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The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-First Annual Collection (No. 21) Paperback – July 1, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
With stories that run the gamut from alternate history to strange admixtures of SF and fantasy to bizarrely inexplicable worlds, and with authors ranging from big names to first-timers, Hugo-winner Dozois shows off the dazzling range of the genre in his annual compendium. Several authors deal with the loneliness of humans in the galaxy. In William Barton's "Off on a Starship," young Wally accidentally leaves Earth on an automated spaceship, only to discover that there are no other people out there—and when he finally comes home, it's not as a boy but as a god. Walter Jon Williams's bittersweet "The Green Leopard Plague" explores the economic and social consequences of conquering world hunger. Geoff Ryman's timely "Birth Days" follows a gay researcher as he finds a way to "cure" homosexuality, with unexpected results. Other standout stories include Kage Baker's rollicking "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst," where the Company takes on Hearst, and loses; and Michael Swanwick's fantastic "King Dragon," where the dragon's lackey strikes back. This hefty tome has enough content for a summer of reading, and the range of stories indicates that SF still doesn't know the meaning of the word "boundaries."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
The most prestigious of the several best-of-the-year fantasy and sf anthologies never fails to enchant and to showcase sf's leading edge. In it, high-quality contributions by a generous cross section of veterans, rising stars, and newcomers--29 authors in all-- constitute a balanced mixture of ideas and voices. In William Barton's "Off on a Starship," a 1960s-era adolescent and fan of B-grade space opera is swept onto a bona fide flying saucer, with unexpected results. Newcomer Jack Skillingstead contributes an electrifying tale about an astronaut exploring other worlds by robotic proxy; his emotions are stripped away in the process. The genre's humorous side is represented by Paul Di Filippo's jocular tale of household objects becoming too artificially intelligent for their own good, and Michael Swanwick explores the border between fantasy and sf in "King Dragon," in which dragons rule the skies above England, albeit with a little help from rocket-powered technology. As usual, the ample volume includes summations of the year's sf activities and Dozois' informative story introductions. Indispensable for every library's sf collection. Carl Hays
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
It's All True, John Kessel. 1940's cinema legend wooed by time traveling 2048 talent scout. Sizzling narrative doused by lukewarm ending. B
Rogue Farm, Charles Stoss. Future farmer harassed by bizarre genetically engineered squatter(s?). B
The Ice, Steven Popkes. Does a man's past determine his future? This question takes on new complexity for a clone of Gordie Howe in this richly textured character study. A
Ej-Es, Nancy Kress. For the strangely afflicted colonists on a remote planet, the line is sharp between disease and cure...but which is which? B
The Bellman, John Varley. Serial killer of pregnant women pursued by pregnant cop on the extensively colonized Moon. Gore galore. B
The Bear's Baby, Judith Moffett. Environmentally correct aliens clean up Mother Earth, but play dirty with humans. Snappy narrative, intriguing plot. A
Calling Your Name, Howard Waldrop. Droll widower pops into an alternate reality where everything's the same, except completely different. Comically composed, elegantly ended. A
June Sixteenth at Anna's, Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Melancholy widower deteriorates watching his wife in a holographic history. Melancholy. C
The Green Leopard Plague, Walter Jon Williams. Intrepid widower, this one a brilliant academic, postulates a new world order after some mayhem over a breakthrough in bioengineering. Long tunnel, no cheese. C
The Fluted Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi. In a far future fiefdom, servants are cruelly and bizarrely bioengineered at the whim of their lord. One victim plots an escape-of sorts. B
Dead Worlds, Jack Skillingstead. Man sacrifices his life for science, then has a tough life. A poignant and philosophical love story, remarkably compact. A+
King Dragon, Michael Swawnick. Curious mix of SF and fantasy as a downed fighter jet's nasty computer lords it over of a village full of elves. A
Singletons in Love, Paul Melko. Group consciousness makes falling in love problematic for future humans. C
Anomalous Structures of My Dreams, M. Shayne Bell. Stop whining! A hospital patient dying of AIDS gets a roomie who's really sick. B
The Cookie Monster, Vernon Vinge. Zzzz.
Joe Steele, Harry Turtledove. Stalin-type beats FDR in 1932 and all hell breaks loose. B
Birth Days, Geoff Ryman. Recessive homosexuality gene turns out to be dominant. Dubious Darwinian premise merely prop-for-ganda. D
Awake in the Night, John C. Wright. Eons hence, Earth languishes in perpetual darkness, the light of civilization a mere flicker as well. A man battles inscrutable monsters and the very weight of time in this haunting and surreal tale of adventure. A+
The Long Way Home, James Van Pelt. Mankind's recovery from nuclear holocaust takes centuries, and for a few men, so it does also. B
The Eyes of America, Geoffrey A. Landis. Technology and satire rage on when the presidential race pits Thomas Edison and Samuel Clemens against William Jennings Bryan and Nikola Tesla. A+
Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst, Kage Baker. Immortal sales rep for a future corporation does some supernatural horse trading with William Randolph Hearst. B
Night of Time, Robert Reed. Memory retrieval in a far future corner of the Milky Way reveals an alien's fantastic secret. B
Strong Medicine, William Shunn. In this ironic and incisive vignette, a 2037 surgeon contemplates suicide after being rendered obsolete by nanotechnology. Well, almost. A+
Send Me a Mentagram, Dominic Green. Passengers on a 2010 Antarctic cruise ship die suddenly, gruesomely, and mysteriously. Can a maverick doctor figure it out in time? B
And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon, Paul Di Filippo. It could happen to you. In the near future, everyday products form creepy wireless networks and harass humans a little and a lot. A+
Flashmen, Terry Dowling. Humans battle inscrutable aliens while readers battle inscrutable lingo-laced narrative. I think there's a good story in here somewhere. C
Dragonhead, Nick DiChario. WARNING. Digital uploading may be hazardous to your health. C
Dear Abbey, Terry Bisson. Two scientists travel to the end of time and bear witness to the ecological sins of man. Well constructed, sweeping and lighthearted novelette aptly closes this volume. A
Further, most of the stories are remorselessly downbeat. I don't claim that we need to return to 100% naive technological "Ralph 124C41"-style optimism, but this much gloom and doom smacks of Conventional Wisdom at work.
Most of the stories made little or no impression on me, for better or worse. A few of the exceptions:
William Barton's "Off on a Starship," the first story, has an interesting setup but a truly pointless ending. It's perhaps unfortunate as a tone-setter in that it mentions quite a lot of classic SF works, most of which very noticably outshine both this story and the rest of the collection.
Not one but two of these stories deal with time travelers cutting deals with 20th-century media figures: Orson Wells in _It's All True_, William Randolph Hearst in "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst." The first has some point but is not very original. The second is witty and amusing; however, it's weakened by the sense that (reading between the lines) the events of the story are predestined to happen.
Nancy Kress's "Ej-Es" is well-written, needlessly depressing, and a bit too predictable. A little more work could have made it into a stunner, but you'll probably guess what's going to happen as soon as the situation is made clear. Good idea, indifferent execution.
"June Sixteenth at Anna's," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Boring, boring, boring. Mainstream fiction dressed up with SF sauce.
"The Green Leopard Plague," by Walter Jon Williams, was a Hugo nominee last year. Why? I don't know. There's no there there.
"King Dragon," is what I think of as typical Michael Swanwick fantasy: very well written, a fascinating setup, and so remarkably unpleasant that I'd rather stick my head in a toilet bowl than re-read it. Your mileage will vary, depending on how much style and originality count for you.
Last year Vernor Vinge's "The Cookie Monster" won a Hugo award. It's good enough computer-oriented SF, but it's far from his best work. It is, however, one of the few pieces in the book that could be described as "classical SF."
John C. Wright follows his "Golden Oecumene" novels with "Awake in the Night," one of the few real standouts of this collection. Harks back to Poe, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Jack Vance, and maybe a few others, with original touches as well. A creepy and absorbing far-future fantasy that raises interesting questions about free will.
A welcome light-hearted exception to the general tone of the collection is Geoffrey Landis's "The Eyes of America." It's early-twentieth-century alt-hist techno-futurism with some clever extrapolation and nice comic characters. Not a heavyweight story, perhaps, but genuinely fun to read.
The remaining stories mostly roused me to a fever pitch of apathy. Possibly my reading tastes are fossiliferous, but I can't help feeling that most of these stories are going to be forgotten awfully quickly. Someone needs to phone Ted Chiang--see his fabulous collection _Stories of Your Life and Others_--and tell him to write more.
William Barton's wonderful "Off on a starship" leads off and Terry Bisson's longish but good "Dear Abbey" bookends the set of 29 stories. Several of these are more than short stories -- why is novella a bad word these days? Turtledove, Vinge and Varley turn in excellent work here but without covering all the stories the math should be obvious... 29 stories, a high quality review essay, and for how much? Less than a bad movie and popcorn (and wow are there some bad movies out there).
Buy this, read some stories, find an author you like, buy their books, support the genre.