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The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Second Annual Collection
Edited by Gardner Dozois
Review by Ernest Lilley
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 1250064422
Date: 07 July 2015 List Price $22.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

There are a number of annual lists that I look forward to on my SF Calendar. Nominiees for the Nebula, Locus, and Hugos awards, and the table of contents of Gardener Dozois Year's Best SF. Unlike the awards, Gardner doesn't have to pick a winner, but to make it into the pack is a prize in itself. Since I don't read a lot of short fiction during the year, limiting myself primarily to novel length works, I look forward to catching up on what the best of the current crop is.

Unfortunately, if TYBSF is correct in its choices, 2014 wasn't a very good year at all.

I'm certainly not saying that the quality of writing isn't good. It ranges from fair to excellent, or maybe that's just a matter of what prose style you prefer. TYBSF has a fair amount of range in style, as well as content. It's the tone that bothered me.

Reading story after story I got the feeling that there's a consensus. We are now well into the imagined future, and it sucks. Not only don't we have the cool toys dreamed of in the golden age of SF, the toys we managed to come up with in their stead aren't any fun.

AIs Are Not Our Friends.

  • THE RIDER • Jιrτme Cigut – Gardener describes this as post-cyberpunk. Nothing post about it as far as I can see. Johnny Mnemonic lives, not that that’s a bad thing.
  • THE COLONEL • Peter Watts – A short prequel story to his novel Echopraxia, which I liked quite well. I hope someone checks on the cat.
  • IN BABELSBERG • Alastair Reynolds – I could have filed this under “We’re not good people” even though the main character isn’t a person. Bad robot.

Aliens Aren’t Our Friends Either.

  • PASSAGE OF EARTH • Michael Swanwick – Swanwick starts off cheerfully enough with a Men In Black riff, but then things get weird, and not in a good way.
  • YESTERDAY'S KIN • Nancy Kress – We have met the aliens, and they is us, says Ms. Kress in her award winning short story. There's an echo of the humanity needs to breed for cooperation to survive theme that pops up again in Karl Bunker's THE WOMAN FROM THE OCEAN.
  • THING AND SICK • Adam Roberts – Scientists at a frozen research station and maybe an alien presence? More Flowers on The Wall than Thing.
  • SADNESS • Timons Esaias – The aliens came in peace to drive us into depression. Mission accomplished.

Colonizing The Moon Isn't Any Fun.

  • THE FIFTH DRAGON • Ian McDonald – Colonizing the moon means give up the Earth, but we knew that, right?
  • THE MAN WHO SOLD THE MOON • Cory Doctorow – A good read, especially if you're of the maker persuasion, but there's no real payoff at the end.

Uploading Consciousness Doesn't Make You Immortal; It Makes You Redundant.

  • WEATHER • Susan Palwick – Nicely written and with a thoughtful ending I quite liked.
  • VLADIMIR CHONG CHOOSES TO DIE • Lavie Tidhar – Sometimes accepting the dying of the light is the braver choice. Lavie faces some unpleasant facts, but does so with his chin up.
  • THE HAND IS QUICKER • Elizabeth Bear – When all is illusion, do not blink, and the damned are not redeemed.

To Borg Or Not To Borg?

  • SLIPPING • Lauren Beukes – We may find that these things let us be more human, not less.
  • GOD DECAY • Rich Larson – Prometheus/Icarus gets burned again, but that doesn't mean he chooses not to fly.
  • THE REGULAR • Ken Liu – A fair PI tale, but the borg elements were pretty much tacked on.

You Can't Get There (To The Stars) From Here.

  • THE WOMAN FROM THE OCEAN • Karl Bunker – They’re right. you can't come home again.
  • THE PRODIGAL SON • Allen M. Steele – I'll grant that I always enjoy Steele, but this is another story about limiting our dreams and smacks a bit much of reality.
  • AMICAE AETERNUM • Ellen Klages – Kim Stanley Robinson's novel Aurora comes around to ask the same question, elegantly posed here; who decided it's ok to commit future generations, or the children of today to generation ships with uncertain futures?
  • WEST TO EAST • Jay Lake – Jay was a wonderful talent, and a great loss to the field. This clever short deals with the inevitable with the same spirit the author showed. Ad Astra, Jay.

The Sky Is Falling, The Water Rising.

  • SHOOTING THE APOCALYPSE • Paolo Bacigalupi – A short piece that goes along with his Waterknife novel, and drought in the West.
  • BESIDE THE DAMNED RIVER • D.J. Cockburn – An excellent story about getting by in the third world, but then, we'll all be there by and by.
  • ENTANGLEMENT • Vandana Singh – A group of short pieces connected by a social media thread. It took me a while to like it, but then I did.

We Are Not Good People.

  • THE BURIAL OF SIR JOHN MAWE AT CASSINI • Chaz Brenchley – A retro tale of Martian colonization and mistreating the aboriginies. Pity about Barsoom, what?
  • RED LIGHTS, AND RAIN • Gareth L. Powell – Vampires come from the future, but they're not the real monsters.
  • COVENANT • Elizabeth Bear – Yes, I like stories about resourceful people. No, I didn't mean serial killers. But that could just be me.

That's not quite everyone, but enough. All in all I found This Year's Best Science Fiction to be depressing. I enjoy a good dystopia as much as anyone, but I get the feeling from these stories that we're so far into what we imagined was the future that the present is blinding us from dreaming about what we might accomplish. Sure, you could say that the stories in this collection represent a more mature perspective than my hopefully romantic one, and I wouldn't disagree for a minute. Still, science fiction is large, and among the multitudes I'd like to see a few more reasons to look forward to the future. I'm not asking for utopias. They never work out well for the other guy anyway, just that we're not giving up.

We hold these truths to be self-evident by this point in the future, so you have to ask what the point of SF is anymore? I still think it's a place for hopeful visions. Not wishful thinking, but the other thing, constructive dreaming.

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