Edited by David G. Hartwell



479pp/$5.50/May 1996

Year's Best SF
Cover by Bob Eggleton

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

For the past several years, Gardner Dozois has had the "best Science Fiction of the year" market all to himself. Although Dozois's collections have been nice (and large), they reflect Dozois's own taste. Since Dozois edits one of the major science fiction magazines, his anthology frequently contains a large share of stories from Asimov's, the magazine for which Dozois purchased the stories in the first place. Now, HarperPrism and David G. Hartwell have teamed up to give Dozois some competition.

Starting with the superficial: Hartwell's book is smaller (mass market sized, instead of trade or hardcover) and cheaper ($5.50 instead of $16.95) than the annual Dozois opus. The next (and more important question) is how Hartwell stacks up against Dozois.

Actually, that question isn't really fair. Science fiction is large enough to contain multiple "Best of Year" anthologies, and is stronger for having the variety. Hartwell has selected fourteen stories. In addition to pulling from the major magazines (Analog, Asimov's, Fantasy & Science Fiction and Science Fiction Age), Hartwell also raided anthologies (Amazing Stories: The Anthology, Far Futures, Full Spectrum 5 and New Legends) and Tomorrow Magazine. Not surprisingly, the stories Hartwell selected have a tendency towards a hard SF bent.

Rather than discuss the individual stories which Hartwell chose, I'll look at the book as a whole. Hartwell's selections are a good mix of serious fiction, such as Le Guin's "Coming of Age in Karhide" and Haldeman's "For White Hill", and lighter pieces, notably Zelazny's "The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker" and Barton's "In Saturn Time."

The title claims these stories are the "Best SF" of the year, however, the fans and members of SFFWA seem to disagree. Only one of Hartwell's selections, James Patrick Kelly's "Think Like a Dinosaur," was nominated for a Nebula and Hugo Award. This does not mean, however, that Hartwell's choices are invalid. Any "best of" anthology will be a matter of personal taste. Readers will question the inclusion of at least one story in any such book. Hartwell does a fantastic job of picking stories which are not only worthy of being read, but which are worthy of attaining a more permanent home than last months issue of (your favorite magazine's name here).

James Patrick Kelly Think Like a Dinosaur
Patricia A. McKillip Wonders of the Invisible World
Robert Silverberg Hot Times in Magma City
Stephen Baxter Gossamer
Gregory Benford A Worm in the Well
William Browning Spencer Downloading Midnight
Joe Haldeman For White Hill
William Barton In Saturn Time
Ursula K. Le Guin Coming of Age in Karhide
Roger Zelazny The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker
Nancy Kress Evolution
Robert Sheckley The Day the Aliens Came
Joan Slonczewski Microbe
Gene Wolfe Ziggurat

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