The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois (St Martin’s Griffin, 2013) is one of the annual events in the science fiction calendar when the magisterial editor pronounces on which stories he thinks the best of the year. With only a couple of exceptions, this year’s choices are very readable but I find the overall standard slightly uneven. “Weep For Day” by Indrapramit Das is an age-old story updated to a different world in which one species develops the technology to invade the land occupied by another species. Conflict and genocide follows thus fulfilling the predictable route of aboriginal extermination motivated, this time, by simple fear. It would be good if this group had learned the lesson of first contact and could avoid further deaths as they expand ever further across this continent but I don’t hold out much hope. These people are all too human to avoid asserting their superiority. “The Man” by Paul McAuley also plays with the ability of people to get along (or not). This time, a dead man may have been through a repair process on an alien planet. How will the living relate to him? “The Stars Do Not Lie” by Jay Lake reinvents the Catholic Church’s discussion with Galileo on whether the Earth goes round the sun. This story is set on a world that was seeded by humanity but has largely forgotten its ancestry. It asks how the local church might react if an astronomer announced a ship was coming to visit the planet.
“The Memcordist” by Lavie Tidhar is a collage of asynchronous paragraph snapshots of a man as he lives his life under the scrutiny of millions. I bet the watchers wish he would do something more exciting more often. And pursuing the idea of watchers, “The Girl Thing Who Went Out for Sushi” by Pat Cadigan has bioengineered humans working in the space around Jupiter whose normal routines are disrupted by the arrival of a beauty queen from Earth. Her fans are less than pleased she’s mixing with abominations. Perhaps some changes would be in order. “Holmes Sherlock” by Eleanor Arnason is a delightful transplant of the trope to an alien culture and a good mystery for the sleuth to solve. “Nightfall in the Peak of Eternal Light” by Richard A Lovett and William Gleason gives us the perfect thrill of the chase as a man on the run from the “mob” uses witness protection to get to the moon. Except a hit-man can track down his prey anywhere. “Close Encounters” by Andy Duncan narrowly avoids sentimentality in a very nicely judged story about nostalgia. When the years have passed by, it’s good to remember the good old days on Venus. Today’s youngsters are too serious in their pursuit of scientific understanding when all they have to do is believe. . .
“The Finite Canvas” by Brit Mandelo is a forlorn biter-bit story in a dystopian future where the world has been seriously damaged and all the people of influence have evacuated to orbit and beyond. Here organised crime may be equal to government, and questions of life and death are answered by those with the greater need. Now we come to one of the two standout stories. “Steamgothic” by Sean McMullen does something very special by conflating a modern obsession with steampunk and an alternate history. Suppose a preserved but damaged aeroplane was discovered that could have flown in early Victorian times. How differently might the world have turned out if its power had been recognised? How might history be affected by investing the love to restore the old machine? And talking of love, how affairs of the heart can be lift twisting in the wind with achingly uncertainty. The complete package is a delight. A review of “In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns” by Elizabeth Bear appears in Shoggoths in Bloom. “Macy Minnot’s Last Christmas on Dione, Ring Racing, Fiddler’s Green, the Potter’s Garden” by Paul McAuley is a triumph of imagination as we follow a daughter to spread the ashes of her dead father. The landscape travelled is magnificently realised and the spirit of the story a celebration of adaptability, of the lengths to which people go to fit into existing communities or fashion new ones. “Twenty Lights to ‘The Land of Snow’” by Michael Bishop comes up with a gentle story of growth aboard a generation star ship. Sometimes, what you need to sustain you during a long journey is faith. The problem is how to transmit that faith from one generation tot he next. Perhaps this group comes predisposed to make the continuity of faith more seamless. “Astrophilia” by Carrie Vaughn is the same theme as the last story but set in a post-apocalypse world where people need a mixture of hope and faith they can rebuild and replace all that has been lost. “What Did Tessimond Tell You” by Adam Roberts is an interesting scientific idea — I have no idea whether it’s actually a justifiable idea — but I find the telling slightly too long.
“Old Paint” by Megan Lindholm is a timely story about the potential arrival of autonomous vehicles and, avoiding excessive sentimentality, thinks about the relationship between a woman, a machine and the family. Apropos of nothing, I remember a similar idea about wild bicycles. “Chitai Heki Koronbin” by David Moles is also about the relationship between man and machines, this time, in a Gundam context as humans and aliens battle each other in giant robots, always identifying with their robots like they were a skin, never forgetting they are fighting a different form of intelligent being. “Katabasis” by Robert Reed is an excellent adventure story about two groups on rather different hiking expeditions in equally testing locations. There are shared elements of self-sacrifice and the result is a meditation on the effects of a shared experience of loss. “The Water Thief” by Alastair Reynolds is a slightly heavy-handed morality tale where a teleworker gets a small say in what should happen to two thieves, one in his own camp and the other on the moon. “Nightside on Callisto” by Linda Nagata is a fairly routine humans versus not very bright little robots story. “Under the Eaves” by Lavie Tidhar reminds us that no matter what the form of the bodies, the minds can still love each other. All it takes is a little trust. Coming to the second standout story, “Sudden, Broken, and Unexpected” by Steven Popkes is also about trust when a musician who has retreated from the world is tempted to collaborate with an AI performance engine. This is a terrific piece of writing as the human teaches the expert system and, in turn, learns something about his own psychology. Perhaps the AI ends up manipulating him. However it happens, the end result is a better team “live” performance.
“Fireborn” by Robert Charles Wilson continues the exploration of exploiter and exploited. Those of high status always believe they have a right to deal with the peasants as they choose. Except, of course, this assumes the peasants have no wit to turn the tables. “Ruminations in an Alien Tongue” by Vandana Singh proposes a machine that can change probabilities, allowing a person to leave the current reality and emerge somewhere “different”. Just how different? Well some things would be constant. Only the more minor details would change, if you were lucky, that is. “Tyche and the Ants” by Hannu Rajaniemi is a somewhat surreal SF story of a “young girl” whose hiding place is discovered and she has to grow up a little to understand what needs to be done to save herself. “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear is another of the fun stories transplanting H P Lovecraft to outer space. “Invisible Men” by Christopher Barzak is the truth behind the fiction produced by H G Wells as seen through the eyes of a woman who was socially invisible. It’s pleasingly elegant. “Ship’s Brother” by Aliette de Bodard is a sad story of a son, present when his mother gives birth to a sister, who never forgives her because his mother’s health never recovered. Uncritical familial love is apparently not in the male psyche. “Eater-of-Bone” by Robert Reed is another novelette set in the universe of the “Great Ship” and deals with the strained relationship between a group of human colonists and local indigenes. Needless to say, the humans don’t get along too well with each other. I find this somewhat gratuitously violent.
For other anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
Dozois, Gardner & Martin, George R. R.
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance
Songs of Love and Death