Firstly a warning: this book has exactly the same contents as The Mammoth Book of Best New SF 25 (Mammoth Books)
. These series run in parallel each year and it's always confusing. The "Year's Best" series comes out slightly earlier and has better artwork on the cover, but suffers from being wider (and therefore less easy to hold) and more expensive. You pay your money, you takes your choice.
Anway, onto the content, which is - after all - what really matters. Gardner Dozois's SF annual collections are a must-read for fans of SF short fiction, a real annual treat. This year is no exception and contains some excellent stories. Ranking each story between 1 (poor) and 5 (outstanding), I rated this year's stories as follows: 4 2-star stories, 10 3-star, 16 4- star and 5 5-star stories. The 5-star stories this year (in my opinion, and of course everyone will have a different set of favourites) were:
"The Beancounter's Cat" by Damien Broderick, the story of a young woman's journey on a space habitat, dressed up partially as a fairy tale.
"The Dala Horse" by Michael Swanwick, again this starts off reading like a fairy tale, but tells the story of a young girl's adventures in a future post-war Scandinavia: very visual
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman, the story of a young woman's political awakening on a far-flung planet
"What we found" by Geoff Ryman, a lesson in story telling, you almost don't notice the SF element (or care that it's a small part of the tale)
"A Militant Peace" by David Klecha and Tobias S Buckell - I am always wary of collaborations, but this is a really inventive tale of how North Korea might be invaded peacefully in the future.
Dozois always puts a novella at the end and this year the selection is "The Man Who Bridged The Mist", a 50-page tale by Kij Johnson. It's extremely well written and just fell short of a 5-star rating because it seems to fall into a semi-fantasy alternative earth rather than hard SF. I don't like fantasy or horror and this collection almost always avoids strong elements of either. Johnson's tale is almost but not quite SF, but that aside is a wonderful work and worth the wait.
The book is a long read (650 pages including the useful summary at the start), but I did notice a slight degradation in quality from last year, when I rated only 3 3-star and 23 4-star stories, so (again, only in my opinion) around 7 less stories made 4 stars and fell into the 3-star ("ok") category.
A cold division of total points divided by number of stories (35) gives 3.62 which I am more than happy to round up to 4, because this collection remains essential reading on an annual basis. Highly recommended.