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The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection
Edited by Gardner Dozois
Review by Ernest Lilley
St. Martin's Griffin Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 0312551053
Date: 23 June 2009 List Price $21.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

If you read only one SF Collection a year...it had best be Gardner Dozois' The Year's Best Science Fiction. This annual collection is much more than just the cream of the short story crop from the past year, it's a snapshot of the state of the genre, annotated by one of its keenest observers. This is one book where you'll get as much from the foreword and the story introductions as from the uniformly excellent fiction. The talent collected herein include a slew of known names and a few new ones worth remembering: Paolo Bacigalupi, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Aliete de Bodard, James L. Cambias, Greg Egan, Charles Coleman Finlay, James Alan Gardner, Dominic Green, Daryl Gregory, Gwyneth Jones, Ted Kosmatka, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nancy Kress, Jay Lake, Paul McAuley, Ian McDonald, Maureen McHugh, Sarah Monette, Garth Nix, Hannu Rajaniemi, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Mary Rosenblum, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Geoff Ryman, Karl Schroeder, Gord Sellar, and Michael Swanwick.

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection
Edited By Gardner Dozois

Turing's Apples, Stephen Baxter
From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled, Michael Swanwick
The Gambler, Paolo Bacigalupi
Boojum, Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
The Six Directions Of Space, Alastair Reynolds
N-Words, Ted Kosmatka
An Eligible Boy, Ian McDonald
Shining Armour, Dominic Green
The Hero, Karl Schroeder
Evil Robot Monkey, Mary Robinette Kowal
Five Thrillers, Robert Reed
The Sky That Wraps The World Round, Past The Blue And Into The Black, Jay Lake
Incomers, Paul Mcauley
Crystal Nights, Greg Egan
The Egg Man, Mary Rosenblum
His Master's Voice, Hannu Rajaniemi
The Political Prisoner, Charles Coleman Finlay
Balancing Accounts, James L. Cambias
Special Economics, Maureen Mchugh
Days Of Wonder, Geoff Ryman
City Of The Dead, Paul Mcauley
The Voyage Out, Gwyneth Jones
The Illustrated Biography Of Lord Grimm, Daryl Gregory
G-Men, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
The Erdmann Nexus, Nancy Kress
Old Friends, Garth Nix
The Ray-Gun: A Love Story, James Alan Gardner
Lester Young And The Jupiter's Moons' Blues, Gord Sellar
Butterfly, Falling At Dawn, Aliete De Bodard
The Tear, Ian Mcdonald
If you're a regular reader of science fiction, you probably need no real encouragement to go out and get a copy of The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. Personally, I can think of no better vacation than to take a copy off to some cottage by the shore, prop up one's feet and follow our tour guide on a voyage through the wondrous worlds made real through the previous year's short SF. Heck, in a pinch you don't even need the cottage by the shore. These stories are going to transport you far beyond your point of origin as soon as you begin anyway.

First, though you're no doubt chomping at the bit, read the foreword. Gardner's state of the genre report is one of the most valuable bits of reading you can do if you want to keep up with what's happening in SF.

And after reading this collection, I come to the conclusion that what's happening in SF is a mixed bag, with authors groping towards new narratives but not yet knowing where their search will take them. Here are stories that celebrate humanity, ones where we've lost it, and frequently others where others have found it and put it on. As well as a few where we come to understand that humanity is a term without meaning.

Turing's Apples, Stephen Baxter
I like Baxter, mostly. He's smart and inventive and he takes Arthur Clarke's worldview a step or two beyond to where characters swim in the deep end. I think of him as a Dark Clarke, and more. I like the math-y core of this story, but things don't turn out well for the protagonists, typical of Baxter.

From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled, Michael Swanwick Available online: http://www.asimovs.com/hugos_2009/Babels.shtml
Swanwick is a darn clever guy, and this is a pretty decent guys-in-the-woods boning story, except that it's the weird alien and the human mashup told by the human's smart spacesuit running a simulation of his dead lover. It's good, but it's no "The Dog Said Bow Wow".

The Gambler, Paolo Bacigalupi
I loved Bacigalupi's Pump Six and other stories collection a little while back, and liked "The Gambler" pretty well here. The gambler features an ex-pat Asian newsblogger who won't stop writing about stories of substance, not even to save his ratings. It's a nice enough vignette, but not viewpoint shaking.

Boojum, Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette
Bear's story about an organic spaceship/beast/pirate swashbuckles a bit and tells a nice story in the end.

The Six Directions Of Space, Alastair Reynolds
Reynolds shows us the inside of an alien transporter that eats up galactic distances as you travel down its tunnels. The only problem is that the tunnel walls are wearing thin in spots, and ships have a nasty habit of popping out into a different part of the multiverse. Solid Reynolds.

N-Words, Ted Kosmatka
Why does everybody make Neanderthals out to be better people than we are? Sigh. Kosmatka's done a nice job with this story though, but I'm not about to believe they'd actually let cloned Neanderthals in the NFL, unless that's what the N stood for.

An Eligible Boy, Ian McDonald
India needs women! We know this story, but the nice twist here is that it's about something other than it appears on the surface. Well done, if not encouraging.

Shining Armour, Dominic Green
Old warriors climbing back into the cockpit of the war machine that's standing in the middle of the town square to do one last battle is a genre unto itself. Dominic is channeling Japanese manga warriors here, and there's not a lot that's new."

The Hero, Karl Schroeder
I'm partial to Schroeder's Virga Saga, about the adventures inside a vast zero gee sphere lit by fusion suns which also suppress the use of any electronics. I don't know if (though it probably is) a slice of his next book in the series, but it's another good piece from his steampunkish space opera.

Evil Robot Monkey, Mary Robinette Kowal
Again, jumped up intelligence in primates isn't new, but this short piece is very well handled by Kowal.

Five Thrillers, Robert Reed
Reed promises and delivers five thrillers in this mini novel covering the life of a genetically engineered psychopath. I liked it, it's good, and it ends with a bang. Still, for a psychopath, this guy spends an awful lot of time doing the "right" thing.

The Sky That Wraps The World Round, Past The Blue And Into The Black, Jay Lake
Nice character piece by Lake. An old man hides out from his life painting bits of alien artifacts "Chernekov blue" to make them match the hype around them. The paint is mildly radioactive, but we're all going to die someday, might as well live with something that connects us to the big beyond.

Incomers, Paul Mcauley
"Incomers" reads equally well as either YA or not, since it's about a trio of boys who find that the strange man in their community is more than they thought, and more than they bargained for as well.

The Egg Man, Mary Rosenblum
Here's one I really liked. It's about a Mexican aid worker who takes his solar powrerd RV across the desert into America to bring the hardscrabble villagers vaccines and medications, made by his flock of bioengineered chickens. He's searching for someone he lost, and it's a nicely done piece.

His Master's Voice, Hannu Rajaniemi
As Gardner points out in his intro, man's best friend is even better when he's got nuclear weapons to work with. This is a nice dog's eye view (the cat get's a pretty good part too) of a not so distant future, with clones.

The Political Prisoner, Charles Coleman Finlay
Personally, I hate stories about the terrors of theocracy, Christian (in this case) or otherwise. Basically this is a gulag story with people doing the unspeakable to live. Not wild about the subject, and I'd have liked it a lot more if there were a lot less of it.

Balancing Accounts, James L. Cambias
The price of the future is often overlooked by authors, so Cambias' story of a smart spaceship in a culture of mostly similar machines, all haggling over the cost of fuel and parts, would have gotten my attention even if the story wasn't engaging. But it is.

Special Economics, Maureen Mchugh
Again, I'm pleased to see an author include the dismal science in fiction, because it's really unavoidable.

Days Of Wonder, Geoff Ryman
Ryman is to me, an author who isn't nearly well enough known. "Days of Wonder" is one of the few stories I'd already read, a tale of far future where humankind has hidden its DNA in the modified animals it's left behind. I didn't mind reading it again.

The Illustrated Biography Of Lord Grimm, Daryl Gregory
Here's an allegory for Iraq, where leagues of American superheroes blitzkrieg a small nation led by an evil super-villain. Whatever the moral justification, it's hard on the populace. Comes with appropriate moral.

G-Men, Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Rusch's takes us back to the J. Edgar Hoover's FBI for a day that never happened when the director's hidden secrets are revealed in a hail of bullets. It feels like the beginning of a novel, but plays more as a vehicle for exposition than any sort of real story.

The Erdmann Nexus, Nancy Kress
Kress continues to demonstrate a mastery of emotional nuance in her short story writing. "The Erdmann Nexus" brings the residents of an assisted living facility, a young aide with an abusive husband, and an alien star ship together for a special event.

Old Friends, Garth Nix
Garth Nix is an excellent writer who follows his characters wherever they lead him. For some that means a disjointed narrative, but the "weird, old, coffee drinking guy" in this story finds his way quite well, from a melancholy and peripatetic vet to someone whose roots are firmly planted in the company of "Old Friends."

The Ray-Gun: A Love Story, James Alan Gardner
Reprise of the classic alien tool with a mind of its own comes to earth and affects peoples lives. Gardner puts in a couple nice twists, and it reminds me a bit of one of my favorite William Tenn stories, "The House Dutiful" (1948).

Lester Young And The Jupiter's Moons' Blues, Gord Sellar
Being introduced to authors with a fresh point of view like Gord Sellar is one of the things that I'm grateful to this series for. You could say that Lester Young And The Jupiter's Moons' Blues, takes us to an alternate 1940s, where Jazz is emerging, and aliens are part of daily life for a cruise of the planets with a band of be-bop's best. You could say that, and you'd be accurate, but still be missing the point, much as focusing on the surreal elements of magical realism would miss its point. This is a bittersweet tribute to jazz and identity wrapped wrapped up in alien metaphor that works nicely for me.

I wanted to day something about each of the stories in here, but time has gotten away from me. Please don't take that as an indicator that these weren't worthy of comment, because they were all, quite good. I'm hoping to come back and fill in the blanks...but as my Grandfather used to say, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

City Of The Dead, Paul Mcauley
Crystal Nights, Greg Egan
The Voyage Out, Gwyneth Jones
Butterfly, Falling At Dawn, Aliete De Bodard
The Tear, Ian Mcdonald

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