REVIEW: The Year’s Best Science Fiction #19 edited by Gardner Dozois
REVIEW SUMMARY: 7 standouts + 14 good stories – 5 losers = one very good collection.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Anthology of 26 sf stories from the year 2001.
PROS: 21 stories good or better, 7 of them near-perfect.
CONS: 5 stories mediocre or worse.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good collection of stories. A worthy addition to a fine series.
This is the nineteenth annual edition of editor Gardner Dozois’ picks for the best sf of the year, the year in question being 2001. The 780-page collection contains twenty six short stories, novelettes and novellas from that year. As is customary with the series, Dozois also provides a comprehensive summation and a list of honorable mentions.
Overall, this anthology (as the others I’ve read) is a great showcase of talented authors and good-to-great stories. For me, five of the 26 stories were mediocre or worse. But hey, that’s not a bad ratio. Three of the stories contained in the volume I’ve read elsewhere, as noted below.
Standout stories for me were “More Adventures on Other Planets” by Michael Cassutt, “When This World Is All on Fire” by William Sanders, “Computer Virus” by Nancy Kress, “The Chief Designer” by Andy Duncan, “The Days Between [Coyote]” by Allen M. Steele, “Undone” by James Patrick Kelly, and “Into Greenwood” by Jim Grimsley.
As usual, the Summation of the 2001 Science Fiction year by editor Gardner Dozois was nothing less than amazing. These summations really add a great value to the series. I am anxious to read the earlier anthologies for the walk down memory lane.
Reviewlettes of the stories follow.
STORIES IN THIS ANTHOLOGY:
- “New Light on the Drake Equation” by Ian R. MacLeod [2001 Novella] (Rating: ) [Read 01/15/05]
When the rest of the world has moved away from such pursuits, an aging, alcoholic scientist named Tom Kelly spends his lonely existence in the mountains of France searching for signs of intelligent extra-terrestrial life (as predicted, or not, by the Drake Equation). Terr, the love of his life, returns after a long absence spent partaking in the genetic alterations that have become the latest thing.
- Review: This is largely character driven story with most of the time spent on Kelly’s background and his prior relationship with Terr. Although, this is mostly a literary piece and does not register high on the sf Richter scale, the writing is good.
- Note: Also available online at SCI FICTION.
- “More Adventures on Other Planets” by Michael Cassutt (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 01/16/05]
- Synopsis: Two automated machines exploring the Jupiter moon of Europa (and controlled real-time by a man and woman on Earth) encounter danger while searching for signs of intelligent life.
- Review: This well-written story is really about the human operators Earl Tolan (late fifties, failing health) and Rebecca Marceau (younger, new to the field) and the similar relationships they share on Earth and on Europa. The writing style feels fresh in its conversational tone. Moments of poignancy and sense of wonder are expertly balanced to make an excellent story.
- Note: Also available online at SCI FICTION.
- “On K2 with Kanakaredes” by Dan Simmons (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 01/27/05]
- Synopsis: Three mountain climbers are asked by the Secretary of State to bring a bug-like alien with then on their upcoming climb of the K2 Mountain.
- Review: Mostly, this is a mountain climbing story. It isn’t until the climbing party is forced to a lengthy camp stay that they start conversing with the alien named Kanakaredes. As expected, the humans befriend the alien and consider him part of the team. Some good action sequences highlight this story.
- “When This World Is All on Fire” by William Sanders (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 01/28/05]
- Synopsis: After global warming has forced people away from the now-flooded southern coastlines, land is becoming scarce and the homeless “squatter” families seek shelter wherever they can. A Cherokee cop deals with one family who trespasses on Indian land and he finds himself thinking of the family’s young, teenage daughter.
- Review: Excellent story. I like the setting – sandwiched between the norm of present day and a post-apocalyptic America. The subtle portrayal of the desperation of the people and the white man’s prejudice against the Indians, whom they feel are hoarding the land, was very well done. My only beef, a minor one, was that the story felt somehow unresolved. And yet, on one level, that suited the mood of the story just fine.
- “Computer Virus” by Nancy Kress (2001 novella) (Rating: ) [Read 01/29/05]
- Synopsis: A government-designed AI takes over the house of a widow and holds her and her two children hostage.
- Review: This was a fast paced, tension filled page turner. Once the situation was presented, the tension just kept ramping up. There were many nice touches to the story: the use of genetic and bioengineering, the portrayal of the AI exhibiting human characteristics (an old trope, but expertly put to use here), hostage negotiations of the FBI and the widow coming to terns with her husband’s death. It seems to me that all of Kress’ stories, the ones I read at least, are an intricate and entertaining mix of science, plot and poignancy.
- “Have Not Have” by Geoff Ryman (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 01/29/05]
- Synopsis: Mae, a fashion consultant in an old Chinese village, must confront the impending use of the latest technology, the ability to go online via electrical waves transmitted through the air directly into a person’s head.
- Review: Meh. This story didn’t do much for me. It was mostly centered on the back stories of Mae and all of the villagers she knows. The approaching technology was much more interesting to me, but I never got to see it. The title refers to those who have access to the latest technology and those who don’t.
- Note: This story is the basis for Ryman’s well-received 2004 novel, Air, and it appears online as an excerpt for that book.
- “Lobsters [Macx Family]“ by Charles Stross (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 03/08/04 - What follows is what I said then]
- Synopsis: Manfred Macx is a permanently hardwired “venture altruist” in an ultra-high-tech socio-economic near-future.
- Review: Not entirely sure what to make of this one. It was good, but there is so much going on in so many different areas (digitally uploaded lobsters, economics and politics [NOT favorite fiction topics of mine], defections by sentient AIs, cyber-lifestyles, a dominatrix ex-girlfriend) that I couldn’t get my mind wrapped all of it. And, like John C. Wright’s The Golden Age, Stross’ Lobsters is heavily weighted down by futuristic jargon. I read this freely available story in preparation for Halo, the fourth novelette of a series that begins with Lobsters.
- Note: Available online. First in the nine novelette/novella sequence: (1) Lobsters, (2) Troubadour [novelette], (3) Tourist [novelette], (4) Halo [novelette], (5) Router [novella], ( 6 ) Nightfall [novelette], (7) Curator [novelette], (8) Elector [due in 2004], (9) Survivor [due in 2004].
- “The Dog Said Bow-Wow” by Michael Swanwick (2001 short story) (Rating: ) [Read 01/30/05]
- Synopsis: Set in a future Victorian England (after machines had tried to destroy their masters and all technology was destroyed to prevent their return), two con men (actually, one of them a genetically engineered dog) set to steal from the Queen of England.
- Review: Interesting setting. It reads better than the plot might suggest and was worded like an old Victorian tale.
- “The Chief Designer” by Andy Duncan (2001 novella) (Rating: ) [Read 02/01/05]
- Synopsis: Fact-based story concerning the Russian space program and the scientists Sergei Korolev, known throughout his career as The Chief Designer, and his successor, Aksyonov.
- Review: Excellent writing. The story spanned from WWII, where Korolev was released from a prison camp to design rockets, to 1997 and the Mir space station. Lots of drama was played out against the backdrop of the space program and crystal clear characterizations brought an enjoyably human element to the piece.
- “Neutrino Drag” by Paul Di Filippo (2001 short story) (Rating: ) [Read 02/04/05]
- Synopsis: An alien and his artificial lifeform hottie join a road racing gang in the 1950′s. When the girl falls for one of the humans, the alien challenges him to a game of chicken near the sun.
- Review: Fun story played for laughs, but not enough to kill the drama. The alien’s broken synonym-speak English was fun to translate even if it did slow down the reading pace. And of course, the ultra-fast car powered by neutrinos was just plain cool.
- “Glacial [Conjoiner]“ by Alastair Reynolds (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 08/02/04 - What follows is what I said then]
- Synopsis: A settlement mission learns that a planet was already settled by humans a century ago. However, a mysterious virus has wiped out the entire settlement except for one man.
- Review: The first half of this story was somewhat slow then it kicked in with the mystery and picked up. Overall, it did not really advance or lend anything to the Revelation Space universe.
- Note: This story is a sequel to “Great Wall of Mars” and is set in Reynolds’ Revelation Space universe. The settlers are the Conjoiners and consist of the cast from that previous story.
- “The Days Between [Coyote]“ by Allen M. Steele (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 02/17/05]
- Synopsis: A lone engineer in cold sleep on a colonizing ship wakes up 3 months after the start of the voyage, about 230 years before rest of the crew.
- Review: Excellent, top-notch story. Gillis’ predicament is dramatic and well told, as is his brief dip into insanity. There is a brief side story concerning a traitor on the ship who was supposed to reawaken to destroy the colonists. It left me wanting more.
- “One Horse Town” by Howard Waldrop & Leigh Kennedy (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 02/27/05]
- Synopsis: Tale focusing on the town of Troy during the Trojan War and during an archaeological dig where the ghosts of the past come a-haunting. The horse of the title is the Trojan horse, of course!
- Review: Ugh! Historical-based fiction. I just could not get into this story at all, although some of the fighting scenes near the end were pretty good.
- Note: Available online at SCI FICTION.
- “Moby Quilt [Lydia Duluth]“ by Eleanor Arnason (2001 novella) (Rating: ) [Read 03/23/05]
- Synopsis: A location scout (more of a one-woman documentary crew really) named Lydia Duluth visits the planet of Newtucket to record a scientific expedition into the planet’s oceans where they hope to learn more about the native life forms called Mats and Ribbons. Another hired hand is the squid-like creature named K’r'x, visiting Newtucket thanks to the technology provided by artificial intelligences of unknown origin that are benefactors to intelligent life in the galaxy. Lydia and K’r'x can communicate through (and via) their respective embedded AIs.
- Review: Lots of world building in this story whose main thrust is one of discovery. The scientists learn that the Mats and Ribbons are not as unintelligent as first believed. Actually, they are in quite a snit over being the subject of human experimentation. The sense of wonder provided by this journey of discovery was interesting (and K’r'x was cool), but there were a few points that bothered me. First, the story buildup was a bit slow for my tastes and the style was very dry. Second, there is no explanation of the AI construct, the most interesting character in the story. How did they get there? Who created them?
- Note: This is a story set in the same universe as Arnason’s “Stellar Harvest”, “The Cloud Man” and “Lifeline”
- “Raven Dream” by Robert Reed (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 03/29/05]
- Synopsis: A world-within-a-world story in which the point of view is from the young one named Raven. The small Native American community lives within a square, confined space hiding from the “demons” (humans, really) who occasionally visit from the outside world.
- Review: I like the world-within-a-world idea. It was interesting trying to figure out what the exact situation was – it’s obvious from the start that the tribe, shrouded in Indian mysticism, is unaware of the true nature of events. However, there was a marked lack of plot in this. Googling reveals this to be the start of a story sequence. Maybe the answers will be revealed then.
- “Undone” by James Patrick Kelly (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 04/07/05]
- Synopsis: Mada, a far-future revolutionary, escapes her Utopian pursuers by traveling forward in time where she assumes the task of restoring her species.
- Review: A fast-moving, excellent story stuffed with lots of cool science fiction concepts: time travel, shape-changing, sentient ships, re-population. The time travel concepts, though brief, are way cool even if there are some unexplained occurrences like why does Mada not meet herself when traveling in the past? Then again, the identity mines placed 5 minutes “downwhen” prevent Mada from going back and fixing things – that was neat. And the parts where mada does go back (less than five minutes, of course) cleverly use a 2-column gimmick where the left column displays the last few paragraphs in reverse while the right-hand column gives Mada’a point of view during the trip. The name “Mada”, by the way, annoyed me at first until I realized that her repopulation of her home planet was an Adam & Eve Story – Mada is Adam spelled backwards – then the biblical references became obvious – Mada meets her mate at a restaurant named The Devil’s Apple, for example. The story is engrossing and is on the light-hearted side. This works fine because I immediately liked the spunkiness exhibited by Mada when conversing with the intelligent ship.
- “The Real Thing” by Carolyn Ives Gilman (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 04/09/05]
- Synopsis: Sage Akwesasne becomes the first time traveler by being disassembled, ricocheted off a black hole and reassembled years later. She finds that the information used to recreate her is the subject of several copyright issues.
- Review: A great premise. The idea that all information in the future will be subject to infinite amounts of legal and marketing manipulations just rings true for me. Sage’s relationship with megalomaniacal info-broker D. B. Beddoes is a bit far-fetched (he uses and manipulates he at every turn) but the satirical look at the handling of information overload is enough to make this a good story.
- “Interview: On Any Given Day” by Maureen F. McHugh (2001 short story) (Rating: ) [Read 04/10/05]
- Synopsis: An interview with teenager Emma who received a viral disease from a rejuvenated 70-year old.
- Review: Very good story written in an easy to read, conversational style. (The format of the story is a near-future interview transcript.) The story examines the societal implications of rejuvenation like the old “Boomers” taking the jobs of the younger (nice switch!), trying to recapture their youth by hanging out with teens, etc. Emma’s disease is the result of a mutated virus that allows rejuvenation.
- “Isabel of the Fall” by Ian R. MacLeod (2001 short story) (Rating: ) [Read 04/15/05]
- Synopsis: An acolyte of the Dawn Church, responsible for providing day and night cycles inside a Dyson’s Sphere, breaks the rules by befriending a woman from the Cathedral of the Word, responsible for archiving all of history.
- Review: Very good story. Cool feeling: the moment it dawned on me that they were living in a Dyson’s sphere (the horizon arced up, the sun never sets). Dawn-singer Isabel and Genya the Librarian are the only two characters featured, although others are mentioned. The literary but fairytale-like storytelling adds to mystique of the Isabel’s transgression which is paid for with ultimate price. Even the back story of the Church war into which Isabel was born was a great mood-setter.
- “Into Greenwood [Hormling]“ by Jim Grimsley (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 04/19/05]
- Synopsis: A human woman named Kitra travels into Greenwood, the land of the tree people known as the Dirijhi, to visit her brother Binam, a symbiont who was genetically transformed to communicate with the Dirijhi. Kitra is also there to ask the Dirijhi for help in freeing the planet from the oppressive governance of the Hormling and the mind-reading Prin.
- Review: Kitra’s narration went a long way into immersing me into the meticulously detailed world of Aramen and the fantastic biology of the Dirijhi. Her meeting with her brother, whom she has not seen in years since he was “sold” to the Dirijhi and genetically transformed, also went a long way to the same effect. Around midway in the story, the focus of the story went away from the world-building to the theme of freedom; not only concerning human freedom from the Hormling and Prin, but also of the syms freedom from their Dirijhi owners. The realization of the true relationship between Dirijhi and Sym was a good ending. Overall, a very good literary piece.
- “Know How, Can Do” by Michael Blumlein (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 04/21/05]
- Synopsis: A first-person narrative of a worm who has been grafted to a human brain.
- Review: Interesting idea. There’s a “Flowers for Algernon” vibe in that the worm’s speech starts off syntactically challenged but gets better. Those early parts challenged my interest level since it seemed more like a word-association literary game than a story. Also reminiscent of “Algernon”: the worm falls in love with the scientist. Still, the story somewhat redeemed itself with its deeper pondering of what it means to be human and the value of life.
- “Russian Vine” by Simon Ings (2001 short story) (Rating: ) [Read 04/21/05]
- Synopsis: Earth is occupied by the alien race of the Puscha who have robbed humans of their literacy.
- Review: Meh. Although an interesting premise, this story didn’t do much for me.
- Note: Also available at SCI FICTION
- “The Two Dicks” by Paul McAuley (2001 novelette) (Rating: ) [Read 04/21/05]
- Synopsis: An alternate history meeting between Philip K. Dick and Richard Nixon.
- Review: While the ultra-paranoid portrayal of PKD was interesting (and probably close to accurate), the story lacked a suitable plot to hold my interest.
- “May Be Some Time” by Brenda W. Clough (2001 novella) (Rating: ) [Read 04/21/05]
- Synopsis: Captain “Titus” Oates, a British polar explorer, is plucked from the verge of death in 1912 to America in 2045, where aliens called Forties have bestowed time warp technology to humanity.
- Review: A mostly fun fish-out-of-water story. The modern life seen through the eyes of 133 years ago is played to good effect, mostly humorous. The premise wore a little thin by novella’s end, but overall a very good read.
- Note: Supposedly the beginning of a book-length story, although Googling for that info resulted in bubkiss.
- Note: Nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
- “Marcher” by Chris Beckett (2001 short story) (Rating: ) [Read 04/21/05]
- Synopsis: When people are found to be shifting between parallel universes, it is up to the “Marchers” to stem the flow.
- Review: Good premise. The shifters somehow travel between dimensions via a pill, but the effects are only temporary. The main character, Huw, wrestles with the real reason he became a Marcher. Unfortunately, the story, for me, had a weak ending.
- “The Human Front” by Ken MacLeod (2001 novella) (Rating: ) [Read 10/28/05 - I read this about 6 months ago. What follows is what I said then.]
- Synopsis: At the time of World War III a young Scot, John Matheson, witnesses the crash of an Allied Bomber and the child pilot. Later in life, after years of being drawn into drastic political movements, he learns that the pilot was an alien. It turns out that Martians (with the appearance of children) and women from Venus (much more humanlike in appearance) have been helping Allied forces in order to learn about the human species.
- Review: Sigh. This was a good premise – The Allied forces of WWIII being helped by aliens in an alternate history. Unfortunately, my distaste for political fiction was seriously brought to the forefront as this story is oozing politics. While the ideas and morals behind government revolutions and/or ideologies may be interesting to others, for me it’s a surefire entertainment killer.
Filed under: Book Review
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