REVIEW: Year’s Best SF #1 edited by David G. Hartwell

REVIEW SUMMARY: A decent, strictly-SF anthology

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 14 stories from 1995, all strictly SF (no fantasy).

MY REVIEW:

PROS: Some excellent stories

CONS: Some stinkers

BOTTOM LINE: A surprising number of poor stories for a “best of” collection.

This is the first in the still-running Year’s Best series edited by David G. Hartwell. It attempts to cull the best SF published in 1995. In the brief introduction (miniscule by comparison to Gardner Dozois’ freakishly comprehensive introductions in his Years Best Science Fiction series), Hartwell airs an apparent beef with many SF anthologies. Because of this, he assures the reader that his anthology will contain nothing but science fiction (no fantasy or science fantasy).

Of course, all anthologies have the good and bad, but this collection offered a surprising number of stories that failed to impress me. Fortunately, they were the shorter ones.

The excellent standouts in the collection are “Think Like a Dinosaur”, “Hot Times in Magma City” and “Downloading Midnight”.

Reviewlettes follow.


STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:

  1. “Think Like a Dinosaur” by James Patrick Kelly [1995 novelette] (Rating: 5/5) [Read 07/01/04]
    • Synopsis: The Hanen are dinosaur-like aliens who have reluctantly taught men the technology to teleport people over vast distances as superluminal signals. The trip of the latest passenger, Kamala Shastri, is marred by a serious problem whose resolution poses a moral dilemma for Michael, the man who sent her.
    • Review: Excellent story with a nice and easy writing style that reminds one Tom Goodwin’s The Cold Equations (regardless of the association made between the two stories in this anthology’s intro). Both pose similar situations involving the harsh realities of science and the cruel consequences of a solution.
  2. “Wonders of the Invisible World” by Patricia A. McKillip [1995 short story] (Rating: 3/5) [Read 07/11/04]
    • Synopsis: On a research mission, a time traveler appears as an angel to writer Cotton Mather in colonial America and then very briefly ponders the ethicality of changing the past.
    • Review: Great writing style, but the story, which is steeped in the colonial fear of witchcraft, doesn’t really seem to go anywhere. The regret of the traveler concerning the rule to not interfere with the past seems like an afterthought. Perhaps its more enjoyable having read Mather’s work for which this story is named?
  3. “Hot Times in Magma City” by Robert Silverberg [1995 novella] (Rating: 4/5) [Read 07/20/04]
    • Synopsis: A day in the life of a ragtag group of volcano-fighters.
    • Review: Good story set in an actively volcanic California. The story reads like a firefighting story, but with much more deadly consequences and different fighting techniques. Siverberg’s writing style is easy to enjoy as always. An interesting twist was to have the fighters be volunteer rehab inmates.
  4. “Gossamer” [Xeelee] by Stephen Baxter [1995 short story] (Rating: 3.5/5) [Read 07/21/04]
    • Synopsis: After a forced exit from a Poole wormhole, Lvov and Cobh discover evidence of spider-like creatures on Pluto. They must choose between saving the creatures or saving themselves.
    • Review: The usual good story and hard science from Baxter. This is another story set in his Xeelee universe with Poole wormholes and GUTships.
  5. “A Worm in the Well” by Gregory Benford [1995 novelette] (Rating: 3/5) [Read 07/22/04]
    • Synopsis: Claire, a pilot in dire straits, attempts to take measurements from wormhole trapped near the sun to solve her financial woes.
    • Review: A good hard science fiction story. Claire was likable as was her relationship with Erma, the onboard computer. Claire has a plan to turn a mediocre-paying gig into a very lucrative venture.
  6. “Downloading Midnight” by William Browning Spencer [1995 novelette] (Rating: 5/5) [Read 07/23/04]
    • Synopsis: Bloom, a cyberspace “cleaner”, must seek out and destroy Captain Armageddon, the renegade star of a virtual reality sex show. When Bloom doesn’t return, Bloom’s boss, Marty, must find out what’s going on.
    • Review: An excellent, first rate cyberpunk detective story with a dramatic unexpected ending. The writing style felt electrically charged, like some of the best Harlan Ellison stories. This is great stuff and a must-read.
  7. “For White Hill” by Joe Haldeman [1995 novella] (Rating: 2/5) [Read 08/05/04]
    • Synopsis: A group of artists meet on a post-apocalyptic Earth for an art contests, where two artists named Water Man and White Hill meet and fall in love.
    • Review: While there were some interesting concepts in this story (the destruction of life on Earth by nano-phages) there just wasn’t enough to hold my interest. The first half of the story was going nowhere, then the reader learns of a new catastrophe threatening the nearly-lifeless Earth, then the story still went nowhere.
  8. “In Saturn Time” by William Barton [1995 short story] (Rating: 3/5) [Read 08/06/04]
    • Synopsis: A future alternate history focusing on the US space program.
    • Review: Good effort. There’s lot’s of namedropping along the way and Walter Cronkite on the moon.
  9. “Coming of Age in Karhide by Sov Thade Tage em Ereb, of Rer, in Karhide, on Gethen” [Gethen] by Ursula K. Le Guin [1995 novelette] (Rating: 2.5/5) [Read 08/14/04]
    • Synopsis: A coming of age story on a planet of gender-changers.
    • Review: Having been unable to complete The Left Hand of Darkness years ago, I was surprised that I finished this story, set on the same world. The problem I had with the book was that it was filled with its own language, each word a stumbling block to the reading and thus a barrier to immersion. But I think I figured out how best to read these stories. Instead of trying to figure out the translation of each word along the way, just keep plowing through it. It loses some of it’s world-building quality, though. This particular story (which was borderline erotica at times?I imagine?) was kind of ho-hum. Basically nothing happened except Sov feeling all tingly and engaging in a big orgy. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
    • Note: Set on the planet Winter, setting for the author’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
  10. “The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker” by Roger Zelazny [1995 short story] (Rating: 2.5/5/5) [Read 08/14/04]
    • Synopsis: A man is transported into a black hole where time loops allow him three chances of escape.
    • Review: An OK story; it’s only a few pages long so it moves quickly.
  11. “Evolution” by Nancy Kress [1995 novelette] (Rating: 3/5) [I read this on 04/28/04 so I did not re-read it. Here’s what I said then?]
    • Synopsis: Concerns the spread of bacteria that is resistant to all known antibiotics.
    • Review: Good story made so by Kress’ excellent easy-to-read writing style. There is some intrigue and some plot surprises and the pacing is good.
  12. “The Day the Aliens Came” by Robert Sheckley [1995 short story] (Rating: 1/5) [Read 08/17/04]
    • Synopsis: Aliens arrive on Earth and modify its culture.
    • Review: Silly story. How in the heck did this make it onto a “Best of” list?
  13. “Microbe” by Joan Slonczewski [1995 short story] (Rating: 3/5) [Read 08/17/04]
    • Synopsis: An astronaut armed with sentient life suit components explores a potentially habitable planet.
    • Review: Good story filled with lots of cellular biology.
  14. “The Ziggurat” by Gene Wolfe [1995 novella] (Rating: 2.5/5) [Read 08/19/04]
    • Synopsis: An alien ship lands on a frozen lake in the snowy mountains and makes trouble for suicidal Emery Bainbridge and the family he is about to lose through an ugly divorce.
    • Review: This read like a Stephen king story what with the human drama, the isolated, snowy locale and the aliens. The writing was way more lyrical by comparison; lots of imagery and symbolism with coyotes and such. However, I found this 80-page story difficult to read. Partly because of the comma-ridden verbiage and partly because the events just didn’t seem to flow forward as a unified whole. For example, Emery gets shot by a confused alien but the event, after some brief discussion, is largely taken in stride. In the middle of other happenings, a character will say something totally off topic. This kind of thing only served to slow me down and decrease my enjoyment.

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