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The Year's Best Science Fiction, Thirteenth Annual Collection
Gardner Dozois, editor
St. Martin's Press, 592 pages

Best SF
Past Feature Reviews
A Look at SF's Annual Report by A. John O'Neill


This kind of criticism may be inevitable when one's sole criterion is selecting the best short fiction of the year, full stop, but after thirteen collections I can't help feeling that Dozois' agenda is a little weightier than that. He is perhaps our greatest champion of science fiction at short length, arguing (often rather convincingly) that the creative engine of SF, the source of its greatest drive and vitality, remains short fiction. His ambition with these anthologies seems to be to create a showcase for the authors and the work that best represents that creative force, and no doubt that conflicts from time to time with the distillation of a pure "best of" collection.

In other words, Dozois' definition of "Best of the Year" is the most literate, thought-provoking work being done by the small group at the very forefront of their craft... not a group often broken into by newcomers. At times it's unsettling to think that Dozois could be right, that the very best our field has to offer is produced year-in and year-out by a small handful of writers -- and certainly Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling manage to cast a wider net with their sister collection, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, with no apparent loss of quality. But in the absence of a competing retrospective with the weight of Dozois' it's difficult to make the call. The addition of David G. Hartwell's Year's Best SF into the mix this year will help add some perspective.

In any event, whether or not Dozois' definition of "Best of the Year" jives with yours, you should be aware that it is more than adaquate to create a top-notch collection. This year's is no exception. On to the stories.

In addition to Asimov's, Dozois draws heavily from several other sources, most notably the ground-breaking anthology New Legends, from which he reprints "Wang's Carpets" by Greg Egan, "Coming of Age in Karhide" by the ubiquitous Ursula K. Le Guin, and "Recording Angel" by Paul J. McAuley; and Far Futures, represented by Joe Haldeman's "For White Hill" and "Genesis" by Poul Anderson. The latter two stories should satisfy anyone looking for a dash of that ole' style Cosmic SF, dealing with mankind's ultimate disposition on the grand stage. Both deliver what Dozois calls "genuine jolts of pure-quill old-fashioned undiluted Sense of Wonder," a scarce thing indeed in these days of cyberpunks and Klingon translations. For those interested in straight inventiveness in a more timeless SF style, I suggest "Wang's carpets."

The only other anthology to be honored this year is Roger Zelazny's Wheel of Fortune with a post-collapse short story on Native Americans by new author William Sanders, "Elvis Bearpaw's Luck". The usually exceptional Full Spectrum series, which had its fifth installment last year, is overlooked this time, as are several other fine collections.

Allen Steele's Hugo-winning "The Death of Captain Future" is perhaps the most striking of the remaining stories, with its homage to the 40's pulp hero. I've never read any Captain Future, although all those handsome pulp covers certainly caught my eye, and this story makes me wish I had.

The remainder of the stories show a startling range. Pat Cadigan offers "Death in the Promised Land," a hardboiled virtual reality piece, and the prolific Dan Simmons gives us "Looking for Kelly Dahl," an unusual time-travel chase leading to some unusual places. "We Were Out of Our Minds With Joy," newcomer David Marusek's third published story, is a very original glimpse at the future of the Infobahn, and "The Lincoln Train" by Maureen S. McHugh is a nicely realized alternate history piece.

All told the stories make a satisfying banquet, hard evidence that maybe Dozois has something after all, and maybe short science fiction is where the real action is. For another year.


John O'Neill is the Founder and Managing Editor of the SF Site. He is a recovering biblioholic.

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