Year's Best SF, 13th by Dozois, Gardner, ed., 1995
The world has always been full of science fiction editors. Unfortunately, only Gernsback and Campbell get any of the credit for making the genre what it is today. Now, I would never bad mouth either of those two guys, especially Campbell, but other editors have made pretty significant contributions to the genre. Damon Knight! David Hartwell! Michael Moorcock! Donald Woolheim! All of these names should be familiar to most of you, because they are important to the genre. But my personal favorite, of the guys who are living that is, is Garnder Dozois. He puts out each year over 250,000 words of SF in his yearly collection, and until 2004 he also put out Asimov's magazine. During my short story days I relied on him pretty much exclusively to bring me good tales and keep me from getting too depressed over school. In 1996 he delivered on that magnificently with the 13th Annual Year's Best Science Fiction, for the year 1995. Now, Dozois has put out about 25 of these 700 page books so far, and Im not going to review each one of them. But a few stand out in my opinion as some of the best anthologies out there. The 13th Year's Best is my personal favorite.
Dozois does write a very informative year in summation article for each volume of this collection, but other than that, and a one-page intro for each story, you don't hear too much from him. Obviously, the stories take center stage. So what is it I find so great about this particular volume? Dozois always packs his collections with great stories, but this particular volume has more than the usual number of absolute gold in it. That is to say, I like all of his selections, but some are always better than others, and this book has more of the excellent stuff than usual. For example, this was the first place I ever read anything by David Marusek, whom I have lauded elsewhere in these pages. Ursula K. LeGuin had two entries in this book, A Woman's Liberation and Coming of Age in Karhide, both Hainish stories. For White Hill, by Joe Haldeman is an amazing wartime love story set against the backdrop of the destruction of earth by a horribly misunderstood race of bugs. I think Ive read this story about 10 times already. The science is far advanced, basically nanotech. A group of artists from all over the human colonized worlds have been invited to a wrecked Earth and commissioned to participate in an art contest. During the preparation the enemy attacks the sun and forcibly evolves it to late stage. Only so many people can be saved, as all available ships are sub-light.
James Patrick Kelly's greatest story, as far as I am concerned, Think Like a Dinosaur is here too. Here a race of dinosaur like creatures have given us the gift of instant transmittal of information over interstellar distances. The technology can be adopted to transmit human brain prints, but not the human body. Those who elect to go to other stars may do so, but the original being must be killed once the new one is created and the brain print embedded on the far side. Unless we can gradually as a species come to grips with that price, and start to think like the dinosaurs, they will take the gift from us. This is the best story I have ever read about the implications of using serial gholas or clones; the death of the original is fully examined. I personally don't find too many SF writers who can carry humor off very well. William Tenn is a notable exception. Ive never read Pratchet, but I hear he does a pretty good job. Allen Steel presents The Death of Captain Future in this volume. Its a rip on a well known Golden Age character (Captain Future, created by Edward Hamilton in the late 1930's) who has fallen on his head one too many times and cant seem to get anything done anymore, told in Golden Age style. Its a real hoot.
One of the best stories in this book is a longer work called Mortimer Gray's History of Death, by Brian Stableford. Its the story of a death-obsessed scholar in a post human future where death has been virtually eliminated. Gray writes a multi-volume treatise on the 'surviving' aspects of death, such as suicide, accidental death, and the natural death of those who chose not to go post-human. Its one of the best examples I have ever read of sociological SF, and ranks up there on the same level with anything LeGuin or Chad Oliver has ever written (Please don't scratch your heads, Ill be reviewing Oliver's entire body of work shortly).
I always debate with myself whether or not I should waste your time and mine by reviewing a book of short stories. Sometimes, it just doesn't seem to be worth the effort. This book is an exception, and there are one or two others in Dozois' long running series that I will get to in due time, as well as a few other short story compilations. This one has been out of print for nine or so years, but if you see it in a used bookstore or on line, get it!
Copyright © 2007, Gregory Tidwell