Every year for over two decades, Gardner Dozois has selected the best science fiction stories published in the previous year for his legendary Year’s Best SF collections. They are always huge (this one is over 600 pages and 300,000 words), and provide a hearty serving of reliably high quality reading.
Maybe I was feeling generous while I was working my way through this 23rd collection, but it seems particularly strong. Even the stories which I found less than gripping (for example, Harry Turtledove’s alternative-history of ageing wildlife artist Audubon hunting near-extinct giant birds in Atlantis) would, I’m sure, be another reader’s favourite. The book contains too many excellent stories for me to mention more than a handful of them.
The offerings from established masters, including Joe Haldeman, Bruce Sterling, Michael Swanwick and Gene Wolfe, are predictably great. Haldeman’s warm-hearted story of future Chrislam, “Angel of Light”, was first published in Cosmos Issue 6; Sterling’s astonishing “The Blemmye’s Stratagem” is set during the horror of the Crusades, but the danger to Hildegart and the Assassin comes from savage alien babies; Swanwick’s utterly charming “Triceratops Summer” reminds us of what is really important in life; and Wolfe’s “Comber” is a story of betrayal set on a world with a wet and wild version of plate tectonics.
Dozois includes two very impressive stories by rising writer Alastair Reynolds, profiled in “Stop Press” in Cosmos Issue 14. In “Beyond the Aquila Rift”, a spaceship captain whose ship has gone astray while he was in suspended animation receives one ghastly revelation after another about just how desperate his situation is; and in “Zima Blue”, a far-future cyborg artist explains to a journalist exactly why he is obsessed with a particular shade of aqua.
I am still haunted by the voice of the main character of the first story, Ian McDonald’s “The Little Goddess”. She is a Nepalese village girl whose divided mind is strange enough for her to be chosen, at five, as the incarnation of a goddess. McDonald’s evocation of the gaudy, hectic, high-tech India of the 2030s and 2040s is overwhelming.
This collection serves as an excellent guide to the current state of the science fiction field.