This anthology was planned as a companion to Card's Future on Fire, and together the two were meant to showcase the best short science fiction of the 1980's. For the most part his choices stand up brilliantly. This is quite legitimately an anthology which can stand on its own or with its companion as a "Best of the '80s": no doubt these aren't the very best 18 stories from that decade, but on any given day, they'll do.
My favorite story here, and in my opinion one of the best SF stories of all time, is Nancy Kress' "Out of All Them Bright Stars" (winner of the 1985 Nebula for Best Short Story). This quiet, quiet, story, about a waitress in a diner and her encounter with an alien, illustrates as clearly as I can imagine the use of SF to examine human nature. It's a story that simply wouldn't work without being SF, without aliens and the implication of star travel, but its theme is all about what's within us. Lovely writing, perfect characters: one of those stories that just stop me dead and makes me think for some time after I finish it.
Several other stories included won major SF awards. Among them, I think Greg Bear's "Blood Music" (winner of both Hugo and Nebula for Best Novelet), a truly terrifying story about the consequences of engineering bacteria-sized microchips, and using them to maintain the body's health, holds up best. In this story Bear took his idea and ran with it to the fullest extent, facing every implication. A story that is similarly chilling in implication, John Varley's novella "Press Enter " (also winner of both the Hugo and Nebula), doesn't seem to hold up quite as well. His central notion of computers linking up and taking over really isn't very new (cf. Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" for just one example), and his mechanism, while well-depicted and creepy, doesn't convince. Nor does the (well-depicted and engaging) love story quite convince. But the story is still a great read.
Also among my personal favorite '80s stories are "Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler, "Snow" by John Crowley, and "The Pure Product" by John Kessel. The first is a moving story of life in near-future Los Angeles, after a plague has destroyed the speech centers of everyone. The horror of the loss of communication with other people is very well portrayed. "Snow" is a beautiful fable about memory and love. A woman of the jet set records incidents from her life over many years, and her one-time gigolo/lover/husband plays them back after her death. But the technology only allows random access to these "memories", and the memories degrade over time. The effect is quiet and profound. "The Pure Product" is quite another thing. A man (apparently from the future) goes on a rampage through '80s North America. The story is fast moving and scary. At one level it's a harder-edged take on the same theme as C. L. Moore's classic "Vintage Season", but at another level we worry that the empathy-deficient people from the future are us.
Any anthology which aims to be "definitive" will surely include prominent stories, like those mentioned above, and like George R. R. Martin's Nebula winner "Portraits of His Children" and Isaac Asimov's well-known late story "Robot Dreams". But I like an anthology to include some surprises, as well. Two good, less familiar, choices are S. C. Sykes' "Rockabye Baby", and Andrew Weiner's intriguing "Klein's Machine". Card also chooses stories by Lisa Goldstein, Gregory Benford, David Zindell, C. J. Cherryh, Walter Jon Williams, Karen Joy Fowler, Lewis Shiner, and himself. Probably the only story in the book which doesn't quite seem to me to belong is Asimov's slight, gimmicky, "Robot Dreams". This anthology eminently succeeds in presenting a selection which represents the short SF of the 1980s at its best, and at its widest variety.