THE YEAR'S BEST SCIENCE FICTION
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
For eighteen years, in the current version, Gardner Dozois has been assembling the stories which he feels demonstrate the best the science fiction field has to offer. One of the things which sets his selection apart from other annual retrospectives, current and past, is that Dozois goes out of his way to represent the entire breadth of the science fiction experience. The stories in his books are not merely hard science fiction or New Wave or cyberpunk. They give a full vision of what is happening in the field. Furthermore, as if they stories were not enough, Dozois provides a lengthy introduction which allows the reader to read the stories within a context and understand the publishing business a little bit better.
The year 2000 was not a particularly strong year for short science fiction, and this is demonstrated by Dozois's choices. Some of the stories are of the first caliber, such as Eliot Fintushel's "Milo and Sylvie" which begins with a psychiatric examination of the first title character who is having troubling dreams and ends revealing something about Milo's relationships with his sister, his psychiatrist and a strange puppeteer he meets when he tries to flee the cause of his initial dreams. Other stories don't quite measure up, although, of course, the "Best" is always a matter of personal opinion.
In addition to the standard sources, Dozois looked to some of the smaller magazines, such as Interzone and Spectrum for some of his picks. The latter, which is a new magazine, is represented by two stories, Alastair Reynolds's "The Great Wall of Mars" and Charles Stross's "The Colder War." "The Colder War" is typical of many of Dozois's selections in that although it is well written, it seems devoid of emotional context for the story Stross seems to be telling. By the end, the tone of the story also seems to be the wrong one for the tale Stross is telling. While still an enjoyable story, "The Colder War" gives the reader the feeling that it could have been better.
Ernest Hogan and Rick Cook teamed up in 2000 to present "Obsidian Harvest" a hard-boiled detective story set in an alternate Aztec Empire. Hogan has mined this particular culture before, if not this exact milieu, and has a firm grasp on Aztec culture. The setting is well-thought out and offers itself for the potential of a long-running series of stories. The fact that it is a collaborative effort raises the question of a collaboration between Hogan and British author Christopher Evans, who wrote the 1993 alternative history Aztec Century.
Dozois also looked at on-line sources of fiction, settling on the inclusion of two stories originally published on SciFiction. Steve Utley's "The Real World" and Severna Park's "The Cure for Everything." The latter story is about biological research in South America and the havoc caused by deforestation. The ending seems a little too pat, with, perhaps, a nod towards the film "The Jewel of the Nile," but the story mostly works. The Utley is an intriguing story which merges time travel and Hollywood, the title seeming to be an ironic reference to what people can consider "real" or "unreal" when talking about attitudes towards life.
Some of the year's stories which were not included in the collection for one reason or another which were particularly strong included Paul J. McAuley's "The Reef" and Ted Chiang's "Seventy-Two Letters," both from Ellen Datlow's anthology Vanishing Acts, and both listed by Dozois in the Honorable Mention section. Similarly Michael Bishop's "Blue Kansas Sky" is another story which could easily have been included.
Just as Dozois's introduction provides an overview of the year in science fiction, his selection of stories presents a good look at the stories which were published and the strength of the year as a whole. While none of the selected stories were amazingly wonderful, or even obvious for inclusion, the selection as a whole was reasonable, showing a year which, while lackluster, was not a complete failure for the genre.
|John Kessel||The Juniper Tree|
|Ursula K. Le Guin||The Birthday of the World|
|Paul J. McAuley||Reef|
|Susan Palwick||Going After Bobo|
|Albert E. Cowdrey||Crux|
|Severna Park||The Cure For Everything|
|Peter F. Hamilton||The Suspect Genome|
|Michael Swanwick||The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O|
|Lucius Shepard||Radiant Green Star|
|Alastair Reynolds||Great Wall of Mars|
|Eliot Fintushel||Milo and Sylvie|
|Brian Stableford||Snowball in Hell|
|Stephen Baxter||On the Orion Line|
|Rick Cook & Ernest Hogan||Obsidian Harvest|
|Tananarive Due||Patient Zero|
|Charles Stross||A Colder War|
|Steven Utley||The Real World|
|M. Shayne Bell||The Thing About Benny|
|Robert Charles Wilson||The Great Goodbye|
|Ian McDonald||Tendeléo's Story|
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