David Hartwell &
Kathryn Cramer, editors,
Year's Best SF 7
(EOS/Harper Collins, 2002)

For the past seven years, science fiction readers have had the great good fortune to have two collections of the "best" short fiction of the year published. Naturally, there is always some overlap in the stories featured in Gardner Dozois' book and the one edited by David Hartwell, but there is also more than enough differentiation between the collections to make it well worth picking up both of them. On the whole, in previous years I've preferred the Dozois book, but this year I've been very impressed by the Hartwell collection and can't help but think that the addition of Kathryn Cramer to the editorial mix is the reason for the improvement.

In Year's Best SF 7, you'll find 19 stories, 14 of which do not appear in Dozois' The Best Science Fiction of the Year: 19th Annual Collection. Of these 14 stories, three make their print debut in Year's Best SF 7 as their original publication was online. Call me old-fashioned but when I read for pleasure I want it to be from a book, not a screen. So having Hartwell and Cramer provide a print outlet for some of the year's best online science fiction is something I truly appreciate.

Among the standout pieces in Year's Best SF 7 is Richard Chwedyk's "The Measure of All Things," about a man who cares for abandoned, traumatized "saurs," miniaturized dinosaurs manufactured in the lab as bio-toys for the children of the wealthy. Edward M. Lerner's "Creative Destruction" is a SF/mystery/industrial espionage hybrid that cruises along at a tremendous pace, compacting enough plot for a novel into less than 50 pages. James Morrow puts in a typically twisted appearance with "The Cat's Pajamas," in which a mad scientist is building human/barnyard animal chimeras in an effort to bring morality to local politics. As usual Morrow's absurdist humor is only outshone by his skills as a wordsmith.

Interestingly, none of the stories with which I was least impressed in Dozois' collection show up in Year's Best SF 7. However, Hartwell's fondness for short short stories (last year he included five such pieces) provides us with Michael Swanwick's "Under's Game," a gimmicky three-page poke at Orson Scott Card's award-winning novel Ender's Game. The story is fun but I don't think it can seriously be considered among the best fiction of the year. Luckily, Swanwick is also represented by "The Dog Said Bow-Wow," a much more challenging and impressive story.

Year's Best SF 7 demonstrates that many of SF's old guard are still producing outstanding short fiction. Ursula K. Le Guin, Brian Aldiss, Gregory Benford and Gene Wolfe are all represented here. But perhaps the most impressive thing I found in reading this volume is the fact that the 14 stories which Hartwell and Cramer chose and Dozois did not were so consistently good. It certainly demonstrates that there's a wealth of science fiction short stories, novellas and novelettes being produced by some very talented writers. And it's wonderful that editors like Hartwell, Cramer and Dozois have the passion and energy to present them to us so conveniently each year.

- Rambles
written by Gregg Thurlbeck
published 12 April 2003

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