THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Sixteen years is a long time to be publishing an annual retrospective of the science fiction field, but Gardner Dozois has been doing it for that long. When he published The Year's Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection in 1984, his publisher was the now defunct Bluejay Books, he would not be named editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine for another couple of years, the book was 575 pages long, contained 25 stories, and cost $9.95. In 1999, Dozois's publisher is Tor, he has edited Asimov's for thirteen years, the book is 609 pages, contains 24 stories and costs $17.95.
Over the years, Dozois's Summation which opens the book has grown from twenty-five pages to fifty-nine pages, partly an indication of Dozois's experience, but also an indication of the growth and dynamics of the science fiction field. In 1984, Dozois would not have needed to spend several pages discussing the presence of science fiction on the internet. In 1999, Dozois notes that all major science fiction magazines have websites and there are several sites which publish original fiction. Most of the latter tend to be of fanzine quality, but there are some professional sites and Dozois publishes a story (Howard Waldrop's "US") which originally appeared on the internet.
In general, Dozois believes that science fiction is thriving. He notes that if no more books were purchased, most publishing houses would be able to continue publishing science fiction for the next two years. Similarly, he doesn't see anything happening to any of the major science fiction magazines, although Dozois notes some troubles for smaller magazines (several closed in 1998). This year, Dozois does not include many circulation figures for the magazines, so their growth or decline is a little difficult to gauge based on his summation. As always, the summation provides an excellent source of information on where to find short fiction. His inclusion of addresses makes it even easier to track down an elusive magazine.
The majority of Dozois's selections come from the magazines, and if you subscribe to Asimov's and SFA you've already seen many of them. However, Dozois does include two stories from Interzone, a British magazine which publishes science fiction of very high quality and deserves wider distribution in the United States. Surprisingly, Analog is not represented in this year's selection, although the revived Amazing (a.k.a. The Magazine That Wouldn't Die!) is represented by Ursula K. LeGuin. Fully a quarter of the stories published managed to make the Hugo nomination list (see below), which means these stories were popular with the fans if not the "best." Interestingly, none of this year's Nebula nominations are included in the book
Dozois has including a wide range of stories. Greg Egan's "Oceanic" is a surprisingly relationship-driven story set on a water world in which humans are dividing themselves into groups who live on land and groups who live on ships. Cory Doctorow's "Craphound" is the tale of an alien who has a flea-market jones. The protagonist in Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Island of the Immortals" attempts to find the secret of immortality despite constant warnings that the prize is not worth the price. In "Divided by Infinity," Robert Charles Wilson explores themes similar to those examined by Larry Niven in "All the Myriad Ways" (1968), but introduces probability into the equation. The aforementioned "US" is another parallel world story which looks at the potential of an infant, in this case the Lindburgh baby.
Author Ted Chiang rarely publishes fiction, but when he does, it generally is among the best of the year. This year saw his story "Story of Your Life" appear in Patrick Nielsen Hayden's Starlight 2. Although at first the disparate stories about a woman doing research into alien linguistics and the biography of the protagonist's daughter do not seem to be related, by the end of the story, Chiang manages to tie them together in a very satisfying manner.
The anthology concludes with an alternate history which demonstrates that the "it can't happen here" mentality people often have about events like the Nazi Holocaust or the recent attrocities in Kosovo can, in fact, happen anywhere given the right circumstances. Ian MacLeod's "The Summer Isles" depicts on England fallen on hard times which embraces an Hitleresque dictator.
While nobody is going to agree with every story Dozois has selected for inclusion, The Year's Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection contains several fantastic science fiction stories and will contain something for everyone who reads science fiction. Dozois has demonstrated again that he has an understanding of what the current state of the field is and what the audience is looking for.
|Geoffrey A. Landis||Approaching Perimelasma|
|Tanith Lee||Jedella Ghost|
|Ursula K. LeGuin||The Island of the Immortals|
|Paul J. McAuley||Sea Change, With Monsters|
|Robert Charles Wilson||Divided by Infinity|
|Ian McDonald||The Days of Solomon Gursky|
|William Browning Spencer||The Halfway House at the Heart of Darkness|
|Michael Swanwick||The Very Pulse of the Machine|
|Ted Chiang||Story of Your Life|
|Stephen Baxter||Saddlepoint: Roughneck|
|Rob Chilson||This Side of Independence|
|Chris Lawson||Unborn Again|
|Gwyneth Jones||La Cenerentola|
|William Barton||Down in the Dark|
|Jim Grimsley||Free in Asveroth|
|Cherry Wilder||The Dancing Floor|
|Ian R. MacLeod||The Summer Isles|
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