Gardner Dozois, editor,
The Year's Best Science Fiction:
21st Annual Collection

(St. Martin's Press, 2004)

If you're interested in quality science fiction, Gardner Dozois's annual Year's Best collection is a treasure trove. At over 650 densely packed pages, the breadth and scope of the work featured is truly astounding. There's time travel (Terry Bisson's "Dear Abbey") and space travel (William Barton's "Off on a Starship"), near future tales (M. Shayne Bell's "Anomalous Structures of My Dreams"), far future explorations (Paolo Bacigalupi's "The Fluted Girl") and alternate histories (Harry Turtledove's "Joe Steele"). Some authors you'll know (Michael Swanwick, Nancy Kress and John Varley), and you'll hear voices new to the genre (Paul Melko, Dominic Green and Jack Skillingstead). In short, there's something for everyone.

Of course, in any collection claiming to contain "the best," there will be selections with which you'll disagree. But overwhelmingly, the stories Dozois has chosen to represent the science fiction field for the year 2003 are terrific. Particularly impressive is the Steven Popkes story, "The Ice," which concerns a young hockey player who learns he's the clone of one of the greatest athletes the game has seen, Gordie Howe. This gentle, character-driven piece leads you in delightfully unexpected directions.

Paul Di Filippo's darkly amusing tale of smart technology run amok, "And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon," is another highlight. The entire notion of "blebs" -- spontaneous assemblages of intelligent appliances, objects and/or clothes -- is fabulous. But when Di Filippo's protagonist, Kaz, is threatened by a sock ball, "My own socks were standard models, but still featured plenty of processing power," the result is comic brilliance.

Two other stories that particularly impressed me were Walter Jon Williams's "The Green Leopard Plague," with its overlapping tales of intrigue and murder, and Michael Swanwick's "King Dragon" with its bizarre intermingling of science fiction and fantasy tropes. In fact, there is very little in this collection that failed to impress. It's a terrific book.

What is rather less than terrific though is Dozois's same-old, same-old introduction. As in every previous edition, The Year's Best Science Fiction: 21st Annual Collection begins with a lengthy overview of the publishing year, citing such events as editorial changes at SF magazines and publishing houses, listing dozens of anthologies, collections, fanzines, websites and the names of the authors whose work was included in each. There are more than 30 pages devoted to this portion of the book, and while I admire Dozois's determination to make readers aware that short fiction can only thrive if they support the primary markets that publish it, surely mentioning the source of each story in its introduction and inserting the contact information there would achieve a similar result and free up enough real estate to include another of the best stories of the year.

The inclusion in the introduction of a listing of the winners of the previous year's major awards (Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, etc.) is certainly worthwhile, as is the obituary segment that closes out the introduction. But the reason Dozois's Best collection is better than others that are published in the science fiction field is the fiction, and one more story would make the book better still.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 1 January 2005

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