The Year's Best Science Fiction: Eighteenth Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois (Editor)
Paperback - 640 pages 18th edition (July 2001) Griffin Trade Paperback; ISBN: 0312274785
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

Oh, one vain little thing before I get to the review. I was pleased to see SFRevu mentioned in the year in review (pg xxi), saddened that he described our somewhat erratic 1999 publishing schedule as "death", pleased that he noted our year 2000 "resurrection" and confused that Gardner claims the site crashed his system...after giving the wrong url. Hopefully he means that a file not found error is a system crash, because there isn't any page where he tries to send you. Since you're already here, you probably know that SFRevu can be found at www.sfrevu.com, or even just sfrevu.com. Well, any mention is better than none. Did I mention there's a web Hugo at this year's Worldcon in San Jose? -EL

Every year I have to struggle to find some way to say that Gardner has once again come up with a collection of short stories as good as the promise of the title. Every year, he does.

I don't read as many magazines as I'd like. Not many at all, in fact. I'm too busy with novels and galleys and whatnot. Mostly whatnot, I fear.

But to pass on The Year's Best SF would be lunacy.

Not only does Gardner collect a great batch of stories, I always find his annual report on the industry interesting and illuminating. True, he has weird manners at parties, but the man really knows his stuff. Well, except for getting SFRevu's url wrong.

Every year Gardner reminds me how powerful the short story format is. Long enough to explore and idea, but not so long as to get sidetracked, short enough to read at a sitting...and still have something resembling a life. Or sleep. Or time to write more reviews.

The caliber of talent assembled is top notch. Stephen Baxter, Paul McAuley, Nancy Kress, Ursula K. LeGuin, Michael Swanwick and seventeen others just as good. Reading theses stories it seems like all the best authors were told that they didn't have to write novels today...they could go out and play instead. And they play very well.

The collection starts off with John Kessel's "The Juniper Tree" which appeared in the now tragically defunct Science Fiction Age. It's a lunar colony story complete with the traditional cultural disconnect between Earthers and Loonies, and a few interesting twists on some of our oldest and darkest passions. It's a well written piece of work, and in the end, I guess the best word to describe it is poignant. Which means that after you've finished reading it your brain keeps mulling it over whether you like it or not.

Charles Stross comes up next with his "Antibodies", published in Interzone. A really nice piece of work about AI's, the Vinge Singularity, Alternate Universes, and Memes and some other stuff I'm failing to think of right now. It's dead clever, quite thoughtful and occasionally funny. Not so funny that blood leaks out your ears, but it does explain a lot of things. Hopefully he's not onto something.

Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Birthday of the World" appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and now here. It's the sort of tale only she can weave, and again, it leaves you frowning a little for though the title heralds the birthday of the world, every beginning is some other story's end, as a popular song points out. Here we watch a stable culture cope with a challenge from within to it's dogmatic but effective worldview, and to try and make sense of strangers with great power and little understanding. Sorry, I'm not doing it justice. Le Guin rules over this sort of first person other-culture narrative, and her writing is as vibrant as ever.

In "Savior" Nancy Kress comes out of her soft science shell to tell us a timely tale of an alien visitor with seemingly infinite patience. In a way it's a tribute to Clarke's the sentinel, and in another way to his Childhood's end...and in still another, to Vinge's singularity (again). But it's all Nancy Kress, who shines especially brightly in her short story writing.

Paul McAuley's tale, "Reef", about an asteroid seeded with an experimental lifeform and left to be uncovered long after the experiment had finished, is as well written as it is carefully constructed as Hard SF, but complete with excellent character work.

Possibly my favorite story is about a boy and his cat, only the cat has gone missing and the boy is trapped in his home, his world, where you know where everything is but that doesn't mean you can keep it safe. I don't know if the themes here are universal, or if I'm projecting, but I remember being a boy and being unhappy well enough that "Going after Bobo" has a special connection for me. Susan Palwick handles this story adroitly, and manages to deliver just the right balance between deliverance and despair. This definitely goes into the category of authors I'd like to see more of.

Though I really only discovered him in the past few years, my admiration for Michael Swanwick's work has been steadily growing. The story of his included in this collection, "The Raggle Taggle Gypsy-O", vaguely reminiscent of Roger Zelazny's novel of the highway of time, Roadmarks, and even a tad evocative of Neil Gaiman's recent American Gods, is a wistful examination of archetype and the lengths we will go to for love. It's a pretty rich little tale and it wouldn't hurt my feelings at all to see it expanded into a novel.

That's hardly all the stories, I have to get back to reading more novels and galleys and whatnot. You can discover the rest on your own. 

2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu