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The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Ninth Annual Collection Paperback – July 3, 2012
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About the Author
GARDNER DOZOIS has been working in the science fiction field for more than thirty years. For twenty years he was the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction, during which he received the Hugo Award for Best Editor fifteen times.
- Item Weight : 1.5 pounds
- Paperback : 704 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250003555
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250003553
- Dimensions : 6 x 1.54 x 9 inches
- Publisher : St. Martin's Griffin; 0029-New edition (July 3, 2012)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #289,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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And then there are the stories. For some reason all of my favorites in this collection featured a strong relationship between two main characters. In some cases it is based on love; in some it is clearly something else. Here are my five favorites.
Carolyn Ives Gilman's "The Ice Owl" passes on what the student Maya learns from her aging tutor, Magister Soren Pregaldin. Some is from his thoughtfully prepared lessons. More is revealed by her clandestine explorations of his rooms while he is away.
Alastair Reynold's "Ascension Day" reminds us of departure's mixed joy and sadness. Captain Lauterecken departs from the planet Rhapsody in his freighter after a ninety-six-year stay. Someone important will not be making the next leg of the journey.
Michael Swanwick's "For I have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I'll Not Be Back Again" is also about a departure. A man visits Ireland a few weeks before leaving Earth forever. He meets Mary with eyes "...as green as water in the well, and as full of dangerous magic."
Yoon Ha Lee's "Ghostweight" is driven by the bond between a living girl and the ghost that accompanies her. Lisse steals a war-kite and flees into the voidways of space, seeking revenge on those who nearly destroyed Earth. She learns about her ghost, and about the war-kite, and about what drives it. Yoon Ha Lee's origami imagery in this story is a treat in itself.
Chris Lawson's "Canterbury Hollow" is a love story of time spent together and choices made that might be unmade. Arlyana and Moko have both been "balloted" to help conserve their small society's limited resources. They spend their allotted time together exploring a few places they have always meant to visit. And then their times end.
Stories in this year's collection seem particularly good as well as varied. None is too similar to another in the collection. And while many stories fit neatly within an SF subgenre, each had its own voice. My cliché alarm didn't go off once as I read through them.
There was minimal story overlap with David Hartman and Kathryn Cramer's [Year's Best SF 17]. Both are worth reading, although I prefer the Dozois collection for the context provided by his Summation and the excellent story introductions. Each year I come away from this material with a list of more must-read books. This year's treat was the new 1,000-page science fiction textbook, Sense of Wonder: A Century of Science Fiction by Leigh Ronald Grossman. I recommend reading it right after you finish this collection. But not before.
Most of the rest suffer from one or more of the following: confusing story lines, vague and/or anticlimactic endings, excessive verbiage, and as customer reviewer Paul Cook observes, a lack of joy and humor. Not my cup of tea. I like stories that tell a story, that lift the reader's spirit rather than leave him with a sense of hopelessness.
"The Year's Best" wasn't always like this. Stories like Vorkuta and Mist would have been run-of-the-mill additions to the first several collections. If your tastes run to more traditional, more exciting, and more comprehensible SF, I strongly recommend the first 10 volumes of this collection: they are awesome. Don't waste your time (about 650 pages) and your money on this one.
You can read sequentially if you like, however each story differs enough that diving in randomly presents you with a whole new genre/sub-genre, and very few times have I abandoned a story and not then come back to it, and enjoyed it, later. This work's even better as an e-book for bed-time reading/early-morning waking as you can pick a short one with confidence it will be good, and truthfully the weight of the print version was a bit to much for this.
To me all other anthologies are pale comparisons compared to the quality of the writing presented here and I've become a fan of some of the authors who perhaps otherwise I would never have read.
Keep up the good work, Gardner!
Top reviews from other countries
Anway, onto the content, which is - after all - what really matters. Gardner Dozois's SF annual collections are a must-read for fans of SF short fiction, a real annual treat. This year is no exception and contains some excellent stories. Ranking each story between 1 (poor) and 5 (outstanding), I rated this year's stories as follows: 4 2-star stories, 10 3-star, 16 4- star and 5 5-star stories. The 5-star stories this year (in my opinion, and of course everyone will have a different set of favourites) were:
"The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick, the story of a young woman's journey on a space habitat, dressed up partially as a fairy tale.
"The Dala Horse" by Michael Swanwick, again this starts off reading like a fairy tale, but tells the story of a young girl's adventures in a future post-war Scandinavia: very visual
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman, the story of a young woman's political awakening on a far-flung planet
"What we found" by Geoff Ryman, a lesson in story telling, you almost don't notice the SF element (or care that it's a small part of the tale)
"A Militant Peace" by David Klecha and Tobias S Buckell - I am always wary of collaborations, but this is a really inventive tale of how North Korea might be invaded peacefully in the future.
Dozois always puts a novella at the end and this year the selection is "The Man Who Bridged The Mist", a 50-page tale by Kij Johnson. It's extremely well written and just fell short of a 5-star rating because it seems to fall into a semi-fantasy alternative earth rather than hard SF. I don't like fantasy or horror and this collection almost always avoids strong elements of either. Johnson's tale is almost but not quite SF, but that aside is a wonderful work and worth the wait.
The book is a long read (650 pages including the useful summary at the start), but I did notice a slight degradation in quality from last year, when I rated only 3 3-star and 23 4-star stories, so (again, only in my opinion) around 7 less stories made 4 stars and fell into the 3-star ("ok") category.
A cold division of total points divided by number of stories (35) gives 3.62 which I am more than happy to round up to 4, because this collection remains essential reading on an annual basis. Highly recommended.
For this collection Gardner Dozois exceptionally decided against including long novellas, so thanks God in this collection I didn't have to struggle through 70+ pages juggernauts, which this editor likes so much... In many of previous collections those super-sized novellas were usually also the weakest parts of those anthologies, so here their absence is a very welcome thing. This also allowed Gardner Dozois to offer us a record number of stories - 35 (thirty five)!
Five stories can be considered as VERY GOOD: "Martian Heart" by John Barnes, "The Incredible Exploding Man" by Dave Hutchinson, "Dying young" by Peter M. Ball, "Canterbury Hollow" by Chris Lawson and the most impressive of all, "The man who bridged the mist" by Kij Johnson.
For my personal taste there were only five stinkers: "Laika's ghost", "The Copenhagen Interpretation", "Ascension day", "The cold step beyond", "Ants of Flanders".
One story, "Silently and very fast", I was unable to rate, as I couldn't understand anything from it and it tired me so terribly that I decided not to finish it.
Other stories ranged from GOOD (15) to READABLE (9).
A rather welcome thing was the absence of omnipresent gloom and doom, even in tragic stories or those happening in post-apocalyptic societies. It is a somehow surprising thing for a Gardner Dozois collection...
This collection includes also an overview of what happened in SF (largely understood) in 2011 and that section as always is very precious. At the end there is also the very useful section of "honourable mentions" - stories which couldn't be selected for this collection because of lack of space (and this is already a HUGE book!), but which were also of good quality.
Below, more of my impressions, with some SPOILERS:
"The Choice" by Paul McAuley - yet another story in the long-running Jackaroo cycle; this one describes the life of those who still remain on old Earth, more precisely in England, much diminished by the rise of sea levels (the Flood); two teenage boys go one day to see an alien machine (creature) which beached in the neighbourhood; after that, nothing in their lives will be the same... This actually is a honest, solid GOOD story.
"A Soldier Of The City" by David Moles - in a distant future humanity went into space and is roughly divided between countless hundreds of billions people living in Babylone, serving alien "gods" and less numerous, elusive, but surprisingly sophisticated space nomads. There is war between those two groups and this is the story of one human soldier fighting for "gods". An interesting, original, GOOD story - although without a real ending.
"The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick - in a very strange society, half-technological, half-magical, existing in the future on Iapetus (if I understood correctly) a very unhappy middle aged spinster meets a talking cat... A very surrealistic, original, well written, GOOD story, with just the ending being a little bit weaker.
"Dolly" by Elizabeth Bear - Dolly is an android owned by a morbidly rich guy; one day she kills him - and that is something extremely unusual in this future society; this story tells about the police officers trying to understand what the heck happened... A GOOD, very well written story, just a little bit short on originality - which can be indeed understood, as ever since Isaac Asimov the topic of androids and theirs interactions with humanity was explored, used, abused and beaten almost to death by hundreds of authors...
"Martian Heart" by John Barnes - SPLENDID! A very old and very, very rich guy who as a teenager was amongst the first (involuntary) pioneers/deportees send to colonise Mars tells the story of his and his wife's first years on the Red Planet. This EXCELLENT story is indeed a RARE JEWEL as it is original, well written, powerful, clever, wise and very, very moving - and even if it is definitely not written with pink ink, it is definitely NOT depressing or nihilistic neither, much to the contrary... TO READ ABSOLUTELY!
"Earth Hour" by Ken MacLeod - in a near future, but in a world which we would hardly recognize, an assassin is after an obscenely rich and extremely hated billionaire. As with all stories of this author this one also suffers from his extremely radical political views (he is a self-declared Trotskyite). His description of businessmen and EU civil servants is absolutely ridiculous. This thing also totally panders to global warming hysteria. Still, a READABLE story.
"Laika's Ghost" by Karl Schroeder - a story about a bunch of people who want to revive Soviet Union to "recover their pride" - and they are actually the good guys in this story, chased by evil Americans! I found the whole idea morally disgusting!! What will we have next - some nice cool Nazis trying to revive the Third Reich to recover their pride?? HATED IT - AVOID!
"The Dala Horse" by Michael Swanwick - a little girl must travel alone in the wilderness to go see her Grandma, who lives on the other side of the mountains; a kind of a grim fairy tale reconfigured (in every sense of this word) by high technology... A GOOD story.
"The Way It Works Out And All" by Peter S. Beagle - this is a tribute author wrote to his recently disappeared friend and fellow SF writer Avram Davidson; it is a strange but not half bad written thing - however it certainly takes a good knowledge of Davidson's writings to appreciate it fully; although I read and liked some of his short stories, I certainly do not have the necessary level of familiarity with Davidson's works to fully appreciate this GOOD, very pleasant and moving thing.
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman - a young girl and her absolutely irresponsible mother live on an alien planet in a slum for refugees and other unfortunates; the young girl needs schooling - and this is how this story begins... The initial idea was good, but beginning in the second half the story started to go down, down, down - and the ending is beneath everything... READABLE, but barely...
"The Copenhagen Interpretation" by Paul Cornell - in a kind of alternate universe, in a kind of alternate Europe, a kind of James Bond must investigate the case of a missing diplomatic courier in Copenhagen; the story includes some extravagant villains and also (indirectly) some aliens... I didn't really like it - the characters are pale, the story is tedious; I also had to "fast forward" some pages towards the end. All in all this thing is rather a failure. AVOID.
"The Invasion of Venus" by Stephen Baxter - a short, interesting story about the simultaneous First Contact (well, kind of) humanity makes with not one but two alien civilizations... An unusually original GOOD story.
"Digging" by Ian McDonald - an interesting story about terraforming of Mars, with the digging of a really BIG hole being in the centre of it... I actually liked this GOOD story but completely couldn't figure out the ending. Sorry for the SPOILER here but if I understood correctly and at the end they decide to fill this big hole back again, then the ending is abysmally idiotic...
"Ascension Day" by Alastair Reynolds - a short story about a future space trader; incredibly BANAL and without ANY interest - I am very surprised that it was selected... AVOID
"After The Apocalypse" by Maureen McHugh - a story about a future USA devastated by some unspecified economic collapse; a young mother and her young teen daughter try to get to a refugee camp in Canada; a honest READABLE thing - but hardly any SF in it...
"Silently And Very Fast" by Catherynne M. Valente - I cannot rate this story or even say what it is about, because after 10 pages, unable to understand anything and bored to death I simply stopped - and there were still like 31 pages to go... Maybe it is so clever that simply too good for me - but somehow I doubt it. Read by yourself and make up your own mind.
"A Long Way Home" by Jay Lake - in a distant future, on a distant planet, one day everybody vanished after a mysterious rain of debris from space; just one guy survived because he was exploring a complex of deep caverns. For years and years he will travel all over the planet to find other survivors and try to understand what the heck happened... An interesting "post-apocalyptic" thing, but clearly author had no idea how to explain the whole mystery and finish his story - so he simply didn't do either of those things... I rate this story as GOOD with just one warning - the ending is a total let down...
"The Incredible Exploding Man" by Dave Hutchinson - well, Gardner Dozois must be getting old, because with this story about a huge disaster in a scientific facility he selected something that is well written, is not stupid at all, contains a beginning, a middle and an ending, includes some humour and especially US government and US military are NOT portrayed as source of all evil in the universe - in fact, they are just trying to do their jobs and with maybe one exception they are composed of rational, mentally stable and ultimately rather honest people... For all those reasons I rate this story, maybe a little bit too generously, as VERY GOOD.
"What We Found" by Geoff Ryman - this story about a troubled family living in Nigeria today or in a very near future hardly contains any SF, but I still rate it as GOOD, because of excellent writing and a lot of human interest. I really enjoyed reading that one...
"A Response from EST17" by Tom Purdom - two unmanned probes send by humanity to an alien planet find an advanced civilization; they then compete one against another in the contacts with aliens... An interesting idea but quickly ruined by a lot of weird complications and nonsensical developments. With an obligatory (and this time really, really exceptionally stupid) dump on religion... As it seemed promising initially, I was very disappointed with it. READABLE, but barely.
"The Cold Step Beyond" by Ian R. MacLeod - in a universe in which everything is female a kind of futuristic female super warrior is send by the "imams of her church" (sic!) to kill a dangerous creature. It is a huge pile of nonsense. AVOID!
"A Militant Peace" by David Klecha & Tobias S. Buckell - well, here is another indication that Gardner Dozois may be getting old... Here we have a story in which professional soldiers engaged in an invasion against a totalitarian regime are shown actually in a sympathetic light - but of course there are two catches... 1) They are Vietnamese (and mostly female) and it is specified that nobody wants American soldiers involved as they are considered "ethically suspicious". 2) They are allowed to wage war but at the only condition that they don't kill anyone...))) Still, a READABLE thing...
"The Ants of Flanders" by Robert Reed - a story which begins well, with a DOUBLE alien invasion - before dissolving into 40 pages of stinking nonsense... The beginning is readable, but all in all this is a stinker. AVOID!
"The Vicar of Mars" by Gwyneth Jones - a gigantic alien priest and an alien adventurer meet on Mars (which is at that time already colonised by humans) and become friends; the priest then meets a human woman who may or may not be a witch, but who certainly is the victim of a curse... It is a GOOD, solid ghost story mixing elements of gothic novels and a little suspicion of Lovecraftian mythos (but don't expect any " Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!"). The alien priest is a particularly interesting character as his "religion" seems to be based on the belief that there is only the Void beyond death and absolutely no afterlife or judgement...
"The Smell of Orange Groves" by Lavie Tidhar - in a future Israel a rather unusual Jew remembers, very literally, the past lives of his ancestors... I usually don't like the stories by this author, but that one was quite READABLE, even if the description of this future Israel was a complete absurdity. Also, if a great number of religions seem to exist in this future, including a Church for Robots (!), one is OF COURSE completely non-existent - the Christianity...
"The Iron Shirts" by Michael Flynn - in an alternate history, in the Year of Grace 1227, there is trouble amongst Irish clans (how surprising) and also Norman invaders keep enlarging the Pale area; and at that moment a surprising embassy arrives by sea - from the West! A GOOD, solid, honest story with Danes, Skraelings, Dane/Skraeling half-bloods and one even more exotic character. Enjoy!
"Cody" by Pat Cadigan - in the beginning we don't really know much about Cody, the man who is the hero of this story occurring in a near future - and I will not reveal anything about him either, as it would completely spoil the things. Suffice it to say that this is a GOOD, solid, honest cyber-punk story with some twists. Enjoy!
"For I Have Lain Me Down On The Stone Of Loneliness And I'll Not Be Back Again" by Michael Swanwick - a very Irish SF tale about Earth under alien occupation and various ways people deal with it; a GOOD, solid, honest story.
"Ghostweight" by Yoon Ha Lee - an original but very hard to follow story in which a girl steals an alien (?) warship and uses it to launch revenge raids against an "Empire of mercenaries" which wrecked her home planet... The story is indeed very original but it is so weird, complicated and full of strange terms which are never explained that it really tired me... Still, a READABLE thing.
"Digital Rites" by Jim Hawkins - a kind of criminal mystery; in a near future somebody murders stars of Hollywood because... well, I would be at a loss to explain why, because I simply couldn't understand the plot, but the fact that some of the brains of dead stars turned blue seems to have some importance... I guess there was a good story in it somewhere, but it was drowned in unnecessary complications and general weirdness. READABLE, but barely.
"The Boneless One" by Alec Nevala-Lee - a crew of scientists, a billionaire and a journalist sail the seven seas to sample the biodiversity of the ocean; one day, near Bermuda Triangle, they find more than they bargained for... A GOOD, honest, solid hard SF with some reasonably reasonable science involved.
"Dying Young" by Peter M. Ball - in a kind of post-apocalyptic setting, in a Wild West style little town a dragon enters the saloon and orders a whiskey... This is the beginning of this VERY GOOD, brilliantly written and very original short story. A RECOMMENDED READING!
"Canterbury Hollow" by Chris Lawson - on a distant planet a human society survives in an EXTREMELY hostile environment and therefore adopted EXTREMELY draconian social customs; in this context two young people meet and fall in love... This is a VERY GOOD, extremely powerful and absolutely heart-breaking short story exploring once again the topic of star-crossed lovers - with GREAT SUCCESS! A RECOMMENDED READING!
"The Vorkuta Event" by Ken MacLeod - in 1947 a British palaeontologist on visit in Moscow is summoned to appear before Stalin and Beria in person; they order him to team up with the odious Soviet charlatan Trofim Lysenko to investigate a... THING found by gulag slave labourers in Western Syberia... A GOOD interesting story, somehow Lovecraftian in spirit (but don't expect any "Ia! Cthulhu fhtagn!") - although honestly, was it REALLY necessary to include this abject Lysenko character and make him into some kind of "good guy"? Also, there is one HUGE factual error - in 1947 the Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic rifle was not yet introduced in service (it happened only in 1949). In 1947 the NKVD death squads serving Beria would be at that time still equipped with a mixture of Shpagin PPSh-41 or Sudayev PPS-43 sub-machine guns and Simonov SKS semi-automatic carbines. And yes, you guessed right, I am totally a military history freak...
"The Man Who Bridged The Mist" by Kij Johnson - the BEST STORY IN THE COLLECTION! This long, original, very interesting, brilliantly written novella is indeed about a man who ambitions to bridge the mist - and I will say nothing more here, because you deserve to discover this most excellent thing by yourself. I was not only delighted by this story, but even more, I was IMPRESSED. TO READ ABSOLUTELY!!
CONCLUSION: this is a 3,5 stars collection, but as there is no possibility to split stars, I decided ultimately to be generous and give it four stars, mostly because of a general tone less depressing than in previous collections, but also because the five best stories are really outstanding and finally because I REALLY appreciated the absence of long winded 70+ pages novellas.