David Hartwell &
Kathryn Cramer, editors,
Year's Best SF 9
(EOS/HarperCollins, 2004)

Of the 20 stories included in David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer's ninth annual celebration of science fiction, only four also pop up in Gardner Dozois's The Year's Best Science Fiction: 21st Annual Collection. And while the Dozois book is, in my estimation, the better of the two anthologies, the 16 unduplicated stories in Year's Best SF 9 make this book well worth the cover price. In fact, any true fan of science fiction will want to experience the broader picture of SF in 2003 that one gets by reading both books.

Among the highlights included in Year's Best SF 9 are Cory Doctorow's "Nimby & the Dimension Hoppers," with its colliding cultures take on the "many worlds" theory of quantum mechanics. The story presents an amusing contrast to "The Day We Went Through the Transition" by Ricard de la Casa and Pedro Jorge Romero. Doctorow's protagonist simply wants to protect his home and community from the destruction wreaked by the criminals and pursuing police who all too frequently appear, in a hail of bullets, from parallel dimensions. "The Day We Went Through the Transition," meanwhile, posits a team whose job it is to travel through time keeping history on track, correcting attempts by the unscrupulous to reroute the "proper" course of events through political assassination.

But the most interesting inclusion in Year's Best SF 9 is the final story. The editors refer to Rick Moody's "The Albertine Notes" as, "perhaps the best SF story of the year." I wouldn't go that far; the story strikes me as needing a bit of a trim. At 70 pages in length, the plot lags in places. But the quality of the writing certainly compensates for any long-windedness.

"The Albertine Notes" is the story of a journalist, Kevin Lee, investigating the origins of a drug that first enhances and then destroys memory. As Lee descends into the world of users and pushers, and is himself seduced by "Albertine," the reader too is seduced -- by Moody's writing. "This was a moment when thinking carefully was more important than hallucinating. But because of the extremely dangerous amount of Albertine that was already overwhelming both my liver and my cerebral activity, reality just wasn't a station that I could tune very well."

The author is quoted, in the story's introduction, as saying, "I'm trying to stay close to language first and foremost and make sure that the paragraphs sing, that it sounds like music to me." While Moody is more concerned with style than with plot, only occasionally does he allow his pursuit of intriguing language tonality to take control of his narrative. "The Albertine Notes" may be a story that frustrates readers who want the action to percolate briskly along, but in terms of the editors' job of providing an overview of the state of the science fiction genre, it is an essential component of Best SF 9.

Also included in this collection and well worth the read are Octavia E. Bulter's "Amnesty," Gregory Benford's "The Hydrogen Wall," Nigel Brown's "Annuity Clinic" and Joe Haldeman's brief collage of extrapolations on immortality, "Four Short Novels." Haldeman, in a mere nine pages, presents pastiches of the novels Remembrance of Things Past, Crime & Punishment, War & Peace and The Way of All Flesh. Quite the undertaking!

Interestingly, none of the stories I cited in my review of this year's Dozois collection are among the ones that show up in both books. As always, "best" is a very subjective concept. Yet another reason to own both of these books.

Science fiction is a rich and varied genre and it's wonderful to see that there aren't any glaringly weak inclusions in either of these weighty collections. 2003 was a very good year for short SF, so grab hold of Year's Best SF 9 and enjoy the ride.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 9 April 2005

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