The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection / Gardner Dozois ed.

This review appeared on my previous blog, Rat's Reading.

Sorry for the extended time between books. Again, this blog isn’t abandoned. Sometimes it just takes me longer to read my books. Such as this one, which is 697 pages long, not counting Dozois’ year in review summary of 1995 at the beginning. Now, on to the stories:

Cover of The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection
A Woman’s Liberation, Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula Le Guin returns to her Ekumen universe for a story of slaves on the planet Werel. The story meanders through Radosse Rakam’s life as her master dies, and his son frees his slaves. However, other nearby landowners don’t take too kindly to this and simply round up the former slaves and re-enslave them. After a daring escape, they become freedmen in the city, where the abolitionist groups meet and debate their future plans. The government cracks down, and again our heroine escapes to a former colony, freed from it’s slaveowners for a few years. Only there, she finds that she is just as enslaved by the men as she was on Werel. Frankly, this story just fell flat for me. The characters are pretty flat, and the feminist lesson being taught isn’t subtle, nor does it really provide a new take on freedom, for women or anyone. It’s just a pretty blunt re-hash of stuff you can read in other places and in other forms, but much less engaging.
Starship Day, Ian R. MacLeod
This little story is about a starship that has set out from Earth to a nearby star to look for life or a habitable planet. The day for when the starship will re-establish communications with Earth has been calculated, and everyone on Earth is eagerly awaiting Starship Day to find out if humans have made first contact. Still, not everyone is all that thrilled. One man even commits suicide. The reason is because of a little twist that is revealed at the end. Normally, I wouldn’t be too circumspect with spoilers for an 11 year old book, but if you do pick this up, this is a decent story and it’s better if you get to go into the twist blind at least once. (Thanks to Steve for the link to the story online.)
A Place with Shade, Robert Reed
I didn’t really get this story. A father hires a terraformer to teach his daughter how to terraform a cave system on his private planet. There’s some sort of fight going on between him and his daughter, who is an adult. Either she’s crazy, or he is. Anyway, the terraformer doesn’t realize all this, and gets caught in the middle. And then she’s attacking him with their terraformed cave, and I got lost.
Luminous, Greg Egan
Like Border Guards in a previously reviewed Year’s Best S.F., this is sort of a hard-S.F. story. The premise is that mathematics behaves somewhat like matter and energy. Until some sort of matter exercises a mathematical theorem, that theorem obeys Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. You don’t know what the truth of the theorem is. Keep in mind that proving some theorem implies that all related theorems are proven, so only the most esoteric mathematics can be unexercised. So, the protagonists look for undetermined mathematics and find them. Meanwhile, corporate raiders are trying to get their math so they can subvert randomness somehow. And as they explore the math, someone else is fighting them through other math somewhere.
The Promise of God, Michael F. Flynn
This seemed more like a fantasy story to me, with a nanny watching over a charge who possesses magic powers and eventually becoming his wife.
Death in the Promised Land, Pat Cadigan
In this imagined Earth, people spend more time in post-apocalyptic World-of-Warcraft style virtual realms, the most popular of which is one of New York City. These virtual realities are full on virtual reality. The story revolves around an aimless youth who is killed both in reality and in the simulation at the same time, and the police detective (a non-user of virtual reality) trying to determine who performed the murder. A few interesting bits, but overall not particularly exciting.
For White Hill, Joe Haldeman
Nice little story about earth in the future after/during a war with an alien race. The aliens poisoned Earth and made it uninhabitable. Afterward, humans find a counter and some begin to trickle back. An art contest is commissioned to celebrate Earth, and people from all over colonized worlds travel there to participate. Only while there the aliens poison the sun, causing it to age and begin it’s trajectory toward being a red giant on an accelerated pace. Everyone who can get off Earth does, but the artists are left behind. Some commit suicide. Others try to incorporate the impending demise of Earth into their art. And others simply try to go on with what they did planned before.
Some Like It Cold, John Kessel
A particularly short and not very novel story, but one that grabbed me nonetheless. Time travel has been invented and the entertainment industry makes huge use of it to bring back celebrities to start in new movies. Only sometimes they don’t always work out exactly like they should. But no matter, there are infinite moments in which someone can be stolen out of the past, so if the person doesn’t work out taken from one particular moment, they can be taken from another. Each grab creates a new universe, so nothing changes the timestream and there are lots of time traveling former celebrities around now. Including a shoe-shining Albert Einstein, who was presumably grabbed too young and doesn’t develop into a genius.
The Death of Captain Future, Allen Steele
Nice bit of a space western, populated with an interplanetary sailor stuck on a ship with a crazy captain who purchased his commission and thinks he’s Captain Future. A chance encounter with a plague ridden give Captain Future his chance at the glory he always wanted to fight off space pirates.
The Lincoln Train, Maureen F. McHugh
A short alternate history set during the civil war. What if John Wilkes Booth injured Lincoln so severely that he was incapacitated. Dire consequences follow, with Southerners rounded up and sent off to various camps. The popular rumor blames this all on Seward.
We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy, David Marusek
So far, my favorite story in this collection, and like the story Wedding Album shows a very interesting and novel future. Extended life, extreme integration with computers through nano-machines, living holographically, and a war with biological agents. Thereafter, militia computers known as slugs constantly sample human DNA for infection by rogue agents. Those not liquidated on the spot are seared, with their bodies altered so that any biological remnants of themselves self-destruct in small fiery poofs. Including things like semen and eyebrows. Which makes for interesting sex, though these people are avoided generally. The story is about Sam (a semi-famous artist/designer) and Eleanor (a powerful politician) who fall in love, move in together, and receive permission to have a child (in a very interesting fashion, of course). Marusek melds the hard and soft S.F. very well, making a very readable and intriguing story.
Radio Waves, Michael Swanwick
After death, ghosts travel the Earth via metallic objects such as telephone wires and metal conduits. Two ghosts meet and resolve issues from their lives, while chased by a ghost killer.
Wang’s Carpets, Greg Egan
Another what is alive? type S.F. story. In the future, humans discover primitive life on another world, carpet-like sheets of fungal sea-life. While not sentient, the carpets encode mathematics, wherein humans determine that the mathematics itself shows signs of sentient life. Are they alive and what does it mean for humans who have long since encoded themselves inside virtual worlds and no longer live corporeal existence.
Casting at Pegasus, Mary Rosenblum
Nifty story about a girl who sneaks into an abandoned airport to create temporary light sculptures. She’s accompanied by a tagger and chased by the night watchman. Until tragedy strikes and they fall through a rotted floor, when she finds out the night watchman isn’t just faceless. The S.F. element here is pretty small, and frankly I think this would work better as a completely mainstream story, but it’s still modestly nice.
Looking for Kelly Dahl, Dan Simmons
A former teacher is transported through the past and future by a former student, Kelly Dahl. These worlds are devoid of all people except the two of them, and Kelly wants him to kill her to exorcise both their demons.
Think Like a Dinosaur, James Patrick Kelly
Humans meet another species. Other species has very advanced technology, including a method of transporting matter (including life) across light-years of distance. Like the transporters of Star Trek, humans are encoded, the information is transmitted and the people are reconstructed on the far side. But what do you do with the person who still remains on this side? It’s not like the matter is consumed, so now you have two of the same person!
Coming of Age in Karhide, Ursula K. Le Guin
This felt like filler to me. As in, I must explain every piece of Karhide. I wasn’t moved much by the story.
Genesis, Poul Anderson
I read like 5 pages of this and skipped on.
Feigenbaum Number, Nancy Kress
This story is about a guy who can see both real people and the ideal person they could be. It’s depressing and disorienting to him. And then he meets another person who can see the same ideal people.
Home, Geoff Ryman
Ryman has written a very twisted near-future story where life isn’t valued so much. Kind of a picture of social darwinism if it were taken up by the public as a defining philosophy and taken to it’s logical end. Ryman captures the fatal flaw of social darwinism, that unlike actual evolution, it isn’t the most adept or adaptable that are selected for necessarily. It could be the useless who survive, and the human race easily paints itself into a social darwinist corner.
There Are No Dead, Terry Bisson
I loved this story about three men who create a fantasy world for themselves in the woods in their youth. Over the years, the live their lives and continue to reunite for yearly camping trips. Yes, there is an S.F. element, but it’s not the fantasy world they create for themselves.
Recording Angel, Paul J. McAuley
This is the story of a human, who goes by Angel, who returns as part of a crew that explored other galaxies. It’s millions of years from when she left the Milky Way because of time dilation and humanity has become different. In fact, humanity’s descendants have been genetically programmed to render assistance to the Preservers (original humanity) should they re-appear.
Elvis Bearpaw’s Luck, William Sanders
If you go to William Sanders’ web site through the link above, you’ll figure out he’s kind of cantankerous. That shows in this story about Native Americans after wars have decimated black and white people, leaving Indians and their descendants populating North America. They cling to their traditions, but something has been lost a bit. Our narrator is a youth who squires his elderly blind cantankerous grandfather around. The setting is the upcoming Games which attract nearby tribes to participate, and there is a traditional truce during Game-time. A lot of the elements have been used before, but Sanders puts them together in an inventive way, and I laughed out loud (which I rarely do) at the commencement of the big Game. It fits so well with contemporary Indian reservations but is totally at odds with the stereotypical white views of Indians. You expect the noble Indians to have noble games, and this is definitely not that.
Mortimer Gray’s History of Death, Brian Stableford
Kind of an exploration of the theory that what makes us human is our fight against death, as seen through the eyes of a future historian of death. Others will probably find this to be more profound than I did.
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