In this book Gardner Dozois collected the stories he considered as the best of those written in 1989. Sadly however, this anthology is the much weaker than those from six previous years (1983-1988), with even the renowned authors (like Bruce Sterling and even Robert Silverberg) providing some weaker stories. Also, as it is the case frequently in those anthologies, some of the stories can hardly be considered as science-fiction - some are in fact fantastic tales or even horror stories. However I don't think this is such a bad thing for this particular anthology, because some of the best stories belong to this category.
In the long introduction there is as always a review of what happened in SF in this particular year (here 1989) and at the end there are the very precious "honorable mentions" - recommendations of good SF stories from 1989 which for lack of place couldn't be included in the collection.
However for the first time in the introduction Gardner Dozois made also a comment on world events which occurred in 1989, or more precisely one of them - the Rushdie affair. He found it incredible that in 1989 AD a writer can face the worst kind of censorship, namely the death sentence for his writings and he also warned against the threat of censorship in the future. He somehow however forgot to stress the point that this danger of censorship came not from the "tyrannical" American government (a topic typical for so many SF writers) or from the Pentagon, but from the Islamic world and from a revolutionary anti-Western government...
Second thing that I noticed about this point - Gardner Dozois somehow didn't judge it worthy to devote even one sentence to the greatest event in 1989: the spectacular fall of no less than five totalitarian oppressive regimes from June to December of this year, the event now frequently called the Autumns of Nations. He somehow failed to see anything extraordinary in the fact that five countries (in chronological order Poland, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania) liberated themselves from tyranny and even better, in the case of first four of them they did it without even one drop of blood being spilled! From everything Gardner Dozois always wrote I thought he was very preoccupied with the progress of freedom in the world - but clearly, when the totalitarian tyrannies deemed "progressive" are falling, the left winged intellectuals seem not be so happy about it...
Below you will find my impressions about the stories in this collection, with some limited SPOILERS:
"Tiny tango" by Judith Moffett - this was a very big disappointment; in the previous anthology figured "Hob" - a wonderful, clever and heartwarming story by the same author. The "Tiny tango" is a kind of sequel to "Hob", but instead of cleverness and wonder, this one is filled with disgusting mess! Author slammed in this story AIDS epidemic, pogroms, a nuclear accident, genetic mutations and the arrival of aliens and chose for the narrator a woman who spends her time cross dressing and, equipped with a false penis (I am not kidding!), watching men urinating in public toilets! Bottom line - it is a bad, messy story with some disgusting moments.
"Out of copyright" by Charles Sheffield - unlike the previous one, this story is quite good, with a very smart punch line. It tells the story of great minds of the past (like Isaac Newton) "resurrected" by cloning and programming and employed in teams by private companies competing mainly for the big public contracts in space. The story is clever and quite twisted and nothing more will be said to avoid spoilers. Enjoy!
"For I have touched the sky" by Mike Resnick - this is a sequel for the "Kirinyaga", a very powerful (even cruel) and controversial story which figured in sixth annual collection. This one is in all points as good as the first and even more shocking. It should certainly give a good reason for reflection to all those who lament the disappearance of "traditional" societies under the influence of Western values...
"Alphas" by Gregory Benford - a good, solid "classical" science-fiction story, in which the hero finds himself inside an alien machine of unimaginable size and power and must find his way out before being reduced to ashes... Frankly, I didn't understand very well the functioning of alien machinery and I did not fully understand how the hero achieved to escape - but I still liked the story!
"At the Rialto" by Connie Willis - that in my modest opinion is the SECOND best story in the anthology. A bunch of world leading authorities on quantum physics meet for their yearly congress in the hotel "Rialto" in Los Angeles to discuss their latest findings - and I am not saying anything more! It is definitely one of the merriest, most brilliant and most clever stories I read in a long time! Towards the end I laughed out loud so hard that tears were running down my face. An absolute jewel!
"Skin deep" by Kathe Koja - a very good story on the "alien sex" theme; a very average man starts an affair with an alien "female" (although frankly, for me, at the end of the story the jury is still out for the question on the precise sex of this alien...); really good SF story, although a little disturbing.
"The egg" by Steven Popkes - a good, solid SF story combined with some social criticism; in a rather distant and definitely gloomy future an orphaned boy is raised by his hard as nails aunt and a mysterious, gentle although physically powerful alien; if it was placed in 1900 and no aliens were involved, you could very well imagine this was written by Jack London. A good read.
"Tales from the Venia Woods" by Robert Silverberg - another bad surprise: The basic idea about the conquest of the whole world by Roman Empire and the survival of this global monarchy for centuries was interesting, but I found this story surprisingly boring, especially coming from such a giant of SF. Finally, the best thing about this story is the title, which refers to a waltz composed by Strauss the son.
"Visiting the dead" by William King - well, this is a good and interesting SF story, with some very dark accents - and with a rather clever ending - about a future society in which people who stayed on Earth are more and more decadent, as opposed to the pioneers colonizing the space...
"Dori Bangs" by Bruce Sterling - without any doubt, for my personal taste this is the WORST story in the collection and this is again a bad surprise, coming from a very gifted writer; also, it is not SF - rather a kind of reflection of how a very small event could change the lifes of two people; my main problem with this story was that both the man and the woman from this story were just two pathetic and uninteresting losers, without any redeeming traits, who just wanted to pass their lifes getting drunk, getting stoned, partying and talking nonsense...
"The ends of the earth" by Lucius Shepard - this is a very good read, but it is definitely not SF - it is however in my personal opinion a very good variation on Lovecraftian themes, although not directly linked to the Cthulhu mythos (do not expect any appearances of "Necronomicon" or "Ia! Cthulhu Fhtagn!" at every page). I liked it very much. Enjoy!
"The price of oranges" by Nancy Kress - a reflection on progress and its price, and also the change and the nostalgy for the times past - but with a rather disgusting ending
"Lottery night" by S.P. Somtow - the THIRD best story in the book; it is not exactly SF, but rather a modern fantastic tale with some (limited) elements of horror and especially a great great deal of humor! In Bangkok, a Thai teenager is going to stay at night in the cemetary, so the shadows of ancestors reveal to him the winning number in the lottery - however he also takes his American friend with him, and that lands them both in a ton of trouble... A wonderful, funny, merry and extremely well written fantastic story!
"A deeper sea" by Alexander Jablokov - a good, honest SF story about the discovery of ways to communicate with dolphins and orcas and its consequences for the whole humankind; not a bad story, although very gloomy; also, the funny part is that it was written in 1989 and it anticipates the rise of Japan and Soviet Union and in the same time a deep decline of USA (China is not even considered worthy mentionning...). Well, we all know how this turned out...)))
"The edge of the world" by Michael Swanwick - a good story, although not exactly SF - rather a modern fantastic tale, about the descent of very special and very very long stairs; I know this may sound boring, but with this quality of writing it is suprisingly appealing! The one bad point is that the three teenager "heroes" are so pathetic and annoying that I stopped caring about what will happen to them around page three...
"Silver lady and the fortyish man" by Megan Lindholm - definitely not SF, but rather a romance story with just the slightest touch of magic - still, an excellent, nice, clever and heartwarming read. Probably more recommanded for girls, but I still enjoyed it.
"The third sex" by Alan Brennert - this is SF mixed with soft porn; the story of a human being who is neither man nor woman - in fact "it" seems to not be of ANY sex ("it" certainly can not reproduce in any way - or can "it"?); or maybe "it" is just the first specimen of the "third sex"? An interesting read, with some rather explicit sexual descriptions.
"Winter on the Belle Fourche" by Neal Barrett, Jr. - again, not SF, but a really well written, interesting and clever western story with just a slightest touch of alternate history; before reading it, it could be a good idea to look up on the internet two people: the poet Emily Dickinson and especially the mountain man John Johnston a.k.a. "Liver Eating" Johnson. The rest, I let you discover yourself! Enjoy!
"Enter a soldier. Later: enter another" by Robert Silverberg - with this one, Robert Silverberg atones completely for the weak previous story in this collection; this is a very good description of the meeting and discussion between Pizarro the conquistador and Socrates the philosopher. A very clever, very interesting story!
"Relationships" by Robert Sampson - absolutely not SF and a rather boring story about a guy who starts seeing the ghosts of women from his past; mercifully it is short.
"Just another perfect day" by John Varley - this is for me the BEST one in the collection, an extremely well written SF story, short, but giving us one surprise per page; a man wakes up and finds himself alone in a locked room with just a letter adressed to him laying on the night table... Enjoy!
"The Loch Moose monster" by Janet Kagan - a very nice, gentle, heartwarming and optimistic SF story about the hard work of scientists and game wardens on a distant planet, to transform the local ecosystem and make it more friendly for the human colonists; a welcome change from the mostly gloomy mood of most SF stories.
"The magic bullet" by Brian Stableford - in the introduction Gardner Dozois promised this to be "an intense and frightening look at a chilling escalation in the age-old War of the Sexes"; and this story delivers fully what was promised!
"The odd old bird" by Avram Davidson - not exactly SF, but a delicious humoristic fantastic adventure of famous Dr Engelbert Eszterhazy, an erudit sleuth living in Scythia-Pannonia-Transbalkania, the fourth largest empire of alternate XIX century Europe. I almost died laughing at the end! Enjoy!
"Great work of time" by John Crowley - this is probably the biggest of the bad surprises; John Crowley is a renowned and gifted author but this long story is so boring that I had all trouble in the world to finish it; it is the story of a secret society which makes subtle changes in the past in order to preserve and expand the British Empire; an excellent idea per se, but surprisingly poorly executed...
CONCLUSION: after a long hesitation, I decided to rate this collection four stars, but just to be clear - this one is the weakest of the first seven collections yet, inferior to the six previous ones. Nevertheless it is still at a very honest level, worthy buying, reading and keeping.