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Old Mars edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois

January 31, 2014 Leave a comment

Old-Mars-350773-86a859b3e2edd6690e9e

Old Mars edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois (Bantam Books, 2013) is introduced in “Red Planet Blues” by George R R Martin. The editors are of an age to have grown up with the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs and other early fictioneers who preferred the idea of our solar system’s planets being full of life just waiting to be discovered. Venus was a jungle world enveloped in mists and full of potentially dangerous life forms. Mars was the world of canals and a dying civilisation. And so on. There was a great deal of romance in the old-fashioned sense of the world as magic and science merged in simple, linear story lines of daring-do. By modern standards, the majority of these stories are badly written. So simply to recreate stories in a long-dead style would be a pointless venture. If people really want to read the supposed classics of this period, they are fairly easily obtained for a few pennies on the secondhand market. Consequently, this anthology is aiming for a retro feel with enough substance and, if appropriate, postmodern whimsy, to appeal to modern readers. For some of the authors, this proves to be a challenge too far. For others who are old enough in the tooth to have supped wine from the cups of pulp, the updating is something of a triumph.

 

“Martian Blood” by Allen M. Steele shows the strength and weakness of this theme. The set-up is genuinely interesting albeit not very original in trying to prove a scientific hypothesis. We happily pursue the plot hoping for something new or interesting. Perhaps there will be a twist we haven’t seen before. But when the end comes around, there’s no resolution. Instead of solving the problem and potentially preventing the outbreak of violence between Earth and the aborigines of Mars, all our hero has done is kick the can down the road. Not quite the return we expected for the predictable cure he administered. Although perhaps we’re supposed to think the genie was out of the bottle once the question had been asked back on Earth and that, sooner or later, someone would try again. “The Ugly Duckling” by Matthew Hughes seems to be a better balance between the old fantasy feel of Mars and more modern sensibilities. This time an archaeologist infiltrates a mining operation as it begins work to dismantle an old Martian town. He’s the stereotypical egghead surrounded by roughnecks in a place of wonder the miners can never appreciate. The question then becomes what represents the value of understanding a past culture and leaves us wondering what the swan will look like.

George R R Martin

George R R Martin

 

“The Wreck Of The Mars Adventure” by David D. Levine is a classic rerun of a science fantasy trope in which an adapted sailing vessel crosses the void between Earth and Mars, and then recovers from a crash landing to begin its return journey. It’s delightfully wacky as the sailors struggle with unexpected problems in navigating using the solar winds and then learn to trade with Martians for materials with which to rebuild the ship. “Swords Of Zar-tu-kan” by S.M. Stirling is a pleasing piece of noir set on the red planet with a kidnapping requiring tracking and extraction — not too difficult with an optimal canid to follow the scent trail and a Coercive to back up the human in the rescue mission. It flows nicely because it presents the extraordinary as ordinary and not needing explanation.

 

“Shoals” by Mary Rosenblum is a modern story pretending to be retro. None of the pulp writers would have been interested in a young man who could interact with Martians in a fractionally different dimension overlaid on the reality humans can see. Because he can interact with these beings, he can protect his human community but also plan an eternal life. It’s a rather beautiful story. “In The Tombs Of The Martian Kings” by Mike Resnick is a wonderful pulpish story of two adventurers who accept a commission to find the tomb and then begin a whole new negotiation. The sardonic humour of the piece elevates it to a higher level. “Out Of Scarlight” by Liz Williams is something of a curiosity. It’s a high class, high fantasy story of three different people tracking down an escaped slave, but I see nothing to require the reader to place this story on Mars. It could have been set anywhere. “The Dead Sea-bottom Scrolls” by Howard Waldrop is another delightful story but not at all pulpy.

Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois

 


“A Man Without Honor” by James S.A. Corey again sees eighteenth century ships of the line suddenly dragooned into service outside Earth’s atmosphere. This time, it all comes down to the word of an Englishman. Can he really be relied on to act as honour dictates? “Written In Dust” by Melinda Snodgrass is a standout story about a family out in the Martian boondocks next to the only remaining Martian city. The tragedy in the human relationships is all too recognisable. It’s a shame people make such problems for themselves through their inflexibility. “The Lost Canal” by Michael Moorcock is an author just having the greatest fun possible with two likely lovers going underground to save the world and have a drink of water. “The Sunstone” by Phyllis Eisenstein is a surprisingly sentimental story in which the notion of what it means to have a home is explored. Obviously, it could just be a physical place where you hang your hat, or it could be membership of a wider cultural construct. “King Of The Cheap Romance” by Joe R. Lansdale plays the game well with an implacable monster in pursuit of the resolute girl as she hurries to deliver the vital vaccine across the Martian ice. It touches all the bases of dead Martian culture as our hero takes a whistle-stop tour of a previous battle site while fighting her own. “Mariner” by Chris Roberson preserves the pulpish feel by engaging in matters piratical as a misplaced human sailor takes command of a Martian ship with interesting political repercussions. “The Queen Of Night’s Aria” by Ian Mcdonald produces a great wave of irrepressible fun as we rerun the oft-forgot Space Opera by Jack Vance with an Irish tenor playing Mars and winning in the final act. I’m not at all sure H G wells would have approved of this continuation of his great conflict, but it’s a rousing way to bring the curtain down on this anthology. Albeit slightly uneven in tone, Old Mars nevertheless represents very good value for money.

 

For reviews of other anthologies by our top editorial team, see:
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance,
Songs of Love and Death and
Warriors.

 

For an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois on his own, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection.

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

September 12, 2013 Leave a comment

bestsf30

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.

Old Mars
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance

Songs of Love and Death
Warriors

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

November 14, 2012 Leave a comment

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois (Macmillan, 2012) is another wonderful anthology. There’s genuinely something for everyone here.

“The Choice” by Paul McCauley is not just an excellent story about how alien technology comes to be swimming about in our oceans, it’s a masterclass in how to construct a story so that all the background is delivered without intrusive infodumps and the ending comes with a beautiful surprise. “A Soldier of the City” by David Moles asks the age-old question of why people fight. It may be out of a sense of patriotism or a generalised love for the leader. Whatever the reason, should the country or leader suffer a serious injury, the desire for revenge will dominate, soldiers will set off in anger. After the fighting has died away, what then remains for the surviving soldier, cut off from his people? “Dolly” by Elizabeth Bear converts the rather dry Asimov approach to the Three Laws of Robotics and finds an essentially human way of looking at an android that appears to have been used as a murder weapon. Assuming, of course, that a hacker could reprogram a machine. The result is a pleasingly provocative way of assessing what might constitute a just outcome once all the options are laid out on the table. “Martian Heart” by John Barnes is another very human story about the transformation people can achieve in themselves when they’re in love. Even the most unpromising of men can come good to fulfill a promise made to a woman left behind.

“Earth Hour” by Ken Macleod is a really nice story showing how the fact of an assassination, successful or not, can be a most promising move in a deep game where millions may be won or lost in stock trading and preparations for war may be advanced. It’s a most elegant blend of politics and future history. Continuing into the near future, “Laika’s Ghost” by Karl Schroeder shows us a different way of getting to other planets using profoundly dangerous technology for peaceful ends. Except once the peaceful have shown the potential, what will the militarists do? “The Dala Horse” by Michael Swanwick goes into a post-apocalyptic future where a death necessary for survival may trigger a second death out of compassion. Because of its uncertain context, the focus on the emotional essentials makes this rather poignant as the survival of the species may just have taken a step backwards.

“The Way It Works Out and All” by Peter S Beagle invites to consider the possibility that Avram Davidson might just have discovered a series of different dimensional doors through which one might pop from here to there and back again. Except could it also apply to those who have died? Our author is waiting for word on whether Avram can make it back. “The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman is a particularly elegantly constructed story parallelling examples of racial genocide on Earth with a story set on a world with three primary races. It considers the question of responsibility both for those who were naive collaborators and for those who now hunt government and military officers, ostensibly for trial but often for revenge killing. In the contemporary context, all it takes to produce the death of the owl is for a young woman to fail to check the freezer on a regular basis, reinforcing the message you should never trust others to do what you should do yourself. Indeed, even if it was the last of its kind, what value does one bird have? How can it compare to the sweep of human history or the love between a daughter and her mother? “The Copenhagen Interpretation” by Paul Cornell is rather in the spirit of the Prisoner of Zenda transposed into a rather different format. It’s fun but I confess to being a little baffled by what’s going on. I’ll have to track down more of these stories. “The Invasion of Venus” by Stephen Baxter is one of these quiet and unassuming stories that sets off quietly and, before you realise it’s in the air, it’s hitting the bullseye. I mean just how Earthcentric do we have to be! If I was an alien, I would ignore us too. “Digging” by Ian McDonald offers us the answer to the age-old question, “What do you do if you find yourself in a hole?” This is a nicely elegant terraforming story set on Mars where the people are trying a different version of the wartime Dig for Victory campaign.

“Ascension Day” by Alastair Reynolds is a short but highly effective story about a trading venture that must, in relative terms, span thousands of years between star systems and hundreds of years on individual planets. How then must the crew divide itself between the various duties to be performed? “Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne M Valente is a richly poetic exploration of what might come after humanity. This, of course, assumes that humanity births something new or something evolves from us. However it comes into being, would it be human? Perhaps it might contain multiple versions of itself as it iterates towards consciousness or nests versions of its identity like a Russian doll. Whatever it is, it probably could not stay on Earth. It would have to move away from danger or because it was a danger to humanity. “A Long Way Home” by Jay Lake is a delight, showing us an indomitable quality in the human survivor — a man who can endure and then face the future with equanimity (so long as it’s not boring, of course). “The Incredible Exploding Man” by Dave Hutchison has all the attributes of a great story. It has a simple premise which is worked through to a logical conclusion. It has a good sense of humour and is a great advertisement for sandwiches as a reward. “What We Found” by Geoff Ryman is an idea story in extended form showing a similar paradox to Schrödinger’s cat in which observing an event causes it to change. That would leave us with a very uncertain future unless observational scientific findings will always find stability just as, hopefully, parents will by creating loving environments in which their children can grow up. “A Response From EST 17” by Tom Purdom (good to see him still writing) is a nice first contact story in which the aliens have to decide which of two competing Earth probes to respond to and what to say (if anything because saying something can be very unsettling). “The Cold Step Beyond” by Ian R Macleod is a beautifully wrought version of an old idea: that before you can conquer another warrior, you must first conquer yourself.

“Militant Peace” by David Klecha and Tobias S Buckell is another of these nice idea stories and, although wildly improbable, it does ask some nice questions about the morality of not fighting a defensive war. “The Ants of Flanders” by Robert Reed is another alien invasion story but our hero is incapable of fear and so comes through the experience emotionally the same although his body does go through a minor modification. “The Smell of Orange Groves” by Lavie Tidhar is an interestingly reflective piece about the persistence of memory and the extent to which a shared memory may bring people together. “The Iron Shirts” by Michael F Flynn is actually a very good story but I’m not convinced it’s SF. It seems to be lurking in a hinterland of alternative history based on who got to America first. “Cody” by Pat Cadigan is a delightful story of a courier’s ordeal. Not that it’s a delight to him that he has an ordeal, you understand. But his defences are better than the ordinary criminal might expect. “For I have Lain Me Down in the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again” by Michael Swanick is story worth longer discussion but all I can say here is that it demonstrates the tendency of history to cast people as victims but there can be a break with the past when people emigrate. It’s a very effective mirror to moderately recent events. “Ghostweight” by Yoon Ha Lee is a pleasing story about the change in role achieved by demonstrating competence. “Digital Rites” by Jim Hawkins struck me as outstanding both in concept and execution. While not original, it has a lightness of touch and a particularly elegant metafictional ending as the credits roll on this film-industry epic. “The Bonless One” by Alec Nevala-Lee is one of these pleasing stories in which an encounter with a new phenomenon triggers a potentially destructive effect. The important thing to remember in such situations is that the duty to the living outweighs all other considerations. “Canterbury Hollow” by Chris Lawson is a melancholic tale celebrating the futility of survival and the magnificence anyone with courage can engineer for the ending. “The Vorkuta Event” by Ken Macleod is one of these vaguely Lovecraftian SF stories in which one small step for man may be one step too far (depending on your worldview and general allegiances, of course). The final story, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson is a delightful exploration of how one should approach the unknown. Here’s a world faced by a genuinely strange natural phenomenon. It does not have the technology to explore it but a few brave souls believe they may have the ability to build bridges over it whenever the gap is narrow enough. Except just what are the limits when people may have such big dreams and, in an ironic commentary on the engineering, is it not equally important to build social bridges between individuals?

For brief comments on the remaining stories, “The Beancounter’s Cat” by Damien Broderick, “The Vicar of Mars” by Gwneth Jones, and “Dying Young” by Peter M Ball first appeared in Eclipse Four. See also “After the Apocalypse” in the collection of the same name by Maureen F McHugh.

For other anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection

Dozois, Gardner & Martin, George R. R.

Old Mars
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance

Songs of Love and Death
Warriors

This anthology has been shortlisted for the 2013 Locus Award.

 

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-eighth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois is a big anthology of thirty-three stories and novellas. With a lot to mention, I’ll forego the usual introduction.

“A History of Terraforming” by Robert Reed is a melancholic story that reflects on the inherent intellectual and emotional weaknesses that bedevil the human race and seem, forever, to doom it to self-destructiveness. And, yet, suppose a gentle and wise man could live long enough to impose some self-discipline on us childlike humans. Would he not only transform planets, but also the people who live on them? It’s a pleasing, albeit elegiac meditation on the dangers of hubris and the value of humility. “The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String” by Lavie Tidhar is also somewhat sad. Although we are the sum of our memories, there’s no guarantee that the removal of unhappy memories will make us any happier. Indeed, the irony is the very notion we might have forgotten something important could make us even more unhappy.

At last, I’m able to praise a story by Allen M. Steele. He’s so often come close with the ingenuity of his plotting, but I’ve always felt his work lacked an emotional heart. “The Emperor of Mars” proves a real delight. It’s a reassuring tale of a colony faced with a worker having a serious psychotic break. Instead of reacting with intolerance, there’s a surprisingly supportive response, allowing the man to live in the world as he chooses to believe it is. “The Things” by Peter Watts is the other side of the John W Campbell, “Who Goes There?” as told by the alien “thing”. I was interested in the idea, but thought it went on too long. “The Sultan of the Clouds” by Geoffrey A. Landis is a most ingenious story about money and power in a future version of our solar system. The physical descriptions of life on Venus are fascinating and the plot itself neatly dovetailed together. On a note of frustration, I can understand why the story ended where it did, but I remain curious as to what happened next.

Gardner Dozois looking avuncular

“The Books” by Kage Baker is a post-apocalypse story of a group of travelling entertainers who also act as a repository of some human knowledge and skills. It’s an adult story with children as the protagonists which makes it slightly unusual, avoiding the sentimentality that so often blights such stories and keeping the adults of ordinary intelligence. “Re-crossing the Styx” by Ian R. Macleod is another ingenious idea about life before and after death. It might be surprising to find out how hard people might fight to maintain their existence, particularly if the right technology was available. “And Ministers of Grace” by Tad Williams (1) poses the eternal question of what we might believe if we’re left to our own devices. For too long, we’ve been surrounded by people telling us what’s right and wrong. Perhaps, if those people went away, we might discover more natural or universal laws in operation. It would be interesting to find out. “Mammoths of the Great Plains” by Eleanor Arnason is slightly tedious, chronicling the demise and resurrection of the North American Mammoth in this alternate history. “Sleeping Dogs” by Joe Haldeman is a pleasingly hard-bitten story that ruminates on the uses and abuses of power. When a ruling group controls all aspects of life, problems can disappear or people may simply forget inconvenient truths. “Jackie’s Boy” by Steven Popkes could have been a routine post-apocalypse story, but it’s saved by the relationship between the boy and the elephant. Both have serious trust issues. Nevertheless, as is always the way in stories of this kind, they reach a mutual accommodation in the face of adversity. “Chicken Little” by Cory Doctorow is compulsively intelligent in its discussion of what makes us human and how, if at all, we could change the mix to produce a better version. In this, let’s put aside the ethics of experimenting on people without their knowledge and consent. After all, farmers have been feeding us antibiotics for years. All we need for a mass clinical trial is the right person to sell the need to take the new magic pill. Then we can all find out the hard way whether the world becomes a better place. “Flower, Mercy, Needle, Chain” by Woon Ha Lee is a particularly pleasing idea, elegant framed and shortly executed. Like any tasty morsel, it’s consumed in a moment, but lingers on the intellectual palate for a long time. “Return to Titan” by Stephen Baxter is an amusing gonzo science story of an exploration of Titan that literally pulls the plug on the characters’ life support system when they discover sentient life from a different universe. “Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick is Ballardian in spirit covering rather more contemporary conceptions of knowledge and science. It’s interesting but, for me, underwhelming. “SevenYears From Home” by Naomi Novik (1) sees the tried-and-tested approach of prodding a hornets nest come unstuck because, in this instance, the prodders mistook the nature of the nest. Hornets are dangerous enough but, when they can develop new abilities, everyone may be at risk. “The Peacock Cloak” by Chris Beckett takes an internalised debate on how to develop a world, and allows different facets of a creative personality to play out the options in a pocket universe. It’s an intriguing idea and, like all good ideas, it’s time-limited.

“Amaryllis” by Carrie Vaughn flirts with sentimentality and just about emerges unscathed in a heart-warming tale of fisherfolk, their quotas and a desire for children. “Seven Cities of Gold” by David Moles is a rather melancholic story about the intellectual and emotional journey all thinking people should take when confronted by the reality of war. When you realise the blood of the dead is on the hand of leaders on all sides of the conflict, the best you can do, assuming you survive, is to get as far away from the madness as possible. “Again and Again and Again” by Rachel Swirsky is short and hilarious. It should be required reading for all those contemplating parenthood. “Elegy for a Young Elk” by Hannu Rajaniemi is a completely entrancing fantasy masquerading as science fiction. The ideas are fascinating and thrown into the melting pot so casually, you almost miss their cleverness before they are gone. “Libertarian Russia” by Michael Swanwick asks what we really mean by freedom. Perhaps it’s an absence of rules or maybe it’s an absence of people to enforce rules, or could it be a rejection of contemporary values and systems like money? “The Night Train” by Lavie Tidhar is an OTT story about how far human evolution might go as a crime boss and bodyguard take a short trip by train from one exotic city to another. This has a willful exuberance about it, as if there are no envelopes left to be pushed.

“My Father’s Singularity” by Brenda Cooper is ostensibly science fiction but really about the gulf that separates parents and their children. Every father has dreams for his children’s future but, when they grow up and move away, reality collides with the dreams and something has to give way. “The Starship Mechanic” by Jay Lake and Ken Scholes paraphrases the Biblical suggestion, “physician heal thyself” to refer to an alien mechanic who, as a book buff, doesn’t quite polish floors with hairless cats, but comes close. “Sleepover” by Alastair Reynolds is a classic example of the “big idea” story. What if our world is nothing but a simulation requiring massive processing power to keep it working. The more complex the world and the greater the number of people, the slower the “machine” would run. In such a case, we might all have to stop thinking for a while. There’s no-one better than Reynolds at this kind of story. “The Taste of the Night” by Pat Cadigan (2) walks the think line between sanity and insanity, tumour and a new ability to see the world (or perhaps, even, a new world).

“Blind Cat Dance” by Alexander Jablokov sees the idea of editing an animal’s consciousness applied to human relationships. We don’t need to see those we dislike. Equally, in our own relationship with food, we can edit out the inconvenient animal parts and leave only the meat. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. “The Shipmaker” by Aliette de Bodard shows us how we might produce starships in a distant future even though nothing might quicken without the help of a surrogate mother. In-fall” by Ted Kosmatka shows how even the threat of not dying and so denying martyrdom may not be sufficient to prise the names of co-conspirators from a fanatic’s lips. “Chimbwi” by Jim Hawkins confirms that, culturally, there’s a border to cross when you arrive in a country as a refugee with nothing. Even so, journeys don’t always end where you expect. Finally, we come back to Robert Reed, Ouroboros style, in “Dead Man’s Run” which is a nice mystery with a clever idea, but it unnecessarily prolongs the literal chase to the whodunnit solution.

In a book of more than 700 pages, it would be a miracle in convergence of taste if a reader found every word coming through an editor to be of the highest quality. The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-eighth Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois is no exception. Critical sensibilities are highly personal. That said, there are only a few stories I found weaker than hoped for. In a book of this length, no-one can ask for anything more and, with some spectacular successes to find, I unhesitatingly recommend this. It has won the 2012 Locus Award for Best Anthology.

(1) First appeared in Warriors edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois.

(2) First appeared in Is Anybody Out There? edited by Nick Gevers and Marty Halpern.

For other anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, see
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection
and as a tag team with George R R Martin:
Old Mars
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance
Songs of Love and Death
Warriors

Songs of Love and Death edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois

Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star-crossed Love is another impressive anthology from George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois who have now displaced Bambi and Thumper from the top of the league table of editorial superstars. This time, they have challenged their current coterie of top authors to explore the interface between romance and fantasy, looking for “star-crossed love”.

 

We start off with “Love Hurts” by Jim Butcher. This has Harry Dresden consider how much illusion can enhance reality as we pass in and out of the sometimes confusingly named Tunnel of Love. Perhaps if we know the love is fake, we can stop it from working its magic, which would be particularly important if, unlike Dresden and Murphy, we happened to be brother and sister. Switching tropes, “The Marrying Maid” by Jo Beverley is an elegant story of a mortal caught in a game between Oberon and Titania. Some might say this is a golden opportunity, particularly if we had a Robin Hood complex, but it all comes down to our credibility with the maidens. I mean, how many are gullible enough to fall for a story that the man will literally die if he doesn’t get them into bed?

George R R Martin demonstrating the concept of talking books.

 

“Rooftops” by Carrie Vaughn gives us a real twist on the superhero complex with many humans, modestly enhanced, emerging to defend the downtrodden from further victimisation. And all the mutual attraction between defender and defended could be celebrated in words, but only the postmodern variety, of course. After all, who knows just how super anyone will turn out to be. “Hurt Me” by M L N Hanover is the impressive Daniel Abraham pretending to be new author. He asks how a victim might recover her self-respect and the answer is particularly pleasing when it comes to a definition of revenge. This is one of the best short stories of the year (so far).

 

“Demon Lover” by Cecilia Holland brings us back to the land of the fey where cruelty is routine if you surrender yourself for the sake of illusions. While we are off into distant galaxies with “The Wayfarer’s Advice” by Melinda M Snodgrass. This deals with sad practicalities when the gap in status is just too great to bridge. Even though you might snatch a few selfish moments, the worlds cannot keep on orbiting their suns unless key people are in the right place. Back on the ground, “Blue Boots” by Robin Hobb reminds us that there’s never any guarantee gossip will give you perfect information, nor that jealousy can resist the chance to dispose of a rival. This is a pleasing “straight” historical romance in which the right minstrel can weave magic with words. And, thinking about how words can defend our reputations, “The Thing About Cassandra” by Neil Gaiman wonders who might have invented whom remembering, of course, that the curse on the original Cassandra meant no-one believed what she said about anything important.

Gardner Dozois disguised as one of those cocktails with a stick

 

“After the Blood” by Marjorie M Liu details how survivors in a post-apocalypse situation might change if the world offered different ways in which we might commune with nature. People of all varieties are often more adaptable than they believe possible. Change, though, can come with a price tag attached. “You, and You Alone” by Jacqueline Carey might be a commitment too far. This is a very good piece of writing, but it reads more as background to, or an extract from, a Kushiel novel than a short story. That said, this is a clever way of talking about the commitments we make in different types of love: as between brother and sister, between lovers, and to children.

 

“His Wolf” by Lisa Tuttle is another particularly strong story that speculates on the way people bond. This may be as humans when they meet someone they feel is a kindred spirit, or as human to animal where both may change their lifestyles to adapt to each other. This can get more interesting if it becomes a ménage à trois. Returning to outer space, “Courting Trouble” by Linnea Sinclair has us in a more straightforward situation of a police officer seeking just the right moment to confess love. Somehow, the middle of an undercover operation with space canons pointing at you is not necessarily a good time.

 

“The Demon Dancer” by Mary Jo Putney has odd moments of rather banal magic interwoven into a tapestry of greater abilities. In this case, we have the old May/December relationship problem tinged with the recognition that, after December, comes January and then things are the right way round again. While “Under/Above the Water” by Tanith Lee is a magical tale about reincarnation or the ability of two souls who, feeling destined to be together, manage to transcend time and end together. This is a very clever blend of magic and romance in an SFnal setting.

 

Coming into the finishing straight, “Kaskia” by Peter S Beagle shows how chatting online can help bring reality into focus. All you need is an incentive to talk and the very act of forming the previously unspoken words, clarifies your thoughts. Beagle really is one of the most consistently readable short story writers working today. “Man in the Mirror” by Yasmine Galenorn produces a nice variation on the old idea of mirrors as a trap for the unwary. In this case, being in love sometimes means you must sacrifice yourself to save another. Finally, “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” by Diana Gabaldon sees the necessary editorial decision to translate British slang into something our transatlantic cousins can understand. I often wonder whether it might not be better to avoid using British English altogether when something is written for the US market. That said, this is a poignant way to end the anthology. Sometimes those who are lost need to hold on to memories just as sailors navigate by the stars. As they travel, they hope. Perhaps they will be in time to save the one they love.

 

It’s always pleasing to be able to report another excellent anthology. Although there are odd moments when I felt a slight falling away in matter of detail, this has a remarkable consistency of standard. Definitely worth reading!

 

For reviews of other anthologies by our top editorial team, see: Old Mars, Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance and Warriors.

 

For an anthology edited by Gardner Dozois on his own, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection.

 

“The Thing About Cassandra” by Neil Gaiman is a finalist in the 2011 Locus Award for Best Short Story.

 

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance edited by George R R Martin and Gardner Dozois

March 31, 2011 1 comment

Well, our two grizzled veterans have been at it again. In Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance, George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois have produced another classy anthology for which I can offer the headline that there are no weak links. Every story is significantly better than good.

 

We need to clear the decks for action as I ready myself to take on another of these heavy-weight books — an almost seven-hundred page behemoth. As an ex-Vance completist, I used to have all the Underwood Miller editions including their first which was, by coincidence, The Dying Earth. What looked rather beautiful in an oversized hardback edition is replicated in this standard trade edition with the pages framed and line illustrations as headers to each story. Frankly, at this scale, it wastes space to no useful purpose. The book would have been slightly lighter and easier to handle had this affectation been eliminated.

 

Secondly, I’m not sure how to review this anthology. The stories are in homage to Jack Vance who was, by any standards, one of the best of the writers at work from the late 1940s onwards. Jack has magnanimously agreed to allow a new crew to sail in his Dying Earth universe. This is a good thing. If we are denied work from the Old Master, we can see what others can produce in the same setting. So does that mean I’m to produce two scores on the doors? The first as an evaluation of each story on its own merits and then judging how well the story works as a Vance pastiche.

George R R Martin still able to hold up his end of a book

 

Take the first by the venerable Robert Silverberg to show the problem. ”The True Vintage of Erzuine Thale” is very respectful and worthy. We see how the poet Puillayne reacts when his daily routine of alcoholically-inspired versifying is interrupted by the arrival of Porlocking fans. In spirit, it very positively fits into the Vancean style and, much as we assume Coleridge would have wanted to react, demonstrates what may happen when guests overstep the bounds of social propriety. Except the result is slightly po-faced. In the disposition of the inconsiderate interlopers, I miss Vance’s sly sense of humour. So it’s a very good story in its own right, albeit perhaps slightly too long. But it lacks a key Vancean element. This lack of wit is remedied in “Grolion of Almery” by Matthew Hughes who has been writing in the style of Vance for years and has grown particularly good at it. This story recreates a Cugel-type confrontation in the manse of a Magician proving there’s no problem that cannot be solved with deftness of hand and acuity of mind. The results of the solution are, of course, usually neutral with survival for anyone in Grolion’s position and all spoils of manipulative extravagances lost.

 

“The Copsy Door” by Terry Dowling captures the magic literally as irony stalks the land like a one-eyed chicken with a limp and takes the prematurely triumphant for a ride. As the sun sets in the Clever Window, it’s always good to look in a mirror and see single become double-crossers before the light fades away. “Caulk the Witch-chaser” by Liz Williams demonstrates the old rule that, if you allow a hard-bitten supernatural writer loose in a fantasy land, you get unexpectedly tough results. This has a harder edge that would usually be associated with Vance, but it’s sufficiently good we can enjoy it anyway as a piece of real estate becomes vacant at an opportune time with a wedding in the air. “Inescapable” by Mike Resnick obeys another of Vance’s laws — that everyone who insists on having his own way, gets his just deserts. It’s not so much that selfishness is punished, but that a refusal to listen to wise advice usually presages disaster. The converse of this is found in “Abrizonde” by Walter Jon Williams. Here an unfortunate architectural student finds himself in a jam but, with the help of his madling Hegadil, he contrives not only to survive, but also to prosper. It was ever the way in Vance where the cautious prevail.

Gardner Dozois demonstrates the ancient art of writing

 

Even at my advanced age, it’s always a pleasure to encounter someone new. In “The Traditions of Karzh”, Paula Volsky produces a delightful story which reminds us all that, if a person is realistic and maximises his endeavours within the physical and intellectual limitations with which he was born, he’s set for life. If change does become possible, it’s simply in the means with which he can pursue his own interests. Jeff VanderMeer’s approach is not so much as to wander off the Vance reservation as to redefine it in ways rather more phantasmagorical. In the wildly entertaining “The Final Quest of the Wizard Sarnod”, two servants must survive the Underhind to rescue two prisoners. Except they find themselves endangered as fishes out of water in this strange world.

 

“The Green Bird” by Kage Baker offers another adventure for Cugel who was never one to be slow in coming forward when the prospect of riches is in the offing. He finds there’s more than meets the eye in the titular bird and unlike the bird that draws blood with his beak, Cugel bites off more than he can chew. “The Last Golden Thread” by Phllis Eisenstein has a young man learn that, sometimes, you have to give up the past birds to recognise the bird in the hand. While Elizabeth Moon takes us racing in “An Incident in Uskvesk” where we find good things can come in small packages if you have the right motivation and a good depilatory cream. Lucius Shephard‘s “Sylgarmo’s Proclamation” reunites us with Cugel at a towering moment with the death of the sun imminent.

 

Tad Williams warns us in “The Lamentably Comical Tragedy” that even magicians serving suspension can be dangerous when provoked, while the Captain’s advice offered by Sir Henry Newbolt remains just as true today as when it was first written, “Play up! Play up! and play the game!” In “Guyal the Curator”, John C. Wright reminds us that disinterested intelligence underpins great investigative work. Honour satisfied may mean a form of contract or bargain between two people, but the availability and application of knowledge have the greatest value when the poor benefit, i.e. wisdom should be tempered by compassion. But, in “The Good Magician”, Glen Cook suggests that wisdom can be abused by those with selfish motives. Sometimes only the innocent should be allowed access to higher powers.

 

Which, of course, begs the question of what constitutes innocence. Can anyone with magical abilities ever be considered truly innocent? Morality is always flexible if one person may exert covert influence over another. So, “In the Return of the Fire Witch”, Elizabeth Hand would have us consider whether, even under duress, one witch should help another exterminate a malevolent ruling clan. “The Collegeum of Mauge” Byron Tetrick produces one of those causal loops in which time ill-spent by Cugel becomes the means of his rescue from the Spell of Forlorn Encystment. In Tanith Lee‘s “Evillo the Uncunning”, our hero finds his empty head apparently full of useful skills when he agrees to assist a snail. However, it may not be so convenient if this should become a more permanent arrangement, particularly if his name is known. And then when it comes to knowledge, what better place to find it than in a library, except to find the texts in readable form you need, “The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz” by Dan Simmons. This is wonderful peregrination halfway around the world without worrying how to get back. Such are the plans of mice and men. Included within these plans is the need for a librarian or, if the establishment is more a museum, then a curator. Recruiting such men at the end of the world is a challenge as Howard Waldrop explains in “Frogskin Hat”.

 

“A Night At the Tarn House” by George R R Martin shows an establishment that has given up its pursuit of a Michelin star, except when it comes to serving out deserts. Finally, “An Invocation of Incuriosity” by Neil Gaiman demonstrates the need to ensure you have everything you need when you evacuate from the end of the world.

 

All in all, Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is a double-plus-good book, crammed to the rafters with excellence from writers all fantastical.

 

For reviews of other anthologies edited by the dynamic duo, see Old Mars, Warriors and Songs of Love and Death.

 

For anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois on his own, see: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection.

 

For the autobiography of Jack Vance, see This is me, Jack Vance!

 

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois

November 16, 2010 2 comments

“Hold very tight please,” advise Flanders & Swann as we climb to the top of the Clapham Omnibus in their song “Transport of Delight” — and off we go in a not-so-little something for everyone who likes to travel through science fiction under the editorial direction of Gardner Dozois. The bus starts rolling with “Utrusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson in which a now godlike being looks back at her humble origin and reviews what she told herself about her life. The love she unexpectedly came to share with Erasmus carries them forward as they distance themselves from this universe, shedding other social relationships much like a snake sheds its skin as it grows. The irony is that she becomes this higher being because of the borderline personality disorder induced by her early life in this trailer park. “A Story With Beans” by Stephen Gould also deals with the forces that shape a young couple’s destiny while “Under the Shouting Sky” by Karl Bunker speculates on what price anyone would be willing to pay to preserve knowledge and the possibility of understanding. Thematically, this idea of balancing cost against benefit continues with “Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance” by John Kessel. The authority implicit in hegemony often depends on simple cultural icons. If only you could steal the prime icon. . . Holding the icon for ransom and resisting the use of power to recover it, would introduce a sense of vulnerability and puncture the myth of the hegemon’s invincibility. But how many lives would you sacrifice in this “means” and “ends” war of attrition?

In “Black Swan”, Bruce Sterling has fun thinking about alternate versions of Europe while rerunning a version of the Sliders trope. “Crimes and Glory” is one of the Jackaroo stories by Paul McCauley (there are six of them now). When an alien offers you a bargain, we’re in the old stamping ground of the primitive who does not have the knowledge and experience to recognise a gun for what it is. As Earthlings, we don’t have the technology to explore the limitations or liabilities of accepting the deal as offered. How are we to know their motives? This story has us rattling the bars on the cage in a highly readable police procedural and consequent pursuit. “The Seventh Fall” by Alexander Irvine is not unlike Brin’s Postman and Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 where a survivor performs Shakespeare and Homer to those he encounters in return for food and shelter, all the while trying to reconstruct a copy of Hamlet. It’s a bit derivative but emotionally powerful. “Butterfly Bomb” by Dominic Green is a really elegant story about how, in a relationship built on love and respect, one might negotiate with a bomb to persuade it not to self-replicate and kill more people. Having read similar stories before, I can say this is my all-time favourite version of the trope. A real delight. “Infinities” by Vandana Singh is slightly outside my comfort zone because I have no competence in maths. I recall “Message Found in a Copy of Flatland” by Rudy Rucker as similar in theme. But no matter how obscure the concepts, in using the relationship between the two men as they age, we have a powerful story about the futile but continuing strife between the Hindus and Moslems in India. In this case, friendship transcends the more usual reality.

“Things Undone” by John Barnes is an unexpectedly good time paradox story. All authors flirt with the changes-in-the-past-rippling-forward thing (and some get them published), but this is the first time I can remember anyone having this kind of choice in the process. It’s genuinely innovative and pleasing to see how there’s an element of conservation in the mutability of time so that, sooner or later, the same people will come to the right place to do the things they ought to have done or ought to do. “On the Human Plan” by Jay Lake is a striking story of stasis. In the end of time, perhaps we will just endure in whatever body we have made for ourselves and deny death an entry to our realm — we are, after all, no longer really living anyway. “The Island” by Peter Watts is equally fascinating in that humans alternate short bursts of activity followed by long periods of suspended animation and so mirror Robert Wilson’s method of transcending time. The relationship between the original human crew, the computer and the newly born is carefully thought through, while the intelligent Dyson sphere reminds me of Hoyle’s cloud. The whole thing is stitched together by the supposed continuing need to provide a transport infrastructure — left hanging in an absurd way Douglas Adams would have approved. Not surprisingly, this won the Hugo Award 2010 for Best Novelette.

“The Integrity of the Chain” by Lavie Tidhar is a haunting tale of life in a future Vientiane where even the humble may dream of one day going into space. “Lion Walk” by Mary Roseblum tells a genre-bending tale of mystery and a variation on Crichton’s Jurassic Park. The ideas are interesting, but a better balance between detail on the investigation and the safari adventure content would improve it. “Escape to Other Worlds With Science Fiction” by Jo Walton is a “fun” alternate history where Nazi-style betrayal may become irresistible, even in a freedom-loving USA. “Three Leave of Aloe” by Rand B. Lee describes the possibility of surgery and chips as an intervention to control behaviour. All hyperactive or aggressive children should read this cautionary tale. It’s also pleasing to see this with an Indian setting. Too often short stories are Western-centric and Dozois is to be commended for diversifying locales throughout this anthology.

“Paradiso Lost” by Albert E. Cowdrey is a delightful military space opera with everything from the loopy general, the still-wet-behind-the-ears officers to the telepath and hostile aliens (if not initially, then certainly at the end). This is a terrific, page-turning read. “Blocked” by Jeff Ryman is a fascinating rumination of how Earth’s civilisation might respond to the prospect of alien’s arriving (or not, depending on how you view the world governments’ announcement). There would be urgent efforts to develop technology to escape from Earth or perhaps to escape into the Earth. The relationships across cultures and age are scrupulously honest. As for Singapore, I can’t think of a better place to build new shopping malls. When writing a story like “Solace” by James Van Pelt, a balance always has to be struck between real emotion and mere sentimentality. Here we have two threads juxtaposed in which both protagonists need to find the strength to continue life. That both arrive at satisfying resolutions without mawkishness is a testament to a good writer at work. “Act One” by Nancy Kress is quite the best gene terrorism story I’ve read in years — a real tour de force with characterisation to match the needs of the plot in every sense of the word. This should be written up into novel length so I can get to see Act Two and the Finale. With quality recognised, this was shortlisted for both the Nebula and the Hugo Awards 2010 for Best Novella. “Twilight of the Gods” by John C. Wright gives a completely unexpected spin to the generation ship trope with a hoary conflation of Tolkien and Wagner making magical music on the rings.

“Blood Dauber” by Ted Kosmatka and Michael Poore is a story that would work equally well in science fiction or horror. It grips you like a new breed of Hymenoptera with teeth and never lets you go. This is a genuinely outstanding story reminding me of George R. R. Martin’s “Sandkings” — another of my all-time favourites. “This Wind Blowing, and This Tide” by Damien Broderick is a sensitive story about loss showing how shared emotions may reach out across time and space, propagating like a wave. It also nicely captures two levels of contempt: one the scientific community holds for the paranormal; the other the military has for everyone. “Hair” by Adam Roberts is a realpolitik story of how the world’s vested interests might react to a scientific innovation that removes any human’s reliance on eating as a source of nourishment. This is very clever, although the ending is a bit predictable. “Before My Last Breath” by Robert Reed captures a sense of wonder in posing the question and then answering what the aliens were doing — it’s a real tragedy that, even with interplanetary capability, a species may still be dogged by inappropriate belief systems.

“One of Our Bastards Is Missing” by Paul Carnell is an old-fashioned gonzo science fiction tale of daring-do in an alternate world where Newton’s inspiration from the apple took an entirely different turn. This is remarkably entertaining and, if he could be persuaded to write this up into a novel, I would be queuing to buy it. Again the quality was recognised with its shortlisting for the Hugo Award 2010 for Best Novelette — he was also shortlisted for Best Graphic Story and proves himself a person of interest. “Edison’s Frankenstein” by Chris Roberson has us in an alternate world where electricity never has a chance to gain a foothold as against technology recovered from a polar expedition. The resulting culture is carefully Victorian and very steampunkish as a men struggle to find a place for themselves in a world increasingly dependent on automata to supply labour. This is great fun and faintly horrific in an impish way. “Erosion” by Ian Creasey is amusing as a science fiction story set on the coast not so far from where I used to live, showing how we must all make sacrifices if we are to leave our roots behind us. It manages to cram a lot of interesting ideas into a small space. Finally, “Vishnu at the Cat Circus” by Ian McDonald (also shortlisted for the Hugo Award 2010 for Best Novella) sees gene manipulation produce a new generation where, perhaps, time moves differently in this new India, allowing the chance to observe and detect cultural patterns. But, of course, nothing changes within a family where brothers may jealously squabble and then reconcile.

I have mentioned Maureen F McHugh’s Useless Things and “It Takes Two” by Nicola Griffith in the review of Eclipse Three, the latter story being shortlisted for the Hugo Award 2010 for Best Novelette.

“Mongoose” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette was mentioned in my review of Lovecraft Unbound.

Looking back through this anthology, I am conscious of something remarkable. At this length, I can rarely remember encountering a group of stories without an obvious weak link. Frankly, having been a reader of science fiction for more than fifty years, I can safely say this is one of the very best (of the best) anthologies I can recall reading. There should be no excuse. If you enjoy science fiction, you should read this book!

For other anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, see:
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Eighth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection
The Year’s Best Science Fiction Thirtieth Annual Collection
Working as a tag team with George R R Martin, there are four anthologies:
Old Mars
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance,
Songs of Love and Death: All Original Tales of Star-crossed Love
Warriors.

This anthology is a finalist in the 2011 Locus Award for Best Anthology.

 

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