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

Not much to say generally. Another pretty good collection of short fiction. Though I do wonder at the preponderance of fantasy stories, particularly given that St. Martin’s was in the 2nd year of their Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror series at the time this was published. They did have that niche covered.

Cover of The Year's Best Science Fiction: Sixth Annual Collection
Surfacing, Walter Jon Williams
This story takes two S.F. plots and mingles them, and I don’t really like the effect too well. In the first plot, Anthony brings whales to another world because they can help him communicate with a species that lives underwater on that world. Anthony was a scientist who helped decode whale speech. After the discovery that a set of resonances underwater were actually an alien species, Anthony heads to that world to try to decode it, and to figure out what these unseen creatures are. Plot two revolves around a Kyklops, a multi-dimensional alien. This alien has a contract with a woman that allows him to take over her body at will. Anthony falls in love with her, and they plot to release her from the alien’s control. I’ve found other decoding alien languages stories boring, but here I was very interested in it. The damsel-in-distress story? Not so much. The mix? Eh.
Home Front, James Patrick Kelly
Using an apparently unintentional prescient plot device, Kelly explores youth who are eligible to join the military and fight for America. It kind of covers the same ground as Ender’s Game and Lord of the Flies, but in a shorter more digestible chunk. The prescient part is an interchangeable position of Johnny America, the P.R. soldier of the military. Unlike G.I. Joe, Johnny is more of a reality show construction. Except there weren’t reality shows in the 80s when this was written.
The Man Who Loved The Vampire Lady, Brian Stableford
A kind of S.F. take on a fantasy trope, vampires. In this version, vampirism is a blood-born disease sometimes transmitted sexually that allows the vampire to live a long time. Vampires have essentially become the ruling nobility in Europe. Someone finally invents a microscope, and Lady Carmilla (a vampire) assigns her former lover Edmund (a human) to examine the device. He’s a mechanician, which I assume means he’s a tinkerer. He grasps the microscope, and understands the meaning of the little amoeba animals he sees, that they carry the vampirism trait. He knows that the vampires won’t let him live long with the knowledge. Fairly pedestrian idea, but decently well-written.
Peaches For Mad Molly, Stephen Gould
Wow! This was an awesome story. Characterization not so involved. It’s more a concept, and a pretty original one at that, wedded to a thriller mentality. The concept is that when giant skyscrapers are built in the future, a culture of people will live on the outside of them. Think rock climbers in the extreme. The are poor and unable to afford to live inside, or they are malcontents who just don’t fit in there. Our main character decides to go on a trading run down the side of his building, but he has to cross a 10 story area controlled by bandits. He gets past them easily on the way down. But climbing is slower and on the way back up they are ready and waiting for him. Just an awesome story!
The Last Article, Harry Turtledove
Alternate history where the Third Reich wins World War II. In India, the newly dominant Germans take over from the English and inherit their problems with the restless subcontinent. A German officer who is the military governor takes on Mohandas Gandhi. Turtledoves conclusion is that this time Gandhi does not win. The analysis seems to be that nonviolence requires two things to work that would not be present: a very courageous population that would be willing to sacrifice their lives on a large scale, and an opponent that is squeamish about killing people. If the authority has no problem with killing thousands of non-violent protesters, then they will emerge victorious if it scares people into compliance. I think Tian An Men just might have proved Turtledove right.
Stable Strategies For Middle Management, Eileen Gunn
A story about gene manipulation where people can get animal-like bodies. Then it gets surreal by being set in a middle management office and the workers use their changes for advancement. It didn’t really click with me, though it was an interesting juxtaposition.
In Memoriam, Nancy Kress
Would you give up your memory of who you are if that enabled you to live forever?
Kirinyaga, Mike Resnick
I’ve read this story before, but for some reason I always think of the plot of Ivory when I see the title Kirinyaga. Ivory is not as good. Koriba is the mundumugu of the Kikuyu tribe. Originally located in Kenya, they now have their own planet maintained by Maintenance. Kenya is essentially one big metropolis by this time in the future. Maintenance is supposed to have a prime directive like instruction. The Kikuyu get to run it how they want and Maintenance is not supposed to interfere. Only one of the traditions of the Kikuyu is that babies born feet first are demons, and must be killed. Which horrifies Maintenance, as the child of course had no choice in which tradition he would like.
The Girl Who Loved Animals, Bruce McAllister
In the future, many animals are extinct. Some people want to bring them back, using methods like we have heard for dinosaurs. D.N.A. for dinosaurs can be found embedded in amber on occasion. Or mammoths in ice. To my knowledge, we don’t have enough D.N.A. for these animals to clone them yet. And we really don’t have a way to gestate them. Dolly the cloned sheep was gestated by another sheep. But, in the future, we will likely have genetic records for some of the animals that might become extinct. We have live specimens. We can take samples and record everything about their D.N.A. And so if they become extinct, we could recreate them. If we have a way to gestate them. Without artificial uteruses, we’re kind of S.O.L. But, there may be these groups of people trying to revive them. They may have money. And some women may need the money badly enough to take it for these purposes.
The Last Of The Winnebagoes (Hugo award for best novella, Nebula award for best novella), Connie Willis
A nice novella about a future when environmentalism is standard. States have outlawed gas hogs and water is a precious scarcity. Many animals, particularly pets, have become extinct. The protagonist is a photojournalist, one of a dying breed as automation pushes humans out of even that field. On the way to his assignment, he sees a dead jackal in the road. Jackals are rare, though not extinct. But seeing it brings up memories of his dog, over which he obsesses. Still, he dutifully shows up to take pictures of and talk to two older people who live in an R.V., traveling highways and making a living by charging people to see their Winnebago. Human interest story. But he’s too distraught to continue on to his second assignment at the governor’s press conference. Here’s the catch: that makes him look suspicious to the Humane Society which is investigating the death of the jackal. I loved this story.
Love In Vain, Lewis Shiner
This story was included in The Year’s Best Fantasy: Second Annual Collection which I reviewed in July. It’s still a great story, but it doesn’t really seem like S.F. to me. Love this story. Go read it.
The Hob, Judith Moffett
Hobs are gnomelike creatures that live in Britain. Creatures of legend. They feel a need to serve masters, kind of like house-elves in Harry Potter. But as modern life encroaches, the hobs retreat from interacting with humans and hide. Except one of them, Elphi, gets careless and allows a backpacker, Jenny, to see him. It’s a nice story, but it didn’t do a whole lot for me. Very ho-hum. Oh, and the S.F. hook is that hobs are really stranded aliens. And that’s about the length of that hook too.
Our Neural Chernobyl, Bruce Sterling
A really short story that describes a future evolutionary cataclysm from the perspective of an even further future. The neural Chernobyl depicted is a genetically engineered virus that makes people smarter, though most can’t handle it and burn out crazy. But it also jumps to a few animals as well.
House Of Bones, Robert Silverberg
A time-traveler is stranded in the past, among Cro-Magnons. Pushes the idea that our assumptions that Cro-Magnon’s were primitive may not be quite correct. The premise isn’t all that exciting, but it’s a pretty well-written story. I enjoyed it.
Schrödinger’s Kitten, George Alec Effinger
Supposedly illustrating the Schrödinger’s cat phenomena, I just found this story confusing.
Do Ya, Do Ya, Wanna Dance?, Howard Waldrop
Another story that I really wouldn’t classify as science fiction. Maybe I’m just missing something. Frank is still a local in the town where he went to high school. It’s time for the 20 year reunion. Frank becomes a guide to show all the returnees what’s happened to the various places the class used to haunt. The highlight of the reunion is supposed to be a performance by the long since split up high school rock band that briefly achieved stardom right after high school. Only something interesting happens when they play one of their songs. Howard Waldrop stories always seem to have a bit of fun in them. At least the three I’ve read previously. Not deep, but decently good.
The Growth Of The House Of Usher, Brian Stableford
A bit of a homage to Edgar Allen Poe, including the use of language and style of Poe’s period. Here a scientist named Usher lives in a house of biomass in which genetically engineered creatures live. They build the house. They keep it running. Usher wants to pass on his knowledge before he dies, and so invites a colleague to the house.
Glacier, Kim Stanley Robinson
A new ice age has descended on North America. A large glacier is just north of Boston, where the Canadian refugees at the center of the story live. Dad is a professor. Son heads out to the glacier to play by himself a lot. Times are tough. I’m not generally a Kim Stanley Robinson fan, but I liked this story. It shows the effect of climate change on ordinary people. No real explanation of the societal impact of this ice age. You have to glean that from the conversations the kid has with his parents, and some of his interactions with others. So it comes off as a very personal story rather than a birds-eye view.
Sanctuary, James Lawson
This story reminds me a lot of Altered Carbon, except this was written well before. Basically, a computer software designer is found in his office with his mind wiped. And another one working for another company is as well. Cardenas is a cop. His job is to figure out who killed these guys when there is no evidence except the bodies. I’m gonna do something here that I don’t normally do: issue a pretty blatant spoiler. These guys kill themselves. Here’s why I’m spoiling it. They kill themselves because of The Secret. In other words, the law of attraction, which is the stupidest thing ever. The version in this story is that if you repeat something often enough, you set up a harmonic resonance for that action that embeds itself in space-time. Anyone else doing that action latches on to that resonance and can do the action just a bit better than would be expected. So these guys get a super-computer to repeat some program that emulates their brains. And it does it so often that they are literally whisked into the space-time continuum. Urg. Since when did the law of attraction get any traction in anything having to do with science? I’ll buy faster than light travel before this crap.
The Dragon Line, Michael Swanwick
Mordred and Merlin in modern times. I wasn’t so impressed with this.
Mrs. Shummel Exits A Winner, John Kessel
Another story that isn’t really science fiction so much as fantasy. Did Dozois do this in the other anthologies I’ve read and I just not notice? Anyway, it’s not a bad story. Mrs. Schummel is a sad old woman who plays bingo. Lots of bingo. One night at the bingo hall a boy sits next to her. He doesn’t talk. He wins on every bingo card, but never yells bingo! or even waves over the judges. Mrs. Shummel is flabbergasted but doesn’t want him to win over her so she says nothing. He offers her the card, for a price. Will she take it?
Emissary, Stephen Kraus
A researcher finds an alien artifact and turns it on. There isn’t anything groundbreaking in this story, but I thought it was pretty snifty nonetheless.
It Was The Heat, Pat Cadigan
Not science fiction. Not something I liked. The second story in the volume to have appeared in The Year’s Best Fantasy: Second Annual Collection.
Skin Deep, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
On an alien world a young woman is starting to have signs of a mysterious disease. Decent story.
Dying In Hull, D. Alexander Smith (David Alexander Smith)
Man, it must suck to have a common last name like Smith and on top of that use your middle name only to have some famous author come along, use your name, and hog all the top Google spots. Anyway, this is a story of the sea rising and slowly inundating the town of Hull Massachusetts. Like Washington State’s Harry Truman, who refused to leave the side of Mt. St. Helens knowing it would probably be his death, Ethel Cobb continues to live in Hull. There she deals with marauding gangs and memories of people long gone. I think this is the oldest story I’ve read that deals with global warming. I recommend it.
Distances, Kathe Koja
Eh. People are specially altered to received faster than light communications from robotic space ships on their way to Alpha Centauri. This story had no oomph for me. Characters were stock. The ideas were stock.
Famous Monsters, Kim Newman
This was fun! A Martian gets in the movies and after a long career mostly in B-movie roles writes this memoir-like retrospective.
The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter, Lucius Shepard
Wow! Beautiful fantasy novella! Original and powerful. Of course, every Lucius Shepard story I’ve read has been unique. Definitely a fitting end to this anthology.
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