My life in outer space

Year’s Best SF 2 – David G Hartwell (Ed.) (1997)

Year's Best SF 2

This collection features several tribute stories, notably Jack Williamson, but also HG Wells, Jack London, Jules Verne and GK Chesterton. Postmodern pastiche seems the zeitgeist of 1997.
Outstanding stories from Dave Wolverton, Sheila Finch and Yves Meynard. Nice to see a healthy representation of female authors also, but one would have been happier to see newer names here.

After a Lean Winter – Dave Wolverton (F&SF, 1996)

HG Wells’ ‘War of The Worlds’ told from the perspective of Jack London, in a Victorian Alaska. A very well-crafted atmospheric piece, which brings us a little closer to the Martians than Wells did.

In The Upper Room – Terry Bisson (Playboy 1996)

A young man, living with his mother following the break-up of his relationship, enrols on an erotic VR holiday in ‘Victoria’s Palace’ and ends up having more of an adventure than he may have originally imagined.

Thinkertoy – John Brunner (The Williamson Effect, 1996)

A tribute to Jack Williamson, this was maybe Brunner’s last short story as he died in 1995 at the Worldcon in Glasgow. Written in a suitably retro style it carries a nasty sting in its tail.

Gregory Benford: “Zoomers” (Future Net, 1996)

A hard SF vision of a future where prospecters trawl virtual space for information to sell.

Sheila Finch: “Out of the Mouths” (F&SF, 1996)

A high quality tale from Finch (who is a linguist) of a highly unethical experiment in linguistics which the originator justifies because it may help to stop an interstellar war. Very beautifully written, this is reminiscent of the best of Connie Willis’ early work, and to a certain extent Russell’s ‘The Sparrow’. Finch certainly deserves wider exposure.

James Patrick Kelly: “Breakaway, Backdown” (Asimov’s, 1996)

A very stylistic tale, told in the voice of the narrator; a recruiter interviewing an applicant for service in low-g.

Yves Meynard: “Tobacco Words” (Tomorrow, 1995)

A marvellous and engrossing piece featuring a disabled boy with a crippled tongue. His sister works at removing sins from humans arriving on her world who have picked up the sins of others while travelling through space. Full of detail and beautiful pieces of unexplained randomness. One of my favourite stories in this volume.

Joanna Russ: “Invasion” (Asimov’s, 1996)

A story that is interesting and well-written but reads as being somewhat dated. Had it been written in the Seventies it would not have raised any eyebrows. A ship encounters a distress signal and is forced to evacuate a horde of troublesome alien children with telekinetic abilities.
Mayhem ensues.

Brian Stableford: “The House of Mourning” (Off Limits: Tales of Alien Sex, 1996)

Stableford seems at his best with exploring the possible uses or misuses of genetic engineering. Here, we follow the victim of one such procedure and slowly uncover the tragedy of her life.

Damon Knight: “Life Edit” (Science Fiction Age, 1996)

A neat little gem which examines the consequences of us being able to edit our lives and change things, thus creating a new timeline. Knight takes this in a direction one might not have expected.

Robert Reed: “First Tuesday” (F&SF, 1996)

By hooking himself into a computer interface, the US President is able to visit every house independently, and answer questions.

David Langford: “The Spear of the Sun” (Interzone, 1996)

Langford postulates a world in which GK Chesterton, rather than HG Wells was the greatest influence on European Science Fiction, and here presents one of his Father Brown stories; in this instance, the murder of a pagan acolyte aboard a space liner.

Gene Wolfe: “Counting Cats in Zanzibar” (Asimov’s, 1996)

The mother of Artificial Intelligence meets one of her children on a boat at sea, and amidst literary allusions and references, they play an intellectual game of cat and mouse.

Bruce Sterling: “Bicycle Repairman” (Intersections: The Sycamore Hill Anthology, 1996)

A lovely cyberpunk tale of a bicycle repairman living in a barter society who receives a piece of equipment that others are keen to retrieve. Packed with character and wee thinky bits.

Gwyneth Jones: “Red Sonja and Lessingham in Dreamland” (Off Limits: Tales of Alien Sex, 1996)

Set in a time when therapists are using VR immersion sex programmes for treatment and analysis, this is a short study of sexuality, domination, control and sexual identity. One has to ask though, whether it adds anything new to any debate.

Allen Steele: “Doblin’s Lecture” (Pirate Writings, 1996)

Steele, who was once a hard nosed journalist, brings us a quite chilling story of convicted criminals brought to campus to be interviewed as part of their course work by students. The lesson, however, doesn’t end with a mere question and answer session.

Kathleen Ann Goonan: “The Bride of Elvis” (Science Fiction Age, 1996)

A very entertaining story in which Elvis turns out to be a humanoid alien, stranded on Earth with his harem. When he goes missing from his tomb, one of the brides becomes concerned.

Kate Wilhelm: “Forget Luck” (F&SF, 1996)

Not a new idea (that ‘luck’ in terms of avoiding death has a genetic basis) but one that is skilfully handled here by Wilhelm.

Connie Willis: “Nonstop to Portales” (The Williamson Effect, 1996)

A lovely tribute to Jack Williamson by Connie Willis in which a man arriving in Williamson’s home town finds himself on a sightseeing coach from the future.

Stephen Baxter: “Columbiad” (Science Fiction Age, 1996)

A sequel to Verne’s ‘From The Earth to The Moon’ in which HG Wells discovers that Verne was describing an actual journey in his novel.

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