Gardner Dozois, editor,
The Year's Best Science Fiction:
19th Annual Collection

(St. Martin's Press, 2002)

If there is one book that I would, without hesitation, encourage every science fiction reader to pick up each year, it's Gardner Dozois's annual best-of-the-year anthology. There's simply no better place to find the kind of thought-provoking SF that makes the genre so invigorating. In the 600-plus pages of fiction that make up this annual overview you'll invariably discover a range of stories that is astonishing. There are always highly literate pieces that demonstrate how textured and insightful science fiction can be in the hands of a skilled wordsmith. There are rollicking space operas in which ideas fly off the page with seeming abandon. There is, quite simply, something for everyone who appreciates a story well told.

In The Year's Best Science Fiction: 19th Annual Collection, which covers the 2001 publishing year, you'll find stories by such SF luminaries as Michael Swanwick, Paul McAuley and Nancy Kress, whose "Computer Virus" tells the tale of an AI driven to desperate measures to avoid being erased.

But perhaps even more exciting are the pieces by newer writers. Andy Duncan's story "The Chief Designer" transports the reader to Baikonur, USSR, to witness the conception and construction of the Soviet space program. Michael Blumlein takes us inside the mind of a most unlikely chimera. "Know How, Can Do" could easily have been a laughably absurd story about grafting a human brain to a worm but instead it is a touching piece of fiction that pushes the what-if envelope without quite tearing it to shreds. Carolyn Ives Gilman's "The Real Thing" whisks us to an information-drenched future where truth gets buried in the media onslaught and image and ratings are king. Dan Simmons takes us mountain climbing with an insect-like alien while Paul Di Filippo's interstellar traveler is into drag racing. The ideas come fast and furious and, as in past years, it's a hell of a ride.

In any collection purporting to be "the best" there will be stories that don't click. "One-Horse Town" by Howard Waldrop and Leigh Kennedy is a clever but unfocused assortment of ideas about ancient Troy that failed to fully capture my imagination. Allen M. Steele's "The Days Between," which examines the mental turmoil of a man awakened too early on an interstellar flight, struck me as cliched and rather bland. In comparison, Maureen F. McHugh's "Interview: On Any Given Day" is much more insightful as she downplays the science fictional trappings of human rejuvenation technology to explore the teenage mind and its cavalier response to this future landscape.

This 19th annual anthology is a big book, containing 26 stories, and it comes with a hefty price tag due to its publication in hardcover or trade paperback formats only. But it's worth every penny. Dozois has devoted his distinguished career to science fiction short stories and, while I may not agree with every piece he puts forward as "best," he's an excellent guide. Each year he points us all to extraordinary excursions across time and space through the work of authors whose fiction is well worth the fare.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 1 March 2003

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