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The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection, ed. by Gardner Dozois

Dozois does the best summation for the year, and his selections for the best short fiction, while not always matching mine, often encompass mine because of the shear volume of his collection. And, I have to admit, I find it hard not to be biased; Gardner’s been acknowledging me for some slight help I might have given him for the last several years, and I find myself pleased to be even the smallest part of the preparation of these volumes. Although I’ve cut down on my short fiction reading in recent years, this volume was old enough to overlap with many stories that I had already read before, so my comments are limited to the stories that were new to me.

  • Nancy Kress, “Beggars in Spain”–Great story, that, while reminiscent of some of the classics of SF (Odd John, More Than Human), stands firmly on its own, and states something new. Kress is interested in the tensions between the two groups–one modern analogy for her story is the tension between conservatives and homosexuals. But what I’d like to have seen her spend more time on (and maybe she does in the novel version) is this perverted (in my humble opinion) desire of parents whose children must be their own genetic makeup, and must have all advantages possible. A reflection of evolution? How can that be exaggerated any more than it already is?
  • Alexander Jablokov, “Living Will”–Excellent story about a man facing Alzheimer’s and deciding to do the “best” for his family and friends. I’m not sure I agree with Jablokov’s conclusion–I think I’m more optimistic or something–but at least he made me think about it.
  • William Gibson, “Skinner’s Room”–The idea is interesting, just a passing speculation, but there’s no story here. Yes, there’s characterization, but absolutely zero plot. And a story without a plot isn’t much of a story, really.
  • Greg Egan, “Blood Sisters”–This one’s got a plot; in fact, it’s got a lot, but I still didn’t find that it excited me all that much. Was it because for all the seeming passion that the narrator felt, the very fact and manner of the narration led to it feeling very passive? Things that occurred weren’t surprising. You know the narrator didn’t die because she’s narrating (although that gives me a great idea for a ghost story, although it’s probably been done before).
  • Karen Joy Fowler, “The Dark”–I’m pretty much in the dark with this story. I think I follow it–Karen’s writing is very clear and informative–but when the ending comes, I’m lost. Very much like her novel, Sarah Canary, where there’s some great information, which I can’t connect with her plot. O, well.
  • Ian R. McLeod, “Marnie”–The concept isn’t new, but McLeod does the characterization better than it’s been done before. In fact, the authentic romance reminded me of the best of Jonathan Carroll (like the first third of Bones of the Moon), no small compliment coming from me. The characterization was so good that I was disappointed that the concept wasn’t. If the concept had matched the characters, this would have been the best story I’ve read since Lucius Shepard’s “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter” or Brad Denton’s “The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians.”
  • Kim Newman, “Ubermensh!”–Newman seems determined to make his name as an alternate fictioner. Here he gives quite a unique twist to the Superman legend, and it works just as well as his excellent alternate take on Dracula in Anno Dracula. I could probably get tired of this after awhile, but at the moment I’m inclined to give Newman three thumbs-up.
  • Robert Reed, “Pipes”–I liked it, but I don’t know. I mean, it’s almost too simplistic; not elegant enough. Everything fits together, like a jigsaw puzzle, and like a jigsaw puzzle, everything fits together too nicely, and the very fact that I notice the seams at all is disturbing. And while the plot may be original, it isn’t all that exciting. So, I like it–with reservations.
  • Paul McAuley, “Gene Wars”–A nice little condensed “Shaper” story. Yes, a mix of Bruce Sterling and J.G. Ballard. Neat. Wonder what weird combinations you could make with other authors? The ideas of one author through the style of another. Naw, too close to the recent rash of “tribute” stories. The story has to come out of it rather than being forced through the gimmick.
  • Kristine Kathryn Rusch, “The Gallery of Her Dreams”–While this story reminded me of some of the others that I’ve read by Kris, there’s something different–better–here. It may be the very realistic portrayal of Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, or the verisimilitude in descriptions of place, or something that I can’t express. It is a moving story, and worthy of being included here.
  • Geoffrey Landis, “A Walk in the Sun”–Here’s the problem with “hard science” fiction–Landis may have all the science in this story perfect, but for me to know this, I have to have a lot of knowledge of the moon myself. That is, the story works on specialized knowledge. The audience with that requisite specialized knowledge shrinks as the amount of that knowledge increases. In 1950, the SF audience could follow along with most SF concepts. In 1990, they can’t. Thus the growth of “soft science” and “science fantasy” fiction. The soft sciences allow an “intuitive” understanding, and science fantasy deliberately isn’t based on actually occurring science. Take away the scientific premise to Landis’ story, and it isn’t anything new.
  • Rick Shelly, “Eyewall”–Of course the next story would have to prove everything differently. “Eyewall” is also a hard science story from Analog that works for me. Maybe it’s because Shelly takes the time to explain his science more fully, or that Shelly understands that SF stories aren’t about the science per se, but people’s reactions to that science. There’s some info-dumping here, but it’s not too odious, and the ending was a little predictable, but for the most part this is a fine story.
  • Greg Egan, “The Moat”–I like Egan, but this is one of the poorest stories I’ve seen by him. Problems: a major amount of info-dumping, and a fairly boring info-dumping procedure. And the end is simply tacked on; what supposes to stand for the climax seems to have little to do with the rest of the story, and then to tie up the story, Egan adds a “told” section that reads like a “where are they now.” The idea wasn’t bad, but the execution was very poor.
  • Jack Dann, “Voices”–How many times is Dann going to write about the Big Bopper, Holly and Valens? It’s not the major focus of this story, although it’s a major presence, and I seem to recall Dann writing about them before, maybe twice (“Touring” in collaboration with Dozois?). Maybe it isn’t Dann personally, but all of the writers of his age. “The day the music died” seems to have quite an effect on that age group, as Kennedy’s assassination, or Nixon’s resignation, or the Challenger explosion, has or may have on later groups. I’m just tired of it. The story wasn’t science fiction, either, although it was well-written.
  • Brian Aldiss, “FOAM”–Nice little twist story, in which the twist is something much larger than the story. The story itself, as twist stories go, isn’t much to think on or read; the twist, however, is one of those universals that it never hurts to underline.
  • Connie Willis, “Jack”–An excellently researched story, as was her novel Doomsday Book, that reminded me a bit of the Dann & Dozois story, “Down Among the Dead Men.” Superficially, it’s the same idea. If vampires were real, what would they have been doing in WWII. Dann & Dozois gave us the German version; Willis gives us the English. This is also a clever story, incorporating many references to Dracula, most notably in the names of the characters. In fact, it was almost distracting. Still, Willis is a wonderful writer, and always best at the short form.
  • Chris Beckett, “La Macchina”–Neat story about one possible future populated by robots. Becket accomplishes a lot in a little, and that’s good writing to me.
  • Mike Resnick, “One Perfect Morning, With Jackals”–The prequel to Resnick’s Kirinyaga series, it contains the same strengths and weaknesses of the other stories in the series. Unlike other critics of this series, I’m not bothered by what Resnick may or may not be saying about technology; the weaknesses I see are in the writing–simplistic characterization, woody dialogue, etc. Resnick overcomes this by intriguing ideas and a strange mixture of legend and future.

[Finished 31 August 1993]


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