Year's Best SF 15
Edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer
Review by Mary Rose-Shaffer
Eos Mass Market Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780061721755
Date: 01 June 2010 List Price $7.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Hartwell and Cramer assemble solid yearly anthologies highlighting the works they consider the best of the year and Year's Best SF 15 is no exception. The majority of the stories were originally published in 2009 although the story opening the collection, "Infinities", was published in 2008. Of the twenty-four stories and novelettes, nine were nominated or a finalist for major SF awards and two of these were award winners in 2010. These honors are noted in the description of each story. My gratitude to Locusmag.com for its amazing index of authors, stories, and awards.
The stories are a diverse lot--as usual. Hartwell and Cramer note in the Introduction: "We try in each volume of this series to represent the varieties of tones and voices and attitudes that keep the genre vigorous and responsive to the changing realities out of which it emerges, in science and daily life" (p. xv).
"Infinities" by Vandana Singh was originally published in The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet, a collection of her stories. The story is an elegant and complex interweaving of mathematics, poetry, friendship, and Muslim/Hindu conflict in a near future India.
Robert Charles Wilson's "This Peaceable Land; or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe" earned a Locus 2010 novelette nomination. In an alternate history/alternate universe where the US Civil War did not happen and there was no abolition of slavery by Federal statute, slavery as an institution disintegrated because it was unprofitable. This story of a black writer and a white photographer in search of buried history is sadly brilliant, well-conceived and presented.
Simultaneously elegant and jarring, Yoon Ha Lee's "The Unstrung Zither" combines uniquely advanced technology based upon mythology (dragons, control of the elements) as realty, Chinese folklore, and child-age assassins.
Parallel Earths/Many Worlds, quantum physics, multi-dimensional travel, and technological secrets sought out by covert agents, theories of consilience, black swan events, and observer-dependent reality--all of these are the playgrounds of the fascinating characters which inhabit "Black Swan" by Bruce Sterling. Multiple award nominations: Locus 2010 novelette; Sidewise 2010 short form; 2010 Interzone Poll story category. Appropriately unsettling (with no relationship to the film of the same name whatsoever).
Nancy Kress presents an interesting evolution of this most famous sentence: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" from the film version of Gone with the Wind. As the title "Exegesis" implies, this sentence is entertainingly interpreted, extrapolated upon, and explained over the course of several hundred years, from 1950 to 2850. Formatted as a series of dictionary or encyclopedia entries, it is stylistically unusual.
The "Erosion" of Ian Creasey's story is multi-layered. Superficially, the physical erosion of the coastline at Scarborough, Yorkshire, more deeply, the emotional erosion of the narrator's Earthly relationships, and most interestingly the narrator's grasp on his own humanity - he has volunteered to be augmented for space travel, much of his human body replaced by technology.
Gwyneth Jones's "Collision" utilizes the alien gifts of the technology of interstellar transit and the deep space station Torus, as the backdrop for multi-faceted discussions of politics, religion, philosophy, ethics, science, and gender, as anti-progress conservatives (Flat-Earthers) try to shut down the space station.
I admit it: seeing the name Gene Wolfe on a byline gives me a "What am I in for?" feeling. "Donovan Sent Us" is a twisted, interesting play of politics and history. Wolfe's alternate history is not the usual "What if Hitler won the war?" fare.
What if knowledge in the form of memory – all kinds of knowledge - could be transferred by a virus? Marissa K. Lingen explores that and more in "The Calculus Plague", a very focused short story, incorporating personal, professional, and ethical issues.
Peter Watts' "The Island" was a 2010 Hugo Winner – novelette, a #3 Locus novelette, and a finalist for the Sturgeon Award. Part of the collection The New Space Opera 2, the story, set in a mostly automated, interstellar gate creation ship, explores assumptions about alien life.
An interesting mystery story exploiting the premise that dimensional folds exist and humans can access them. Paul Cornell's "One of Our Bastards is Missing", centers around a typically politically charged royal wedding and the kidnapping of the bride. Finalist for 2010 Hugo novelette.
The story "Lady of the White-Spired City" tied for 9th in Interzone Poll. Sarah L. Edwards tells the story of an emissary who returns to a world she visited as a young woman. Very lovingly told, with the narrator’s voice much like a memoir.
The protagonist of "The Highway Code" is a sentient truck, a giant over-the-road hauler. Brian Stableford offers an intriguing look into programmed sentience in a way Asimov would be proud of. Indeed, The Highway Code itself is a modified version Asimov’s Three Laws, suitable for trucking. A very believable look at one possible future use of AI.
Peter Ball's "On the Destruction of Copenhagen by the War-Machines of the Merfolk" reads much like a personal vignette. A first-person narrative, the story of the attack on Copenhagen is offered in small chunks, framed by the context of his relationships.
Winner of the 2010 Sidewise short form, Alastair Reynolds' "The Fixation" explores "other worlds entanglement theory" from two very different, but parallel worlds. More than an alternate history, "The Fixation" is a story of mathematics, physics, beauty, and power.
In a post-climate change US, botanists and their families tend what is left of the Oregon Botanical Gardens - "In Their Garden". In a very genuinely voiced first-person, Brenda Cooper shares the coming of age of Paulie, a young woman who wants to live beyond the garden.
Number 10 on the 2010 Locus short story award list, "Blocked" by Geoff Ryman, set in a near future Cambodia, explores one man's realizations as the planet prepares for an alien invasion. The title is particularly apt.
Michael Cassutt tells what is less of a "what might have been" story than a truly "what if" tale. Cleverly packaged with blurbs about each astronaut's life and death, "The Last Apostle" reads like a real Moon exploration history.
"Another Life" by Charles Oberndorf uses the traditional trope of uploaded memories into a new body. Hartwell and Cramer introduce this story with the following: “This is a story about serial immortality, in wartime, in the distant future, and about sex and gender. It may be the best SF story of the year” (p. 373). Basically a frame story designed to gradually reveal - unravel - the narrator’s past to his life partner, the elements I found most interesting were the use of serial immortality for soldiers and the economics of a rebirth/leave space station.
Mary Robinette Kowal explores "The Consciousness Problem" from several angles. It approaches cloning from the perspectives of those most intimately connected to it. There are shades of Frankenstein and a probably unreliable but sympathetic narrator.
In the very distant future a weather control satellite allows a destructive hurricane and starts a chain of events leading to a variety of revelations about the space station, its human occupant, and AI sentience. "Tempest 43" is a Stephen Baxter story.
In "Bespoke" Genevieve Valentine offers a glimpse of class divisions in a near future where time travel is an extravagance, an amusement for the rich. Told from the perspective of a seamstress in the very detail-oriented shop Chronomode: Fine Bespoke Clothing for Time Travelers.
The title "Attitude Adjustment" references the gravitational attitude of a small tourist ship around the Moon, the attitude of a snotty spoiled teenager, and the attitude of the pilot. Eric James Stone offers a tightly told story of relationships, politics, and mechanical failure.
Closing the volume is the 2010 Locus short story and 2010 Sidewise short form "Edison's Frankenstein"; an alternate history piece set during the World's Fair: Columbian Expedition (1893). The dominant power source is Prometheum and much of the labor is completed by automata developed from samples found in the Antedilluvian ruins of the South Pole. Electricity is a novelty and Edison has set up an exhibit – The Latter-Day Lazarus. A mysterious bloody stranger, a murder, missing monkeys, and grave robbing swirl together in this fantastic yet grounded-in-reality story by Chris Roberson.
Hartwell and Cramer's annual Year's Best SF volume is one anthology always on my must-have list and this one is no exception.