and ocean of this strange planet has no rational or scientific explanation, but instead serves as a powerful metaphor for the emotional gulf between individuals that is common to this society, and to ours.

Young adult science fiction also is well represented by such stories as "The Choice" by Paul McAuley, "Martian Heart" by John Barnes, "Digging" by Ian McDonald, "After the Apocalypse" by Maureen McHugh, and "Canterbury Hollow" by Chris Lawson. "Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman also qualifies. It is interesting to note that the predominant theme for these is sadness and loss in a dystopian future -- The Hunger Games appears to be having some impact on young adult SF. There are fewer stories than one would expect, however, set on Earth in non-Anglophone settings, but there are two in Russia/Eastern Europe ("Laika's Ghost" by Karl Schroeder and "Vorkuta Event" by Ken McLeod), one in Africa ("What We Found" by Geoff Ryman) and one in Israel ("The Smell of Orange Groves" by Lavie Tidhar). (This is not an area where American authors excel.)

But if you do not have time to read this entire book, I suppose I could note a few of the most brilliant stories that are must reading for all. "Laika's Ghost" by Karl Schroeder is a fine story that reminds me of some of Bruce Sterling's stories set in Russia and Eastern Europe. "Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman is a most engaging traditional far-future SF story. Both of Michael Swanwick's stories in this volume are fine, even though "The Dala Horse" and "For I have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again" are very different works. Geoff Ryman's "What We Found" is a fine character piece, even though built on a weak SF idea. "Militant Peace" by David Klecha and Tobias Buckell is a clever and quite original story. "The Ants of Flanders" by Robert Reed is both profound and thoughtful in ways only possible in SF. And of course, there is Kij Johnson's fine "The Man Who Bridged the Mist." But a dozen more are just as fine a story, each in its own way.

If you have already perused this year's Dozois best-of-the-year volume, you have experienced some of the finest fiction being written today. If you have not yet read it all, then go and do so now.

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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