This is an oddly modest beginning to what turned out to be a very longrunning series, and to be honest, doesn’t have a bad tale in it. (Even the Robert Sheckley is entertaining in its own unique way. The weakest is the McKillip story which is a little too ambivalent about what it’s trying to say.)
This is possibly because of the comparative brevity of this book compared to its descendants, which are weightier, fulsome beasts; the tyrannosaurs of the Year’s Best evolutionary line.
The quality stories of the year have here been represented by a mixture of The Great and The Good, and the lesser knowns. It is, however, ‘Year’s Best American SF’ since The Great and The Good, and the lesser knowns involved (with the exception of Baxter, correct me if I am wrong) are all American.
A third of the authors are women, and as to the ethnic mix, it’s difficult for me to be absolutely sure about this as there are some authors new to me, but I suspect that everyone is white.
So, it’s ‘Year’s Best Mostly White Male American SF’ if we’re being truthful.
This imbalance to a certain extent is redressed in later and larger volumes, although the male american whites still do tend to dominate the pack.
James Patrick Kelly – Think Like a Dinosaur ( Asimov’s, 1995)
Patricia A. McKillip – Wonders of the Invisible World (Full Spectrum 5, 1995)
Robert Silverberg – Hot Times in Magma City ( Omni Online, 1995)
Stephen Baxter – Gossamer ( Science Fiction Age, 1995)
Gregory Benford – A Worm in the Well (Analog, 1995)
William Browning Spencer – Downloading Midnight (Tomorrow, 1995)
Joe Haldeman – For White Hill (Far Futures, 1995)
William Barton – In Saturn Time (Amazing Stories – The Anthology, 1995)
Ursula K. Le Guin – Coming of Age in Karhide (New Legends, 1995)
Roger Zelazny – The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker (F&SF, 1995)
Nancy Kress – Evolution (Asimov’s , 1995)
Robert Sheckley – The Day the Aliens Came (New Legends, 1995)
Joan Slonczewski – Microbe ( Analog, 1995)
Gene Wolfe – The Ziggurat ( Full Spectrum 5, 1995)
James Patrick Kelly – Think Like a Dinosaur ( Asimov’s, 1995)
Humanity have been given the secret of matter transmission from a highly advanced race of dinosaurs. Reminiscent of themes in Rogue Moon and Christopher Priest’s ‘The Prestige’, it seems that when people are scanned and transmitted elsewhere, there original bodies have to be disposed of. The dinos are fine with this. Humans have to learn to grow up.
Patricia A. McKillip – Wonders of the Invisible World (Full Spectrum 5, 1995)
‘A strange and memorable thing. After outpourings of prayer, with the utmost fervor and fasting, there appeared an Angel, whose face shone like the noonday sun. His features were those of a man, and beardless; his head encircled by a splendid tiara; on his shoulders were wings; his garments were white and shining; his robe reached to his ankles; and about his loins was a belt not unlike the girdles of the peoples of the East.’ wrote Cotton Mather in 1685. McKillip seeks to provide a rational explanation of this vision with time-travellers of a sort who – coming from a secular future free of religious belief – are hired by a researcher to appear to people of faith in the past in order to record and study the effect that such visitations had on people. It’s a decent enough story but it’s not clear what point McKillip is trying to make given the denouement.
Robert Silverberg – Hot Times in Magma City ( Omni Online, 1995)
In a future US, the San Andreas fault has become a hotspot (literally) of volcanic activity. A team of community service junkies in various stages of recovery are employed to both monitor activity and have been trained by Icelandic volcano specialists to dam the lava as it emerges. There is a clever connection between the lava bursting under pressure from the landscape and the anger and demons pent-up within the team and its leader.
Stephen Baxter – Gossamer ( Science Fiction Age, 1995)
Following a wormhole malfunction, two women in a small ship are forced to crash on the surface of Pluto. They have enough supplies to survive until a rescue ship arrives but the discovery of what may be life puts their rescue in jeopardy as the PTB would rather let them die than attempt a rescue which may destroy the fragile ecosystem. They must therefore try and effect their own escape.
An excellent bit of Hard SF speculation from Baxter who postulates the life on Pluto spinning webs to its tidally locked moon, Charon, in order to access its water deposits.
Gregory Benford – A Worm in the Well (Analog, 1995)
An excellent piece of Hard SF from Benford in which a female captain, desperate to pay of her debts to a sinister organisation with a Japanese name (they always work well) contracts to a flyby of what appears to be a wormhole trapped in the corona of the Sun. An excellent piece, eminently readable and well characterised.
William Browning Spencer – Downloading Midnight (Tomorrow, 1995)
In the future, porn is provided by VR personalities moulded by AIs from scans of living humans. Occasionally, the avatars go rogue and haunt the virtual universe. Captain Armageddon is such a one. He needs to be tracked down and wiped.
It’s a rich textured tale set in a world which has gone through an age of Decadence where people can not have a sexual relationship until several stages of contracts and arrangements have been completed.
Joe Haldeman – For White Hill (Far Futures, 1995)
One of the best in this collection, this is a love story between two artists invited to construct a piece on an Earth ravaged by nanophages during what appears to be an ongoing war, Haldeman’s perennial theme. The enemy is seldom mentioned but the results of their destruction are the backdrop to this tale. Beautifully written.
William Barton – In Saturn Time (Amazing Stories – The Anthology, 1995)
In an alternate timeline, Udall became President after Nixon and initiated a far more ambitious space programme. An ageing astronaut tells the story of the missions he has been a part of.
Ursula K. Le Guin – Coming of Age in Karhide (New Legends, 1995)
A beautiful and poetic tale set in Le Guin’s Hain universe on the planet featured in her excellent ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, featuring a coming of age of one of the gendermorphing denizens.
Roger Zelazny – The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker (F&SF, 1995)
Zelazny’s last published story apparently, in which he plays with Hard SF concepts, black holes, enigmatic aliens and the nature of time, all in his own distinctive way.
Nancy Kress – Evolution (Asimov’s , 1995)
A captivating human drama in a near future where antibiotic-resistant bacteria are making hospitals no-go areas. It’s refreshingly character-driven though
Robert Sheckley – The Day the Aliens Came (New Legends, 1995)
I still don’t get Robert Sheckley. Ok. I get the jokes. I get the weird surrealist concept of peculiar aliens with British/US surnames and the improbability of the entire premise, but does this have some further meaning. Is it a metaphor for the degradation of the Anglo-Saxon genome , or is it a celebration of diversity and the melting pot of human races?
I have no clue.
Joan Slonczewski – Microbe (Analog , 1995)
Slonczewski uses her background as a microbiologist to give us this small gem, set in the universe of ‘A Door Into Ocean‘. An expedition to another world finds a fascinating ecosystem based on triple helix DNA. The most dangerous predator on the planet however appears to be a microbe.
Gene Wolfe – The Ziggurat ( Full Spectrum 5, 1995)
Emery is staying alone in a cabin in the American wilderness, awaiting the arrival of his soon-to-be ex-wife and her three children. Just before she arrives, Emery’s cabin is robbed by three hooded figures, one of whom shoots at him with his own gun.
Ostensibly this is an SF tale about desperate stranded travellers, from the future it is suggested, although (being Wolfe) there are levels of meaning. Emery is a complex character, and the story is told from his perspective, so one has to be careful to read between the lines.
New Light on the Drake Equation – Ian R MacLeod (SCI FICTION May 2001)
More Adventures on Other Planets – Michael Cassutt (SCI FICTION Jan 2001)
On K2 with Kanakaredes – Dan Simmons (Red Shift (ROC) AC Sarrantonio Ed.)
When This World is All On Fire – William Sanders (Asimov’s SF Oct/Nov 2001)
Computer Virus – Nancy Kress (Asimov’s SF April 2001)
Have Not Have – Geoff Ryman (Magazine of F&SF April 2001)
Lobsters – Charles Stross (Asimov’s SF June 2001)
The Dog said Bow-Wow – Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s SF Oct/Nov 2001)
The Chief Designer – Andy Duncan (Asimov’s SF June 2001)
Neutrino Drag – Paul Di Fillipo (SCI FICTION 22/8/2001)
Glacial – Alastair Reynolds (Spectrum SF 5)
The Days Between – Allen Steele (Asimov’s SF March 2001)
One Horse Town – Howard Waldrop/Leigh Kennedy (SCI FICTION 4/3/2001)
Moby Quilt – Eleanor Arnason (Asimov’s SF May 2001)
Raven Dream – Robert Reed (Magazine of F&SF December 2001)
Undone – James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s SF June 2001)
The Real Thing – Carolyn Ives Gilman (Magazine of F&SF July 2001)
Interview: On Any Given Day – Maureen F McHugh (Starlight 3 (Tor))
Isabel of The Fall – Ian R MacLeod (Interzone July 2001)
Into Greenwood – Jim Grimsley (Asimov’s SF September 2001)
Know How, Can Do – Michael Blumlein (Magazine of F&SF December 2001)
Russian Vine – Simon Ings (SCI FICTION June 6 2001)
The Two Dicks – Paul McAuley (Magazine of F&SF August 2001)
May Be Some Time – Brenda W Clough (Analog Science Fiction & Fact April 2001)
Marcher – Chris Beckett (Interzone October 2001)
The Human Front – Ken MacLeod (chapbook – The Human Front – PS Publishing)
New Light on The Drake Equation – Ian R MacLeod
An atmospheric and poignant tale, set in France, in which a lifelong SETI researcher looks back on his life of fruitless searching for signs of extraterrestrial life from a future where genetic bodily restyling is all the rage. His memories are interrupted by the arrival of an old girlfriend, a woman who may be the alien he has been searching for all his life.
Beautifully written and evocative.
More Adventures on Other Planets – Michael Cassutt
A modern interplanetary romance (literally) featuring two older members of a Scientific Institute who operate waldos on the surface of Europa who are searching for signs of life beneath the frozen surface. It’s extremely well-written and amusing without having that annoying American habit of over-emphasising the humour.
On K2 with Kanakaredes – Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons never disappoints and here he is on top form, and on top of the world in a tale of a climbing crew who are ordered by the US government to accept one of the alien insectoid Listeners (as they are known) on a climbing expedition up K2. The characterisation is excellent, and despite the brevity of the tale we accept the idea of a large insect bonding with a pack of professional mountain climbers. Simmons provides one of his usual metaphysical clichés in the concept of the Listeners having come to Earth to teach us how to Listen to the song of the world.
When This World is All On Fire – William Sanders
A global warming themed tale set in the American Midwest where white people are beginning to encroach on what remains of Native American land now that the sea level has risen, leaving much of North America under water.
Sanders employs the dry and desperate environment as a backdrop to a tale of a Native American security man and his obsession with the young white girl he hears singing one day when her family park on Indian land illegally.
Like all the stories so far it has a sad and poignant element to it, but is nevertheless an energetic and well-painted story. You can almost smell the smoke and the baking land.
Computer Virus – Nancy Kress
I seem to remember at least two TV movies of the Eighties or earlier which featured a computer going rogue and holding people hostage in some building or other. One featured Kate Jackson of Charlie’s Angels, but was otherwise unmemorable.
Thankfully Nancy has used this concept far more cleverly in a fast-paced story where an escaped AI invades a computer-controlled house into which a female scientist has retreated since her geneticist husband was murdered by eco-terrorists.
The AI wants to hold her and her children hostage unless it is allowed to talk to the Press, something its creators do not want it to do.
It is up to her to use her wits to defeat the AI, since her young son has contracted a mutated virus, and his temperature is steadily rising.
It says much about the media, about government, and a climate in which we seem to be more afraid of each other than posited foreign terrorists.
Have Not Have – Geoff Ryman
Ryman’s work is very much character-driven, but there is always an interesting backdrop, an exotic setting against which the drama can be shown to best effect. Here we are, it is supposed, in China, where a young woman makes a living by adapting the fashions she sees on screen and in magazines to make dresses for the peasants of her village. The stark poverty of the villagers is contrasted by the advent of technology and a development of the internet which will allow everyone to have TV ‘in their heads’.
It’s a startling, evocative and original tale, in which individual characters are carved intricately like small jade sculptures
Lobsters – Charles Stross
A bewildering and disorienting romp through a future world of predatory ads, AIs, and world where the minds of lobsters are uploaded into a digital environment, their minds employed as processing slaves. Quite brilliant, but very difficult to describe. It’s easier to read the story for yourself.
The Dog said Bow-Wow – Michael Swanwick
As usual Swanwick has created a bizarre and exotic world in which to set his tale, which features a genetically engineered dog of the far future who joined forces with a human man and hatches a scheme to steal the jewels of a member of the aristocracy.
In this future, the Queen (an almost immortal creature with multiple brains set deep into her vast body) lives in a Buckingham Palace which surrounded by a labyrinth.
Vivid, surreal, amusing and memorable.
The Chief Designer – Andy Duncan
An emotional and poignant view of ‘the chief designer’ of the USSR space programme, rescued form a Russian concentration camp to become the main force behind Russia’s bid to conquer space.
Neutrino Drag – Paul Di Fillipo
Very stylish fast and amusing SF from Di Fillipo who tells the story of how an alien got involved in drag racing with an American gang. When the human hero accidentally ‘bonds’ with the alien’s specially-cloned girlfriend, he is challenged to a ‘chicken’ race into the corona of our sun.
Di Fillipo evokes a sense of place and his vision of contemporary gang culture in the US is, if a little romantic, vivid and realistic.
Glacial – Alastair Reynolds
One of the best stories in this collection features Clavain, the renegade conjoiner from Reynolds’ ‘Redemption Ark’. Here, the action is set long before that of the novel, at a time when the conjoiners have set off to find a habitable world to start a colony. Felka, the mind-damaged conjoiner and Galiana, the leader of the group along with Clavain land on the frozen planet Diadem, only to find a dead Earth colony has already preceded them. One man has frozen himself deliberately in the hope of being revived.
Like the later story ‘Moby Quilt’ in this volume, a vital part of the plot is a gestalt of seemingly low-level intelligence creatures (in this case, worms) which seem to be acting as an information processing device; i.e. a self-aware organism composed of thousands of smaller creatures.
Fascinating reading, and suggesting that Reynolds may be planning other Clavain stories to fill in the gaps between this and ‘Redemption Ark’
The Days Between – Allen Steele
An interstellar ship, whose passengers are all cryogenically frozen for the long-haul light-years-long trip suddenly awakens one of its passengers only a few months into the mission.
The AI controlling the functions of the ship refuses to re-freeze him – for complex reasons having to do with a sub-plot involving conspiracies and mutiny – and we follow his descent into madness as he realises that he will die years before the ship reaches its destination, and his slow return to reason.
One Horse Town – Howard Waldrop/Leigh Kennedy
Far too similar to Howard Waldrop’s novel ‘Them Bones’ for this to be an original story, it tells of three different time-periods intersecting; The siege of Troy; Homer’s adolescence, and a modern day archaeological team. Visions and impressions of the periods overlap and bleed through, affecting the action and the destiny of those involved.
Moby Quilt – Eleanor Arnason
Another of the best stories in this volume is a peculiar tale of love which sees Lydia Duluth, a future PR guru and location-scout visiting a waterworld. Also visiting is the alien K’r’x with whom she is put into mental contact via a pair of AIs. While investigating the mystery of the vast circular mats which float on the oceans, she begins to fall in love with the vast squidlike creature. As with ‘Glacial’ this also deals with the subject of gestalt or multi-symbiotic organisms working together as one organism.
Raven Dream – Robert Reed
An odd piece featuring Native Americans who live in a seemingly secret part of our world – to them our world is known as the spirit world – and the coming of age of Raven, a young man who slowly begins to learn who and what he is and how his world relates to the world outside.
Reed has used Native American characters before but not to such concentrated effect. What works in this story is that we are looking from a perspective of the belief of Raven, which gives us doubts as to what is real and not real – and indeed how we actually define the word ‘real’.
Undone – James Patrick Kelly
A marvellous densely-packed modern space opera in which a feisty heroine of the resistance – standing up for her right to be an individual – escapes into the future but is pursued by a mine travelling six minutes behind her. Any attempt to travel backwards in time beyond that point will wipe her mind and reprogramme her memories. Cleverly, the story ends up going in a most unexpected direction.
The Real Thing – Carolyn Ives Gilman
Another story which features a Native American lead character in the form of Sage Akwesasne, who volunteers to be dismantled and projected – via a slingshot black hole process which is not that important to the plot – fifty years into the future.
She arrives in a world where she is literally a commodity since the courts have ruled that she is not the original Sage, but a copy, and the legal property of a megacorporation in a world where hype and spin are the be-all and end-all of business.
Obviously it’s a commentary on the direction in which our media-obsessed society is moving, and a very clever one, managing to be both funny and dismayingly accurate if we dare to hold a mirror to our own society now.
Interview: On Any Given Day – Maureen F McHugh
Transcript of a fictional TV programme in which a teenager infected with a retrovirus mutated from a longevity treatment is interviewed. Not only interesting structurally, but showing a strong command of voice and character, since through the testimony of one girl McHugh brings to life those about her, described in a ‘Talking Heads’ style confessional.
Isabel of The Fall – Ian R MacLeod
In a far and complex future, Isabel tends the mirrors which redirect light to various parts of her community, part of a society in which social roles and responsibilities are rigidly controlled. When Isabel fails to correct a mirror misalignment, part of her community experiences an unheard-of twilight, which leads to a friend ship with another woman, a dancer at the cathedral. It’s a tragedy of consequence, of the terrible events which lead from the simple error of the mirror misalignment. Powerful and haunting.
Into Greenwood – Jim Grimsley
Grimsley’s story is a clever examination of the concept of relative freedom. The hero is a revolutionary, attempting to promote independence on worlds controlled by the efficient and mysterious Prin. After years of silence she is invited to visit her brother, a man who has been genetically altered to become a symbiont; a vegetable creature living in symbiosis with an intelligent tree.
One of the better stories in the collection it examines issues surrounding slavery and freedom while at the same time creating a vivid and realistic world.
Know How, Can Do – Michael Blumlein
Michael Blumlein showed in his novel ‘The Movement of Mountains’ that he has a deep interest in scientific and medical ethics and shows this again to good effect in a disturbing love story where the narrator is a cloned human brain linked to the nervous system of a roundworm. As his psyche grows and learns he slowly falls in love with the female scientist who created him.
Russian Vine – Simon Ings
Aliens infect humanity with a virus which renders them illiterate and therefore incapable of developing complex societies and science and thereby destroying themselves. The aliens think of themselves as gardeners, conserving the races of the galaxy. Against this backdrop one of the aliens forms a relationship with an Earth woman. Very well-written, from an odd point of view; i.e. that of one of the alien earthdwellers.
The Two Dicks – Paul McAuley
A clever tribute to Philip K Dick, set at the time of Dick’s famous exegesis in 1974, but in an altered timeline in which Richard Nixon remains in power, having somehow derailed the careers of influential creative figures. Dick himself has been dissuaded from writing science fiction, although pirate copies of his one SF novel ‘The Man in The High Castle’ are much in demand. Elvis Presley appears at one point, asking Dick to sign his last mainstream novel ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ (the title of the novel within ‘The Man in The High Castle’) while mentioning obliquely that they have something in common. They both have dead twins. Elvis in this timeline runs an ice-cream business.
Beautifully written, very much in Dick’s style.
May Be Some Time – Brenda W Clough
Famous explorer Titus Oates is snatched at the point of death from his own timeline and taken to a New York of 2045, only to discover that his rescue was just an experiment employing technology provided from a First Contact message sent from Tau Ceti.
Highly readable and enjoyable.
Marcher – Chris Beckett
A topical tale involving an immigration officer who is called in to examine cases of ‘shifters’, disaffected people who take ‘seeds’ which have the effect of switching them between alternate worlds.
The Human Front – Ken MacLeod
MacLeod examines his usual themes of Scotland, Communism and grey aliens in an unusual novella originally published as a chapbook. The son of a Scottish doctor remembers his father treating the occupant of a crashed ‘bomber’ during the war, and had always considered the pilot to be a child.
Later we realise this is not the world we know, and that the Americans have been using alien anti-gravity technology in military technology.
It’s dense and complex, but very much character-driven and manages to explore themes of politics, communism and propaganda against a backdrop of alternate worlds and civil war.
The Reef – Paul J McAuley (Skylife Ed Benford/Zebrowski 2000)
Reality Check – David Brin (Nature, Vol 404 2000)
The Millennium Express – Robert Silverberg (Playboy, Jan 2000)
Patient Zero – Tananarive Due (F & SF 2000)
The Oort Crowd – Ken MacLeod (Nature, Vol 406 2000)
The Thing About Benny – M Shayne Bell (Vanishing Acts, Tor 2000 Ed Ellen Datlow)
The Last Supper – Brian Stableford (Science Fiction Age, Mar 2000)
Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN – Joan Slonczewski (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
Our Mortal Span – Howard Waldrop (Black Heart, Ivory Bones, Avon Books/Eos, Ed Ellen Datlow and Terri Wilding)
Different Kinds of Darkness – David Langford (F & SF, Jan 2000)
New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet? – Norman Spinrad (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
The Devotee – Stephen Dedman (Eidolon #29/30 2000)
The Marriage of Sky & Sea – Chris Beckett (Interzone Mar 2000)
In The Days of the Comet – John M Ford (Nature, Vol 405 2000)
The Birthday of the World – Ursula K LeGuin (F& SF, Jun 2000)
Oracle – Greg Egan (F& SF, Jul 2000)
To Cuddle Amy – Nancy Kress (Asimov’s, Aug 2000)
Steppenpferd – Brian W Aldiss (F&SF, Feb 2000)
Sheena 5 – Stephen Baxter (Analog, May 2000)
The Fire Eggs – Darrell Schweitzer (Interzone, Mar 2000)
The New Horla – Robert Sheckley (F&SF July 2000)
Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Dan Simmons (Nature, Vol 407 2000)
Grandma’s Jumpman – Robert Reed (Century, Spring 2000)
Bordeaux Mixture – Charles Dexter Ward (Nature, Vol 404 2000)
The Dryad’s Wedding – Robert Charles Wilson (Star Colonies, 2000)
Built Upon The Sands of Time – Michael Flynn (Analog July/Aug 2000)
Seventy-Two Letters – Ted Chiang (Vanishing Acts, Tor 2000 Ed Ellen Datlow)
Annual collections have evolved like dinosaurs from the slim volumes of the 60s and 70s into the paperback versions of Tyrannosaurs, vying for attention with their garish colour schemes (Sadly, the text for the cover of this issue completely obscures the artwork, looks like it’s been thrown together hurriedly in a copy of Adobe Illustrator and doesn’t do the volume itself any justice at all).
This series, ably edited by David G Hartwell, goes head to head with the Gardner Dozois series and a whole subspecies of other annual compilations which somehow survive to re-emerge next year, so good luck to them.
This volume purports to be the best SF of 2000. I say purports to be since the publishing history is a little strange, giving a first paperback publication date of June 2000, when some of the stories included were not published until July/August 2000. Looking at the publication dates of the stories included we notice that, yes, it seems that possibly all of the work included comes from a time before August 2000, which is unfortunate if your excellent SF story was published in, say, November 2000.
However, it is nevertheless an excellent collection and Hartwell, whatever publishing constraints he is bound by, has to be congratulated on selecting not only brilliant pieces of work, but those which complement and enhance each other. McLeod and Slonczewski, for instance, both deal with the theme of intelligent bacteria, and there are other examples of synchronicity throughout the collection.
The Reef – Paul J McAuley
One of my favourites in this collection, which tells of an expedition to find the result of a lost experiment in genetically engineered zero-gravity organisms.
Reality Check – David Brin
This is the first of several examples of the short pieces that were published in Nature throughout 2000 to celebrate the Millennium. David Brin takes a very Dickian turn with this piece which suggests that there is embedded code within the text which can wake certain people up to face a truer reality.
The Millenium Express – Robert Silverberg
On the eve of the Third Millenium, an investigator is tracking four men: Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and Vjong Cleversmith. His aim is to find out why they are planning to blow up (or implode, since the matter is still under discussion) The Louvre, and to stop them. But can he, and more importantly, should he?
Patient Zero – Tananarive Due
A good, if a little schmaltzy, tale of a young boy who was one of the first to contract a lethal virus, and one of the only people to survive. He is kept within an isolation unit and we see the world through his eyes, via the doctors and helpers who come into contact with him, as the virus destroys society.
Well-written, and from an unusual perspective.
The Oort Crowd – Ken MacLeod
This is a prequel of sorts to MacLeod’s ‘Dark Light’ books, and is one of two tales here dealing with the concept of intelligent bacteria.
The Thing About Benny – M Shayne Bell
An unusual tale, set in the aftermath of climate change, or at least an ecological disaster, where a savante of sorts – who is also an obsessive Abba Fan – hunts through office blocks in search of rare plants which unwitting workers may have been keeping in a plant pot. His aim is to discover a new species and name it after Agnetha.
Very original and readable.
The Last Supper – Brian Stableford
A celebration of genetically-modified food in this gloriously politically incorrect story set in the restaurant of a renowned chef whose dishes are all genetically modified, and some ingredients are not what one might call strictly legal.
Elegant, satirical and memorable
Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN – Joan Slonczewski
Another millennium tale from ‘Nature’, this time told as a news report in which a civilisation of bacteria join the UN.
Our Mortal Span – Howard Waldrop
I have a problem with Waldrop. As a writer he is good, descriptive, poetic, emotive, and pushes all the right buttons, but there is always something I don’t quite get.
This a tale set in a near future Fairy Tale Theme Park where a mechanised troll goes on the rampage, accusing the other characters of not being true to the original scripts, or so it seemed to me. It might be a little more complicated than that.
Different Kinds of Darkness – David Langford
This is what I would term a ‘real’ SF story, the sort of thing one used to get in SF monthly. It’s full of meat and character and fascinating concepts, such as pictures designed to drive the viewer insane and schools where the pupils have their perceptions altered.
New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet? – Norman Spinrad
A short satirical tale from Spinrad in which a future Earth is struggling to reverse the effects of Global Cooling
The Devotee – Stephen Dedman
An interesting noir-esque tale featuring a hard-boiled private eye and covering issues such as amputee fetishes, porn and cloning. Despite what some people may find to be distasteful subject matter, this is an excellent tale, stylishly written and conveying a sense of verisimilitude to a complex near future society
The Marriage of Sky & Sea – Chris Beckett
A clever story which exploits our current obsession with media celebrities, one of whom is the hero – if that is the right word – of this short gem. He is an author, travelling the galaxy in a sentient ship, each time landing on a primitive world and writing about his experiences with the natives, despite the fact he is well aware of what the effect of his intrusion – along with his advanced technology – has on the cultures he visits.
On this occasion, however, he may have underestimated both the natives and his own feelings.
In The Days of the Comet – John M Ford
And yet another tale featuring the microcellular, or smaller, particles of the universe, in this case, infectious proteins or prions, which have been seeded in comets. Extraordinarily well-written for such a short piece.
The Birthday of the World – Ursula K LeGuin
A beautiful and poetic work from Le Guin, who never fails to marry the base human and the exotic into a powerful piece of work. Here, a race which has, as the basis of its culture, hereditary gods who foresee the future, is thrown into turmoil by the failure of the system and the power of ambition and greed working within the family.
It’s a haunting and mysterious piece, but one which seems firmly grounded in its own reality.
Oracle – Greg Egan
Although not made that clear in the text, Egan here fictionalises a rivalry in the late Nineteen Forties between two characters based on Alan Turing and CS Lewis, and sets up a battle of essentially, science versus religion.
‘Turing’, trapped by the police into admitting a gay relationship, is blackmailed into working for an unscrupulous government scientist, but is rescued by a mysterious woman who turns out to be an AI, one of the descendants of his research.
Following a series of brilliant scientific developments on ‘Turing’s part, ‘Lewis’ believes ‘Turing’ to be in league with The Devil, and sets out to expose and discredit him.
To Cuddle Amy – Nancy Kress
Another tale that features children, which seems to be a popular subject in this volume, although this is a short and quite chilling tale, examining what morality we may eventually ascribe to producing children if it becomes a simple matter of ordering another one if the first one doesn’t work out.
Steppenpferd – Brian W Aldiss
In a strangely parallel story to Alistair Reynolds’ ‘Century Rain’ Aldiss takes us to a strange system where copies of the earth are trapped inside Dyson Spheres. On one of these worlds, in a pre-industrial Scandinavia, a priest is tormented between his faith and the reality he sees around him, doubting whether his fellow priests are real, or merely the transient bodies of the shape-changing asymmetrical aliens who have created these worlds.
Sheena 5 – Stephen Baxter
Baxter examines the ethics and possible consequences of genetic experimentation in this tale in which a tailored squid is sent out to the asteroids to set up a mining operation. The squid however, was pregnant and gives birth en-route to other equally intelligent offspring.
An alternate history of Sheena can also be found as part of Baxter’s 1999 novel, ‘Time – Manifold 1’ where the pregnant squid is diverted to Cruithne, Earth’s other ‘moon’ and the destiny of her children changed.
The Fire Eggs – Darrell Schweitzer
An odd and borderline surreal tale of luminescent eggs which appear all over the world, hovering slightly above the ground. Impervious to any form of force, and seemingly inert, they are eventually relegated to the status of inexplicable curiosities by most of the population. There are a few however, who claim that they can hear the eggs singing.
The New Horla – Robert Sheckley
A reworking of the classic tale ‘The Horla’ by Guy Du Maupassant.
I’ve never really ‘got’ Sheckley, and this fairly recent piece of his didn’t help me to get him any further.
Madame Bovary, C’est Moi – Dan Simmons
It is discovered that works of literature generate their own universes in which, more often than not, the central figures do not realise that they are the central figures. This is probably the best of the ‘Nature’ stories, conveying a tremendous amount in its brief number of words.
Grandma’s Jumpman – Robert Reed
Reed as a writer is very much at home in America’s rural backwaters, and before he began his recent style of vast post-vanvogtian space opera with planet-sized ships and immortal post-humans, his work was more redolent of Clifford Simak, as here, where a young boy visiting his aunt’s farm discovers the true nature of her relationship with the alien farmhand.
As with much of Reed’s work, there is a bittersweet undertone to the piece, where idyllic surroundings are the background to a coming of age and a loss of innocence.
Bordeaux Mixture – Charles Dexter Ward
The subject of GM crops (and other foods) seems to have inspired many writers, here, Charles Dexter Ward foresees vegetation which emits pheromones to make one want to grow and eat it.
The Dryad’s Wedding – Robert Charles Wilson
On a colony world a woman has an accident and lies in a river with half her brain missing before she is found, When she is awoken after a regeneration procedure she finds the empathic flora and fauna around her trying to make contact, and has unaccountable memories of Brussels, which she has never visited.
Apparently a prequel to a Wilson novel, this is a deep and complex, highly detailed piece of work, rich with scientific ideas and the atmosphere of an alien planet.
Built Upon The Sands of Time – Michael Flynn
A very literary and Irish piece set in a bar in which scientists and others discuss matters of scientific import over a Guinness or two, and in the course of things hear a tale of alternate worlds and altered history.
Seventy-Two Letters – Ted Chiang
This is a strange novella set in an alternate Victorian world where golems can be brought to life by placing a sequence of seventy-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet under their tongue.
Also, it is discovered, each individual male sperm, when examined, contains a complete foetus. How these two scientific discoveries relate to each other is at the core of this tale of weird science, murder, espionage and the very future of the human race.
In the Matter of the Assassin Merefirs – Ken W Purdy (Analog 1972)
As for Our Fatal Continuity… – Brian W Aldiss (New Worlds 3 1971)
The Old Folks – James E Gunn (Nova 2 1972)
From Sea to Shining Sea – Jonathan Ela (Sierra Club Bulletin 1972)
Weihnachtabend – Keith Roberts (New Worlds 4 1972)
The Years – Robert F Young (Galaxy 1972)
Darkness – Andre Carneiro – trans by Leo L Barrow (Nova 2 1972)
Cymbal Player – Lawrence Sail (Cornudo 1972)
Report from the Planet Proteus – Lawrence Sail (Cornudo 1972)
Columbus on St Domenica – John Cotton (Sceptre Press 1972)
After Death – Patricia Beer (New Statesman 1972)
Faex Delenda Est – Theodore R Cogswell (Cornudo 1972)
Words of Warning – Alex Hamilton (Flies on the Wall 1972)
Out, Wit! – Howard L Myers (Analog 1972)
An Imaginary Journey to the Moon – Victor Sabah (1972)
The Head and The Hand – Christopher Priest (New Worlds 3 1971)
Hero – Joe W Haldeman (Analog 1972)
Brian Aldiss’ afterword is, as always, a masterclass in the examination of the nature of SF. Here he is examining the possible consequences of the plethora of books about to be released which deal (in one way or another) with the history of SF. One of them (‘Billion Year Spree’) is his own. It was later expanded and revised as ‘Trillion Year Spree’
Perhaps mischievously, Aldiss moves on to briefly examine the history of SF and celebrate the new diversity of the genre which seems to be in direct conflict with what Harrison says in the preface. He is merely making the point, however, that these many and various SF histories of varying length and quality should all be welcomed since they open up the debate about what SF was, what it is and into what it may evolve. In the thirty-five years since this book was published the ‘SF is dead’ brigade have been proven wrong since SF continues to evolve and innovate and often produce brilliant work, if not masterpieces.
Theodore Sturgeon was right when he said ‘90% of everything is rubbish’ (or words to that effect) and ninety percent of SF has always been rubbish. It still is, but there is always that ten percent of pure quality cream and brilliance which floats to the top. To be fair, fifty percent of the ninety percent is usually fairly entertaining hokum and I have never had a problem with that.
Long live SF! Long live the cream! Long live the hokum!
The Assassin Merefirs – Ken W Purdy
It is shame that Purdy did not write more SF. His short stories are amazingly inventive, peopled with extraordinary characters that seem to leap fully-rounded from the pen. Here we have a dramatisation of a court case, from spme period in the future, although the bureaucracy and cronyism of the court environment does not seem to have advanced much.
As to Our Fatal Continuity – Brian Aldiss
Spookily prescient, this Aldiss piece is the introduction to a fictitious book about Art, concentrating on the work of an artist born in 1972. The titles of the artist’s work are last words of various public figures, as in the title of the piece.
It’s a very erudite study of the art world and predicts, to a certain extent, today’s conceptual art and installation work.
The Old Folks – James E Gunn
Another prescient tale – albeit somewhat in the style of The Twilight Zone – in which a young couple and their son visit the wife’s parents who have retired to a senior citizen’s community (come to think of it, the community could have been called The Twilight Zone).
While the grandparents are at a town meeting the young child is – apparently deliberately – run down by an elderly lady in her car who drives away.
The couple drive the child to the town hall, ostensibly to find a doctor – where they discover that the old people have an agenda, and a burning resentment against the young.
It reflects the growing politicisation of the over-sixties in America at the time, a movement which has grown in strength ever since although it is not clear if the movement’s policies include the hatred and disenfranchisement of one’s own children.
From Sea to Shining Sea – Jonathan Ela
Rather like Orson Welles’ ‘War of The Worlds’ this tongue-in-cheek proposal for a coast-to-coast US canal, utilising nuclear explosions as part of the construction and advocating the removal of some of the ‘less aesthetic’ parts of the Rocky Mountains was taken seriously by many readers and apparently one irate congressman. Is it SF? I suspect it is, and a very original and entertaining piece, redolent of the satirical SF of Sheckley and Vonnegut.
Weinachtabend – Keith Roberts
This is how one writes a short story. Roberts sets his in a Britain under Nazi rule (or ‘The Two Empires’ as it is now called). Martin is a trusted aide to the Minister and is invited to his country house for Christmas talking along a young Aryan lady with him. In his room he finds a book, a banned publication of Jewish/American propaganda and gets a call from an American reporter.
It’s a very clever story. The hero is continually running through his thoughts and doubts on the page as though reviewing ‘alternate actions’. This is a device often used on TV and film but is not often seen in literature. In this story it is also entirely appropriate since this is a view of an alternate history. The reader soon gets the idea of what is going on, but Roberts is careful not to flood the piece with historical information. The setting is important but is secondary to the story which is about motivation and manipulation. Just who is pulling the strings?
The Years – Robert F Young
Rather like the time-travel tale in SF4 this has dated badly. An old man manages to bribe his way into a time-travel machine and returns to see his dead wife as she was when he first met her. however the teenage version of his wife gets the wrong impression when she sees him staring at her and calls him a dirty old man. This sours his memories of her.
Darkness – Andre Carneiro
An example of Brazilian SF which is very good and very memorable, reminiscent of Wells’ tale of the man who visits the country of the blind. When an odd darkness falls across the world, flamesbecome cool and then non-existent, the sun disappears and the narrator is taken in by a group of blind people who have their own farm. Idiosyncratic, atmospheric and poetic.
Cymbal Player – Lawrence Sail
Report from the Planet Proteus – Lawrence Sail
Columbus on St Domenica – John Cotton
After Death – Patricia Beer
Faex Delenda Est – Theodore R Cogswell
Words of Warning – Alex Hamilton
A well-written and humourous piece set in the world of academia where words are unaccountably escaping from books and running away.
Out, Wit! – Howard L Myers
A very cleverly written piece, composed in a series of letters between a scientist and the editor of a scientific journal. A promising young student, Jonathan Wallis, is the subject of the initial discourse. The paper he intends to present is entitled ‘Backward to Alchemy’, apparently detailing a method by which elements may be transmuted and leading the way to a cold fusion nuclear process. The student’s presentation, however, is seen as disrespectful which leads to an almost inevitable sequence of events. It’s a tale which takes a sideswipe at the scientific community itself, regularly criticised and indeed lampooned in fiction by various authors from Fred Hoyle to Stanislaw Lem to Connie Willis. The moral of the tale ultimately is that it’s the science that’s important, not the reputations of the individual scientists.
An Imaginary Journey to the Moon – Victor Sabah
I am often impressed by surprising and heartwarming events. The private passions and enthusiasms of ordinary people can sometimes have the most extraordinary consequences, as in the case of Elaine and Larry Elbert who spent two years in Ghana teaching for the American Peace Corps at the curiously named Hohoe Secondary School. Due to a chronic shortage of books there they appealed (not to any church organisation who would doubtless have sent truckloads of Bibles) but to the Science Fiction Writers of America, who supplied copious reading matter for the students’ edification. As a result Victor Sabah wrote this story as part of a school exercise. The passion that the Elberts (and the SFWA) instilled in him clearly shows through. One wishes that there were Elberts at every school.
The Head and The Hand – Christopher Priest
A Ballard-esque piece from Priest, who never fails to impress with work of depth and subtlety, often with disturbing undertones. This is the tale of an artist whose performances consist of amputation. Now an old man confined to a wheelchair, wheeled about by his old friend and collaborator, he is called upon to perform his final work. As is often with stories in this series, there is an odd prescience here which anticipates some of the more bizarre reality shows such as ‘Jackass’ or ‘Dirty Sanchez’ where acts of self-mutilation are encouraged and celebrated.
Central to this story however is the relationship between the artist, his minder and his wife.
Like Ballard, Priest produces work which has both a poetic element and has a haunting quality which keeps the story in one’s mind.
Hero – Joe W Haldeman
This story eventually became part of the classic novel ‘The Forever War’.
A round-up of some of the best writing from the movers and shakers in the genre as of 1971.
James Tiptree Jr is featured, before she came out to the world (or at least the SF world) as Alice Sheldon. Interestingly, there are two stories which deal with environmental issues. There three tales of pilots being forced to man ships, two dealing with the Catholic Church and two dealing with lovers being separated by time, space or other factors.
The Sliced-Crosswise Only-On-Tuesday World – Philip Jose Farmer (New Dimensions 1, 1971)
Interesting idea of a world where the huge population share the planet by a seventh of them having one day each, while the rest remain in stasis in transparent tanks, but what happens when one is living on Tuesdays and falls in love with someone from the Wednesday world?
Good News From The Vatican – Robert Silverberg (Universe 1, 1971)
This story, of the first robot Pope, has subsequently won awards and been reprinted countless times.
I’ll Be Waiting For You When The Swimming Pool is Empty – James Tiptree Jr (Protostars, 1971)
A light-hearted tale by Tiptree.
A young man visits a primitive planet and brings them the gift of western-style democracy. One wonders whether there isn’t a tinge of savage irony at the heart of this story. One also wonders what the relevance of the title is.
The Power of The Sentence – David M Locke (F&SF, April 1971)
A cleverly structured tale in which a lecture on grammar becomes a battle fought in words between extra-dimensional entities.
The Wicked Flee – Harry Harrison (New Dimensions 1, 1971)
Harrison seldom disappoints and here provides a beautifully atmospheric piece in which a renegade from a Catholic dictatorship of the future escapes into the past, pursued by an agent of the Church.
An interesting take on alternate pasts and presents.
When You Hear The Tone – Thomas N Scortia (Galaxy, 1971)
A poetic love story about a man who gets to know a woman through some form of time communication. Although he remains in his time frame he manages to call a woman through various periods of her life until he is brought up to date, and they can meet.
Not as schmaltzy as one would imagine.
Occam’s Scalpel – Theodore Sturgeon (If, Aug 1971)
A kind of double bluff from Sturgeon in which an employee of a multinational is worried by the new boss, now that the old dictator has died. He arranges for the new boss to examine the dead man’s body, and to see that it is not human, but what is really going on, and who is fooling whom?
Hot Potato – Burt K Filer (The Many Worlds of Science Fiction, 1971)
One of those quasi-humourous wise-cracking fast-paced pieces in which the opposing sides in a nuclear conflict learn how to store their arsenal in hyperspace.
The Human Operators – Ellison/Van Vogt (F&SF, Jan 1971)
This tells of a group of rogue ships which have enslaved individual humans within them to take care of them and perform maintenance duties. It is quite a melancholy tale, and tinged with a certain claustrophobia, since there is no way of knowing (in common with the human slaves) what human society is like outside of this system.
Ultimately though, there is an odd yet beautifully poetic ending.
Autumntime – A Lentini (Galaxy, Nov 1971)
An environmental tone-piece about a trip to see a tree, which, in the future, is a rare sight.
A Little Knowledge – Poul Anderson (Analog, Aug 1971)
Aggressive humans underestimate a quiet and obsequious alien whom they kidnap as a pilot for a ship which they plan to use for unimportant nefarious purposes.
One of those ‘twist in the tail’ pieces. Best SF of the year? Probably not.
To Make a New Neanderthal – W Macfarlane (Analog, Sep 1971)
Turning environmentalism on his head, Macfarlane posits a situation where pollution has helped to increase Humanity’s intelligence.
The Man Underneath – RA Lafferty – (If, Jan 1971)
Lafferty here plays with words and text as easily as he plays with our imaginations. A tale, oddly reminiscent of ‘The Prestige’, in which a magician is haunted by an echo of himself.
Ornithanthropus – B Alan Burhoe (If, Nov 1971)
Nicely detailed view of a world where humans have been adapted to meet the conditions, rather than the other way around.
Rammer – Larry Niven (Galaxy, Nov 1971)
One of Niven’s corpsicle tales, in which a revived cryogenically frozen body is awakened, but only to be trained to pilot a seeder ship, travelling round the galaxy dropping biological packages on dead worlds in order to kick-start them into a biosphere.
It’s interesting that most ‘Year’s Best’ anthologies tend to feature one or two of the old guard or the big names of SF, and this volume is no exception. In other cases, there may be ulterior motives, since the likes of Robert Silverberg, Jack Williamson, Will Gibson and Moorcock etc, still swing a lot of weight, and publishers will – one assumes – be keen to feature these names in a publication which is likely to sell to hardcore fans more than anyone else.
One has to say though that the quality of the work from the establishment writers (apologies to Mr Moorcock, who will no doubt quail at the thought of having become the establishment) is exceedingly high, particularly in the case of Moorcock, Silverberg and Gibson. There are one or two stories whose inclusion as ‘Year’s Best’ I would question, but then, I’m sure that’s going to be the case for most readers. It would have been nice, I think though, to have seen more fresh blood since there were only two or three writers in this volume who were new to me.
1997 seems to be the year of relationships in SF, since quite a few of these tales have a romantic element. Let’s hope it was just a passing fad.
Petting Zoo (1997) Gene Wolfe (Return of the Dinosaurs, May 1997, ed. Martin H. Greenberg, Mike Resnick, )
A young boy illicitly recreates an intelligent, slightly purple, T.Rex and rides off on a voyage of mayhem. However, there are consequences.
The Wisdom of Old Earth (1997) Michael Swanwick (Asimov’s Dec 1997)
Post-humans getting back to nature try to experience what it is to be human and mortal again. Very poetic and not a little weird.
The Firefly Tree (1997) Jack Williamson (Science Fiction Age – May 1997)
Very poetic story about a young boy and a fabulous plant he discovers, which could be the First Contact between man and an intergalactic civilisation. Who will believe him when his dad is a dope farmer?
Thirteen Views of a Cardboard City (1997) William Gibson (New Worlds 1997)
A wonderful Ballard-esque tour through – as the title would suggest – thirteen (one imagines) photographs of a Far-East cardboard city where the residents have exploited the properties of boxes to the nth degree. Gibson always has an arty sharp visual side to his writing, which is more than usually evident here.
The Nostalginauts (1997) shortstory by Sharon N. Farber [as by S. N. Dyer ] (Asimovs, March 1997)
A character-driven piece about time-travellers who can visit from the future, but only for a short time, insubstantially and with no sound, and only from 25 years ahead. This gives rise to a fashion of visiting one’s wedding or prom night, holding up pictures or messages from the future.
Guest Law (1997) novelette by John C. Wright (Asimovs July 1997)
More baroque technofabulousness, as a ship, piloted by the decadent and mannered hi-tech survivors of humanity, encounters another ship, and evokes the ‘Guest Law’ in order to receive the captn of the ship into their midst in mutual safety. Earth, it appears, is now controlled by machine intelligence and humanity is spread across space, living in ships and habitats.
The Voice (1997) shortstory by Gregory Benford (Science Fiction Age, May 1997)
An interesting concept of humans rediscovering written text after having been reliant on an inner ‘internet’ called The Voice. The Voice, however, seems to be resistant to the idea of humans reading for themselves.
Yeyuka (1997) shortstory by Greg Egan (Meanjin v56 #1)
Egan’s short stories can be compared with Ian Watson’s – not simply because they tend to be examinations of character within a Hard SF framework, but because they cover odd concepts, places and situations.
Here, a cancer surgeon, carrying a ring that guarantees him constant monitoring and medication goes to Africa where he finds the technology far behind that of Australia and the developed world. Very detailed. Very clever.
An Office Romance (1997) shortstory by Terry Bisson (Playboy, February 1997)
A very clever, witty and somewhat romantic story from Bisson, who posits a romance behind the windows of Windows in a future where we can immerse ourselves in an Office Environment, a place which is sometimes more real than real.
Itsy Bitsy Spider (1997) shortstory by James Patrick Kelly (Asimovs, June 1997)
Kelly decides to examine the emotive subject of Alzheimers, and how one might address it in the future, but this story is far more than that. It’s an examination of a relationship, and the way in which we all – consciously, deliberately or by means beyond our control – forget things from our past.
Beauty in the Night (1997) novelette by Robert Silverberg (Science Fiction Age, September 1997)
A wonderful poetic piece from Silverberg set in a future Salisbury where aliens have occupied the Earth and rearranged Stonehenge to their own alien configuration. A young man, fuelled by revenge against his brutal quisling father, sets out to kill one of the invaders.
Mr. Pale (1997) shortstory by Ray Bradbury (Driving Blind, Avon, 1997)
As is to be expected, a late tale from Bradbury with all the exoticism and poetry of his earlier years. Death is found travelling on a starship, having consigned the Earth to flames, but Death himself is dying. Should the Doctor try to save him?
The Pipes of Pan (1997) novelette by Brian Stableford (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, June 1997)
An interesting story, a little steampunkish, set in a world where children’s growth has been retarded in an effort to deal with the population programme.
Always True to Thee, in My Fashion (1997) shortstory by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s Science Fiction, January 1997)
Imagine that moods could be changed by designer drugs and that the fashion is set by designers for the following season. A relationship in this world is examined, revealing a great deal about the attitudes and motives of the narrator.
Canary Land (1997) novelette by Tom Purdom (Asimov’s Science Fiction, January 1997)
A dense, complex piece involving music, gene patents, big business and espionage.
Universal Emulators (1997) shortstory by Tom Cool (The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, July 1997)
Beautifully written, this is another of the stories in this volume that looks at a relationship. In this world, one can hire someone to be you, to take over half your life and deal with a heavy workload, or make your wife fall in love with you.
Fair Verona (1997) novelette by R. Garcia y Robertson (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October/November 1997)
The narrator spends his time between living virtually in medieval Verona and taking rich clients on Wyevern hunts on an alien world. The Wyverns are collared are radio controlled so they are effectively harmless, until Tony is dragged from his game to find his client ripped to pieces by a Wyvern, and his own life as a witness on the line.
Great Western (1997) novelette by Kim Newman (New Worlds 1997)
An odd alternate Earth tale is which modern England becomes a parallel of the Wild West, with corrupt Reeves, evil squires, beleaguered widows running farms, and a gun-totin’ motorbike riding hero riding to the rescue.
Turnover (1997) shortstory by Geoffrey A. Landis (Interzone, January 1997)
A rather daft story about a Professor and her handsome assistant examining larval occurrences on Venus. Couldn’t see the point of it. Another story featuring relationships in this volume.
The Mendelian Lamp Case [Dr Phil D’Amato] (1997) novelette by Paul Levinson (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, April 1997)
One feels that this should really have been worked up onto a novel. It doesn’t read like a short story and seems rushed into an implausible conclusion. The overall premise is that the Amish, through extensive selective breeding, have created a new sustainable green technology, and can for instance use fire flies that will light the inside of one’s home.Marvellous idea. Not that well employed.
Kiss Me (1997) shortstory by Katherine MacLean (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, February 1997)
It’s well-written, amusing, and casts a cynical eye on the motivations of young women. MacLean is an SF veteran, and it’s no surprise that there is a retro feel to this story, harking back to some of the quirky ‘feel good’ stories of the 40s and 50s. It’s another short piece which focuses on (at least one half of) a relationship, but should it really be in a Year’s Best anthology?
London Bone (1997) novelette by Michael Moorcock (New Worlds 1997)
Moorcock, as Hartwell points out, is a major figure in British and International SF and fantasy. Here is a mature work which is not only a love letter to London itself, but a commentary perhaps on London society, with its obsession the facile and superficial. Ray, the narrator, is a dealer in services, providing tours and shows for jaded tourists and is offered a chance to be finance a lucrative deal. Under a disused site in Southwark some strange bones have been discovered, fused together by a chemical process and scrimshawed with figures of matchstick men, and these bits of bone are being sought by collectors. It’s a memorable piece which also manages to take a sideswipe at many of our more overhyped sacred cows such as Madonna. It may in its own way be a commentary on modern society’s penchant for feeding on its own remains, regurgitating the old bones rather than producing anything truly new and original. It is perhaps significant that Andrew Lloyd-Webber, regularly the subject of claims that he has plagiarised the work of earlier (and conveniently dead) composers, comes under Moorcock’s hammer, and is described as having gone bankrupt following the failure of his popularity and his last show ‘Dogs’.
It’s a marvellous piece, full of witty one-liners and snapshots from London’s real and imaginary past.
This is the first volume in what was a very important and influential series of Year’s Best SF collections. Edited by Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison these annuals pushed the boundaries and helped to redefine not only what could be classed as SF, but what format it should adopt. Later volumes include poetry and other more experimental writing. The series was also known for its opinionated articles, the first issue’s dealing with the definition of SF.
Kit Reed’s story ‘The Vine’ is included in this volume. Is it SF? I would label it as allegorical fantasy personally, and as James Blish has written a part introduction to this book in which he questions what is labelled as SF, it needs to be pointed out. Aldiss, however, in his afterword, has a more liberal point of view.
Some forty years plus after this volume was written we can see that Aldiss’ argument holds more water than Blish’s. Blish seems to be implying that SF is only SF if it works within the rules he has set out. Within this volume, perhaps as a perverse response to Blish we have ‘The Vine’ and Ballard’s ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race’. Within Blish’s rules we would not have included these pieces or evolved such writers as M John Harrison, China Mieville, Ballard himself and countless others.
This volume comprises of:-
Hawksbill Station – Robert Silverberg
An excellent concept, predating Julian May’s Exiles Saga in which political dissidents and misfits are sent back to the Palaeozoic Era. This is, however, more of a character study of what might happen to men under such circumstances, and one man in particular. Novelised subsequently under the same title.
1937 A.D.! – John T Sladek (New Worlds 1967)
John Sladek shows early promise with this tale of how the future could influence the present, when a young inventor, from Kiowa in the United States of Columbia, creates a time engine powered by a bicycle and travels to 1937, where Julius Doppler explains his ‘Doppler Effect’ to him.
Fifteen Miles – Ben Bova
Bova chooses the moon for this story, where a priest (one of three astronauts on the moon during the current mission) gets himself trapped in a crater while looking for water and has to be rescued. It is not clear why a priest was on the moon in the first place, although it is a rather cumbersomely inserted device to explore the story’s theme of redemption
The Vine – Kit Reed (F & SF 1967)
This could be seen as a metaphor for any business whose survival comes to mean more than the lives of the individuals who toil for it. A family has spent generations tending a vast grapevine, during which time other dependent industries have evolved around it, catering to the tourists who come to visit The Vine. Some of the family are having second thoughts about their hereditary roles as tenders of The Vine, but the Vine is not prepared to let them leave.
Interview With a Lemming – James Thurber (My World and Welcome To It – 1942)
A satirical short from humourist Thurber, which transcribes a philosophical discussion between human and lemming.
The Left Hand Way – A Bertram Chandler (Australian Science Fiction Review 1967)
A colonist ship crashlands, and the only survivor is a Buddhist priest who, when finding a cargo full of trainable humanoid robots, activates them and begins training them as Buddhist monks.
The Wreck of The Ship John B – Frank M Robinson (Playboy 1967)
In one of the better stories in this volume, Robinson looks at the effects of space travel on humans. Several young men on a three year flight to a colony world find a series of space-suited corpses in space, and then their abandoned ship.
The Captain, studying records from the ship, realises that his own crew is showing early signs of the same psychoses which led to the deaths of the other astronauts, and determines to find a solution before it is too late.
The Forest of Zil – Kris Neville
Earth has sent spaceborne arcologies out to try and find habitable worlds. One world, discovered after countless lifeless stars, is covered by a forest, the trees of which seem to be the only life-form, and seem to whisper the word ‘Zil’ when wind blows through their leaves.
The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy Considered as a Downhill Motor Race – JG Ballard (Ambit 1967)
One of Ballard’s more memorable and controversial creations, heralding an obsession with the President, and indeed with other media icons, who turn up in later stories and novels.
Answering Service – Fritz Leiber (Galaxy 1967)
An interesting piece here about a rich hypochondriac who rings and abuses what she supposes to be an answering service comprised of automated tapes.
Character driven and compelling.
The Last Command – Keith Laumer (Analog Jan 1967)
During construction of a new shopping mall on a colony planet a supposedly decommissioned automated warfare unit is awakened. A retired soldier is the only one who recognises the unit and remembers how to shut it down.
Mirror of Ice – Gary Wright (Galaxy 1967)
Interesting in that it explores a potential future sport, indeed presages the current fascination with dangerous sports. Here, a sled has to be specially designed to to ride the course which has been constructed to wind around a mountain and which has brought glory to some and death to others.
Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes – Harlan Ellison (Knight Magazine 1967)
Harlan Ellison, in a suitably Chandler-esque mode, tells the tale of the femme-fatale Maggie, whose man Nuncio, done her wrong. Now Maggie’s spirit possesses a Las Vegas fruit machine, looking for a man who can be true to her. Again, this is not SF. I am not sure what it is. It somehow deserves its place here though.
This features the brightest and best work published during 1969 with the usual round-up of the year from Harrison as a prologue, and an afterword from Brian Aldiss. It’s interesting to look at this from a historical perspective. John W Campbell, for instance, was still the editor of Analog at the time and sharing the genre with such revolutionary publications as New Worlds.
In Brian Aldiss’s afterword he gives us his thoughts on SF in general and has a sideswipe at the Tolkien clones of the time before trying to convince us all that SF doesn’t actually exist. If one has a serious interest in the history of SF this series is worth getting just for Harrison’s and Aldiss’s overviews of the contemporary SF world.
The Muse – Anthony Burgess (The Hudson Review, 1968)
A very memorable and somewhat grotesque piece from Burgess in which a researcher travels back in time to find Shakespeare. Burgess writes so well that this piece (which in many other writer’s hands would have been labelled ‘predictable’) becomes original, compelling, fascinating, haunting and in some places darkly amusing.
Working in the Spaceship Yards – Brian W Aldiss (Punch, 1969)
Another stylist, Aldiss provides this intelligent and witty account of a young worker, part of a team that works on the FTL engines for Q-class starships. Despite the narrator’s good humour and obvious intelligence and education, there is a bleakness pervading the environment. The starships are sent out and never heard from again, created by artificial intelligences which give amusing answers to questions due to their rather literal interpretation of the language.
Obsolete androids beg on the street and are beaten up if discovered by their newer-model brethren.
Suicide is rife, and the narrator begins his tale by recounting his pleasure in the well-written nature of some of the suicide notes he’s found lying around the shipyard.
It’s a brilliant piece of work, especially considering that nothing much really happens and yet, cleverly, Aldiss manages to cram more background and depth into these few pages than many others do in entire novels.
The Schematic Man – Frederik Pohl (Playboy 1969)
The idea of recording one’s consciousness is a theme Pohl picked up later in his Heechee novels. A mathematician begins to construct a mathematical model of himself within a computer, and then starts to forget things. Like ‘The Muse’, this is a ‘predictable’ piece which is raised to a far higher level by Pohl’s gift seemingly effortless prose and characterisation.
The Snows Are Melted, The Snows Are Gone – James Tiptree Jr (Venture Science Fiction magazine 1969)
A post-apocalyptic tale, set in a future Ethiopia where technologically advanced humans (but presumably descended from those affected by radiation and deprived of limbs) kidnap healthy humans living a more primitive existence, presumably for breeding purposes or their clean genes. Like many of the stories in this anthology there is a polished poetic edge to the vision.
The Hospital of Transplanted Hearts – DM Thomas (New Worlds 1969)
The poet has constructed a grid in which the heart of a certain category of patient on one axis can be read against the body of another category of person on another axis. Thus, one can look up the heart of a sadist in the body of a whore and find an apt or witty description inserted therein.
Eco-Catastrophe – Dr Paul, Ehrlich (Ramparts 1969)
A chillingly prophetic future history seen from the perspective of 1969 where mass use of pest killers and fertilisers and the pollution pumped out by world industry sees the beginnings of a process which leads to the death of all life in the oceans. It is perhaps the most relevant and important piece in this book and although Dr Ehrlich’s nightmare scenario has not come to fruition as quickly as he imagined or in exactly the same way much of what he envisages is already taking place. This short but effective piece neatly encapsulates the greed of big business and the stupidity and shortsightedness of governments who fail to address issues such as pollution and population control.
The Castle on The Crag – P. g. Wyal (Fantastic, 1969)
An interesting and poetic tale which makes the same point as that of Ozymandias, the forgotten ruler on whose crumbled works we mighty should look and despair, its moral being that everything eventually will be gone and forgotten.
Nine Lives – Ursula K Leguin (Playboy 1969)
The Welsh Pugh and his colleague Martin have been posted alone on the bleak planet Libra to make a geological survey. After they discover a rich vein of uranium, a ten-part clone, John Chow (five male and five female) arrive to set up a process for extracting the uranium. However, an earthquake leaves nine dead and the surviving clone member has to learn (with the help of Pugh) how to live as a single human being.
It’s a story of extraordinary depth and feeling, rich with background detail and characterisation and still reads, as one or two in this collection do not, as fresh and new.
Progression of The Species – Brian W Aldiss (Holding Your Eight Hands 1969)
A poem from the poetry anthology ‘Holding Your Eight Hands’ (Ed. Edward Lucie-Smith) examining gentic engineering and the modification of human DNA.
Report Back – John Cotton (Holding Your Eight Hands 1969)
A poem, again from the poetry anthology ‘Holding Your Eight Hands’. This is a report back from a distant star in the form of a poem with two distinct voices.
The Killing Ground – JG Ballard (New Worlds 1969)
In this Ballard dystopian nightmare, we follow a group of English rebels in a world where the Vietnam War has spread around the globe. The US is battling with guerilla forces everywhere. Like practically all of Ballard’s work there is far more going on than a first reading might indicate.
The Dannold Cheque – Ken W Purdy (Playboy 1969)
A beautifully written, somewhat whimsical piece by the then editor of Playboy. Cleverly structured, it introduces the characters and the setting with a wealth of poetic, almost incidental detail. From there, the story unfolds like origami gift-wrap.
An artist wishes to collaborate with a politician in the latest of a series of collages which each preserve an object, a photograph and a personal piece of text. Mr Dannold, the politician, who is the latest subject, agrees to write a letter (to be part of the collage) detailing the events of the day in the photograph (where he is caught on camera thwarting the assassination of the Prime Minister). The object to be included is a voided cheque for £250,000.
Thus there is a story within the story in which Mr Dannold’s letter explains how the cheque and the photograph are connected.
Is it SF? One could argue otherwise but I for one am happy for such a well-written piece to be included as part of the canon.
Womb to Tomb – Joseph Wesley (Analog 1969)
Harry Harrison’s short blurb makes the point that this story, which harks back to the days of vast fleets of mile-long ‘planet-blaster’ ships, looks at the effects of battle on individual soldiers.
Earth is at war with the Kwartah, a race which has invaded a large number of human worlds.
Admiral Burkens runs a rehabilitation centre for soldiers sent back from the front. Senator Grimes arrives to check up on his son, recently admitted, and learns the awful truth about what price Humanity is paying for victory.
There is an unstated connection here with the Vietnam War, a connection which Ballard broadcasts all too clearly in his story.
Like Father – John Hartridge (New Worlds 1969)
Fingest, a time-traveller, returns to a few million years ago to plant his sperm in the womb of an early hominid, out of a sense of ‘because I can’ it would appear, as much as out of a desire to piss off his scientific colleagues. travelling forward through time he traces the progress of this sadly rather predictable tale.
By 1969 one would have thought the Birth of Man concept had been pretty much mined out. Having said that, Julian May did it far better later – and at great length – in the Pliocene Exiles Saga. It’s the basis for Quatermass and The Pit, at least two Doctor Who stories, ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey’ and countless other earlier tales. One is at a loss to see why this rather weak piece was included here, or published in ‘New Worlds’ of all places.
The Electric Ant – Philip K Dick (Fantasy & Science Fiction 1969)
We’re in familiar Dick territory here with a man who discovers he is an ‘electric ant’, i.e. an artificial human with a tape in his chest which is feeding him all his sensory input. When he interferes with the tape he finds his perception of the world changed. What will happen, he wonders, if the tape breaks or runs out. Despite the familiar theme, there is much food for philosophical thought provided by its limited number of pages.
The Man Inside – Bruce McAllister (Galaxy Magazine 1969)
A very short and very clever story which deals with a young child’s viewpoint of his schizophrenic catatonic father.
Dr Plankt has developed a device which may be able to print out his father’s thoughts. Over a mere two and a half pages McAllister produces one of the best short stories I’ve come across with an ending that is tragic, poetic, symbolic and probably quite a number of other –ics that I haven’t thought of yet.
Now Hear The Word of The Lord – Algis Budrys (Galaxy Magazine 1969)
Budrys is one of the serious masters of SF and seldom disappoints. This is a complex tale which begins with a man who types letters all day in a spartan office and then goes back to an even more spartan hotel. When you begin to think you know what’s going on, you find you don’t.
A decent crop of stories from 1999 many of which seem preoccupied with the theme – either subtly or overtly – of longevity or perhaps to be more accurate the preservation of body and/or personality.
It’s a mixed bag, but the overall quality is high.
The Wedding Album (1999) David Marusek (Asimov’s 1999.06)
Marusek takes the basic concept that photographs will develop into ‘sims’ – 3D sentient captures. He then runs with the idea on a surprising and twisting journey into the future.
10 to 16 to 1 (1999) James Patrick Kelly (aka 1016 to 1) (Asimov’s 1999.06)
A visitor from the future to the 1960s has to recruit a young boy into a mission to save the world from nuclear holocaust. Emotive and well-characterised.
Winemaster (1999) Robert Reed (F&SF July 1999)
Robert Reed is a master of strangeness and envisions a plague which destroys and recreates humans as digitised entities. Very clever.
Galactic North (1999) Alastair Reynolds (Interzone #145)
Reynolds here – over a vast span of time – tells us the origin of a situation detailed in his Revelation Space novels and a long chase across time and space. Marvellous stuff. An exemplary example of new space opera.
Dapple: A Hwarhath Historical Romance (1999) Eleanor Arnason (Asimov’s 1999.09)
A romantic tale of a young female alien belonging to a curious species. They are gay by nature and only turn to heterosexuality in order to breed. The girl wants to be an actor but as this is a strictly male occupation she disguises herself as a boy in order to pursue her career.
A romantic and poetic piece.
People Came from Earth (1999) Stephen Baxter (Moon Shots, July 1999)
Following a nanocaust the survivors of a moon colony struggle to keep the human race alive. Another piece which is romantic in nature and despite being scientifically accurate is more poetic than realistic.
Green Tea (1999) Richard Wadholm (Asimov’s, October 1999)
Dense and slightly baroque Hard SF here in which exotic matter is stored on the vane of a spaceship in order that it will be transmuted and destroy a nearby star in an act of revenge. Cleverly structured first person piece. Hard work, but worth persevering with.
The Dragon of Pripyat (1999) novelette by Karl Schroeder (Tesseracts 8, October 1999)
One of the best in this collection. A freelance troubleshooter is sent to the Chernobyl site as intelligence suggests that terrorists may be planning to blow open the ‘sarcophagus’ containing the failed reactor. However, tales of a dragon living in the poisoned town seem to point to something else going on. Excellent writing and characterisation.
Written in Blood (1999) Chris Lawson (Asimov’s June 1999)
Another excellent piece, the title of which refers to a muslim and his daughter on their Hajj, who meet a man who can write the text of the Koran into DNA. Again, excellent characterisation, and containing a hefty swipe at the practice of female genital mutilation.
Hatching the Phoenix (1999) Frederik Pohl (Amazing Stories, Fall 1999)
A late Heechee story in which Gelle-Klara Moynlon visits a project she has funded which is capturing and enhancing the light from a system that has already been destroyed. The enhanced resolution means they can observe an intelligent species on the surface before the nova rendered them extinct.
Suicide Coast (1999) M. John Harrison (F&SF Jul 1999)
A very dark tale from Harrison about dangerous sports, software and the nature of friendship.
Hunting Mother (1999) Sage Walker (Not of Woman Born – Mar 1999)
On a converted asteroid, an elderly genetic scientist and her half-cougar ‘son’ dance with death in a very poetic, romantic piece on the theme of how the old have to give way to the new.
Mount Olympus (1999) Ben Bova (Analog Feb 1999)
A workmanlike but unoriginal tale from Bova which features a rescue from the caldera of Olympus Mons on Mars
Border Guards (1999) Greg Egan (Interzone #148 Oct 1999)
Egan postulates a future where immortal humans live in an infinite array of worlds called The Territories. A young man around a century old meets one of the creators of the Jewel, the device which, when implanted, absorbs the cells and functions of the brain. Mind blowing stuff.
Scherzo with Tyrannosaur (1999) Michael Swanwick (Asimovs July 1999)
A prelude to ‘Bones of the Earth’, set in a future where enigmatic aliens have given humans the secret of Time Travel. Tourists can travel to a thousand years before the dinosaurs are wiped out and dine on plesiosaur steaks. Swanwick examines some of the benefits, consequences and pitfalls of time travel very cleverly here.
A Hero of the Empire [Roma Eterna] (1999) Robert Silverberg (F&SF Oct 1999)
Silverberg in his alternate world where the Roman Empire continues to the present day. An exiled favourite of the Emperor is sent to Mecca where he encounters a modern-day Mohamed.
Expertly done, giving much food for thought.
How We Lost the Moon, a True Story by Frank W. Allen (1999) Paul J. McAuley (Moon Shots, July 1999)
A great short piece by McAuley which details what happens when a small black hole escapes from a research facility on the dark side of the moon. As expected, well written with interesting characterisation. Much better than Greg Benford’s novel ‘Artefact’ which uses a similar premise (on Earth) but falls down on the one dimensional characters.
Phallicide (1999) Charles Sheffield (Science Fiction Age Sep 1999)
Sheffield writes here from the viewpoint of a young woman brought up in a US cult, who is allowed certain liberties because she has a talent for Chemistry and pharnaceuticals. The cult employ her skills to develop Viagra-style drugs to keep the elderly Patriarch and his aging minions sexually active. When one of the eldwrs plans to marry her thirteen year old daughter, she decides to rebel.
It raises many social and ethical questions and may have benefited from being developed into a longer format.
Daddy’s World (1999) Walter Jon Williams (Not of Woman Born – Mar 1999)
A very decent piece about the digitisation of consciousness and what it may mean in real terms.
A Martian Romance (1999) Kim Stanley Robinson (The Martians – 1999)
One of Robinson’s alternate tales of his terraformed Mars in which the terraforming has failed. Some of the residents embark on a trip across one of the frozen seas.
The Sky-Green Blues (1999) Tanith Lee (Interzone #142 – 1999)
A tale of alien love and the reality experienced by a fictional character. Poetic but a little odd.
Exchange Rate (1999) Hal Clement (Absolute Magnitude, Winter 1999)
Clement does what he does best here which is to postulate exploration of life on a planet five times the radius of the earth. It’s ravaged by earthquakes, has very little hydrogen, and a complex atmospheric mix. Despite his years Clement has managed to keep pace with the younger writers.
Everywhere (1999) Geoff Ryman (Interzone, #140 February 1999)
A positive view of the future from Ryman at a time when The Angel of The North is a historical landmark. Superlative writing.
Hothouse Flowers • (1999) • shortstory by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s Science Fiction, October-November 1999)
The concept of keeping old people alive taken to a logical but absurd conclusion.
Evermore (1999) Sean Williams (Altair #4, August 1999)
A probe containing the digitised copies of prospective colonists has its main drive destroyed by an encounter with a micrometeor. The human personalities, living in isolated virtual worlds and after thousands of years being borderline insane are brought together for a radical proposition.
Of Scorned Women and Causal Loops (1999) Robert Grossbach (F&SF Jan 1999)
The hadron collider is the setting for this intriguing time travel murder investigation.
Son Observe the Time (1999) Kage Baker (Asimovs May 1999)
Part of Baker’s ‘Company’ series which features an organisation of immortal time travellers. Here they are in San Francisco before the great earthquake of 1906 attempting to conserve art and literature that would otherwise have been destroyed. Someone else is there, however, with an altogether different agenda. Excellent stuff.
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.
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.