The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. Edited by Gardner Dozois.
As usual, Dozois has rounded up mostly excellent stories, whether or not one can ever objectively define "best" (average story quality, in my judgment, comes out to 4.13 out of 5, in this anthology). Also, as in previous years, the huge Summation at the beginning lays out the current condition of science fiction in exquisite detail. For that, I'm adding a bonus to the 4.13 story-average, bringing the final rating up to 5 out of 5.
++ = Excellent story, would unhesitatingly include it in my own "year's best"... if I had one.
+ = Thought it was good, certainly worth reading, maybe not a definite pick for my own "year's best"...
o = Not bad, but had little effect on me.
- = Actively disliked it.
-- = Wish I hadn't read it!
"Turing's Apples." Stephen Baxter. Sibling rivalry and first contact. One of Baxter's best so far. ++
"From Babel's Fall'n Glory We Fled." Michael Swanwick. A man among bug-eyed aliens who deal in trust. Typically Swanwick: full of irony and a boatload of postmodern literary tricks. Quite entertaining, though. +
"The Gambler." Paolo Bacigalupi. News reporter takes big gamble on writing social-justice piece in hyper-capitalized information economy. Good character piece, less of a downer than the usual Bacigalupi. +
"Boojum." Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette. Seat-of-your-pants swashbuckler on living pirate ship in outer space! Complete with a plucky heroine and a ship weirder than anything in Pirates of the Caribbean. +
"The Six Directions of Space." Alastair Reynolds. Space-faring, multiverse-exploring Mongol Empire! Reynolds does it again: mind-blowing vastness of space and time, awesome scientific speculation, fine and subtle characterization. ++
"N-Words." Ted Kosmatka. Neanderthal clones suffer racist slurs. Kosmatka is a fine writer, but this one tries too hard to win my pity for the Neanderthals. o
"An Eligible Boy." Ian McDonald. Jane Austen for guys in near-future India. Another fine writer turns to boring (though occasionally funny) social commentary. o
"Shining Armour." Dominic Green. Boonie village has one huge secret weapon. I found myself cheering at the end. ++
"The Hero." Karl Schroeder. Young man goes on quest to save the world(s). Eye-popping descriptions and skilful plotting keep this one moving to an explosive finale. Adventure space-opera at its absolute best. ++
"Evil Robot Monkey." Mary Robinette Kowal. Evil Robot Monkey throws around... The End. -
"Five Thrillers." Robert Reed. A thrilling story full of wonder and excitement, in five parts. The protagonist is bad-ass x5. Robert Reed is too: this guy gets a story published every two weeks (on average), including this rather long novella, and they're all either good or great. ++
"The Sky That Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black." Jay Lake. Yeah.. the title makes more sense than the story. Lake is usually good, and maybe this is "good," but I couldn't wrap my head around it. -
"Incomers." Paul McAuley. Bildungsroman on a moon of Saturn. Fast-paced, but affords plenty of room for thought: in other words, an average McAuley story. +
"Crystal Nights." Greg Egan. Billionaire creates virtual species, but he's no god. To quote Paul Di Filippo, Egan writes "quantum poetry." Beautiful story. +
"The Egg Man." Mary Rosenblum. Dude smuggles eggs into Mexican village in climate-changed future, but witnesses his old friends' sad decline. As always, Rosenblum succeeds in creating more atmosphere than a Ridley Scott film; and her characters really get to you. +
"His Master's Voice." Hannu Rajaniemi. Dog and cat team up to be man's best friends. Excellent writing and charming story make this entry from new writer Rajaniemi one of the best in this volume. ++
"The Political Prisoner." Charles Coleman Finlay. Political officer ends up in prison on Soviet-inspired isolationist colony world. Finlay has a knack for interesting characters; this a fine example. ++
"Balancing Accounts." James L. Cambias. Robots! In Space! I've never seen robots more convincingly rendered (that includes you, WALL-E). ++
"Special Economics." Maureen McHugh. Chinese girl gets job at evil corporation: the kind you can't really quit. McHugh creates an unlikeable character, but somehow kept my attention. +
"Days of Wonder." Geoff Ryman. A Million Years From Now: equine matriarchs roam the plains. Like most stuff Ryman writes: so much unthinking emotion that I stopped caring pretty soon. o
"City of the Dead." Paul McAuley. Crazy old biologist has strange bond with mutant ferrets. Surprisingly good combo of the modern western (think "The Three Burials of Melquiadas Estrada") and hard sci-fi. ++
"The Voyage Out." Gwyneth Jones. Woman on mysterious space voyage discovers some unsettling secrets about herself and her lover. Lyrical and intimate, and ultimately quite chilling. Very effective. +
"The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm." Daryl Gregory. Iron Men rule the skies in alternate-world Baltic lands. Rip-roaring war story with a kind-of superhero ethos hanging around the edges but affecting everyone. +
"G-Men." Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Alternate-history mystery starring J. Edgar Hoover, RFK, and LBJ! Never saw a more crooked bunch... an entertaining who-dunit. +
"The Erdmann Nexus." Nancy Kress. Ageing physicist faces psycho mystery. The idea feels at least 60 years old, but it gives steady proof of Kress's never-faltering quality. ++
"Old Friends." Garth Nix. Arborial samurai! Simultaneously depressing and entertaining story from an author I'd never read before. +
"The Ray Gun: A Love Story." James Alan Gardner. Boy meets Ray Gun, etc. Truly astounding coming-of-age tale; probably THE best of the year. ++
"Lester Young and the Jupiter's Moons' Blues." Gord Sellar. Who knew aliens would like jazz? This is a toe-tappin' good read and a convincing argument for the appreciation of jazz (yes, I said it...). +
"Butterfly, Falling at Dawn." Aliette de Bodard. Another alternate-history mystery: a "Mexica" magistrate searches for both a murderer and her own soul in Fenliu (=Los Angeles, I think). An unexpectedly moving story; I *really* hope this French writer shows up more often in English-language publications. +
"The Tear." Ian McDonald. Manifold personality on a literally cosmic scale. McDonald never does anything small, does he? This story is almost too rich, too dense for the human mind to encompass. A work of genius, nonetheless. +