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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 June 2012
After reading in all eleven yearly SF stories collections (from 3rd to 13th) edited by Gardner Dozois, it is my opinion that this one, covering stories published in 1995, is the weakest yet.

As in earlier anthologies, for this one Gardner Dozois selected stories which he considered as the best or most important of the given year. This collection includes also a overview of what happened in SF (largely understood) in 1995 and at the end there is also the very useful section of "honorable mentions" - stories which couldn't be selected for this collection because of lack of space (and this is already a HUGE book!), but which were also of good quality.

This collection is a little different than the previous ones, because this time Gardner Dozois selected mainly stories describing one specific topic - really very very distant futures, sometimes so distant that even human race doesn't exist any more... All those societies are extremely weird - and very unhappy... Of course they all are also totalitarian - God only knows why it is very hard to find a SF story in which a future society is democratic. There is also a larger than usual number of long novellas and some of them are really hard to finish.

Finally, as in all Gardner Dozois yearly anthologies, many of the stories are not exactly SF - some of them are rather alternate history, modern fantastic or simply "classical" literature with some vague fantastic elements (magic realism).

Below you will find my more detailed impressions about the stories, with some limited SPOILERS:
"A woman's liberation" by Ursula K. Le Guin - this long and rather boring story belongs to the Ekumen/Hainish cycle and is placed on the same planet as "Forgiveness Day" (which figured in previous year anthology); it tells the story of life of a woman born in slavery, who progressively emancipated herself and died as a free person and a renowned scholar; the story suffers however from being 1/3 pornographic, 1/3 marxist and 1/3 "bra burning" radical feminism; I also rather disliked the conclusion that lesbian homosexuality is the only way to make women really free... I hardly managed to finish it.

"Starship Day" by Ian R. MacLeod - a weak and boring story with SF being just present as a very distant background; the whole Earth waits for the news from the first human starship with the same level of expectations as Vladimir and Estragon when waiting for Godot... And mostly with the same result. In fact, this story describes the middle life crisis of a rather boring and pathetic guy and explores the lack of secrets and charms of his loveless and childless marriage. Horribly bad SF but with a great deal of soporific virtues...

"A place with shade" by Robert Reed - another rather disappointing story, vaguely reminding of "Forbidden Planet": an isolated planet, a powerful rich man, his gorgeous daughter, a stranger recently arrived and a deadly secret; however the story doesn't make much sense and the ending is very weak; the theme of terraforming in the Year of Grace 23200 (yes, the story is placed in a VERY distant future), although promising at first, also is not really used as it could be...

"Luminous" by Greg Egan - I can not really rate this story because with deep humility I must admit that I couldn't understand what it was all about; the fault is entirely mine, as I always rather sucked at mathematics, even at high school level - so I guess this story can be quite good, providing that you have some math still fresh in your head... Also, one thing sufficiently rare to signal, Greg Egan is probably the first writer in those yearly collections to correctly anticipate the rise of China...

"The promise of God" by Michael F. Flynn - this is fantasy, not SF, but it is also a good story; in an alternate America, where people mostly belong to a syncretic religion mixing Judaism, Christianity and pagan pre-Christian beliefs, a boy is discovered to possess a supernatural gift - which can be used both for good as for evil... An interesting, cleverly twisted story.

"Death in the promised land" by Pat Cadigan - in a Virtual Reality game club a customer was found with his throat slit; is it possible that it was caused by the similar death of his avatar in the game he was playing? This story had potential, no question there - but it is so long and boring that I dozed off a couple of times when reading it! Avoid!

"The White Hill" by Joe Haldeman - love finds its way to the hearts of two tired, spoiled, jaded immortals... Long and difficult, this is nevertheless a good, moving and very touching story, one of the few which, although still very sad, actually is not all gloom and doom...

"Some like it cold" by John Kessel - a clever little story about a really unique talent hunter working for the showbiz in the distant future; even if it contained a rather blasphemous (at least for believing Christians) element, still I liked it a lot! Enjoy!

"The death of Captain Future" by Allen Steele - without any question, this Hugo award's winning story is the BEST in this collection! In a time when people colonized almost all the Solar System, a desperate man accepts a job on board of a space freighter owned and captained by a crazy, obnoxious jerk, who believes he is a "super-hero"...))) A very, very good, clever, well written story!

"The Lincoln train" by Maureen F. McHugh - an alternate history tale, in which, after Northern victory in 1865, Southern civilians judged irredeemable are massively deported to concentration camps in future Oklahoma. This ethnical cleansing is supervised by the ruthless, sadistic general Grenville M. Dodge - who in real history was a good soldier, a succesful businessman and a shrewd politician, but certainly not a kind of bloodthirsty monster described here. A good story, even if the "politically correct" ending hurts it a little.

"We were out of our minds with joy" by David Marusek - a very depressing, but well written story about a distant future society, in which it is legally FORBIDDEN to procreate, except for an extremely limited number of couples selected yearly; and even then, children are no more born, but "assembled" and "cultivated". Of course this future society is totalitarian and militarized...

"Radio waves" by Michael Swanwick - rather fantasy than SF; two dead people, waiting in limbo before moving on, are forced by the events to co-operate even if they dislike one another a lot. Interesting, but depressing.

"Wang's carpets" by Greg Egan - an interesting SF story of a unique kind of First Contact with aliens, VERY different from us - it was later expanded in a novel, under the title "Diaspora"; before reading it try to familiarize yourself with concepts of "solipsism" and "Wang tiles" (I humbly admit that I didn't know what either of them means before reading this story) - that will greatly help you enjoying it.

"Casting at Pegasus" by Mary Rosenblum - in my opinion, this is the WORST story in the collection; a woman deeply depressed after the break up with her lesbian lover engages in... well, here I have to admit - I completely couldn't understand in what kind of activity she engages. A boring story very difficult to follow and understand.

"Looking for Kelly Dahl" by Dan Simmons - a long novella by a prestigious author - and once again I would be at a loss to say what it is about; a retired teacher chases through time and space one of his former pupils, a girl named Kelly Dahl. But for what end and purpose? Well, if author knew it, he didn't share this knowledge with readers... Boring, too long and hard to finish.

"Think like a dinosaur" by James Patrick Kelly - a very interesting story about the destructive influence that frequentation of very advanced technologically aliens can be for human psyche - and especially human values. Twisted, mean and clever. Enjoy!

"Coming of age in Karhide" by Ursula K. Le Guin - this is basically homosexual porn disguised as SF; life story of a person growing up in a civilization where people change their sex from male to female routinely. I didn't like this story at all.

"Genesis" by Poul Anderson - possibly the greatest disappointment in the whole collection, as it was written by such a giant of SF; in a future so distant that humans do not exists anymore, one of our very distant descendants comes to inspect the planet where this all began - Earth... It could have been a great story - but it isn't... Some parts are well written but still it is mostly boring, much too long - and the story doesn't make much sense.

"Feigenbaum number" by Nancy Kress - this is more a modern fantasy than SF; a man is afflicted by double vision - he sees everything as it is really and also as it could have been in the best of cases. This ultimately drives him crazy... Not a bad story, but with a very weak ending.

"Home" by Geoff Ryman - a short, nightmarish vision of a future society, where murdering people became socially acceptable; I found it extremely weird and rather weak.

"There are no dead" by Terri Bisson - life story of three friends, from the time they were little boys to the middle age crisis... It is hardly SF, but there is a little element of supernatural at the end. This is a depressing story, with life described mostly as one permanent disappointment - and, fittingly enough, it also has a disappointing ending.

"Recording angel" by Paul J. McAuley - the SECOND WORST story in the collection; in a very distant future appears a woman from the past. But what does she want? Who is she? There will be no answers for those questions. I couldn't really understand what this story is about and in the second half I even stopped caring, just wanted this thing to end...

"Elvis Bearpaw's luck" by William Sanders - the SECOND BEST story in the collection! In a future in which Whites and Blacks disappeared, American Indians are again the rulers of Northern America - and as every year they meet at a great assembly of religious significance during which there will be a lot of trading, matchmaking, drinking, dancing - and last but not least, the Most Sacred Holy Important Magic Game...))) A wonderfully written, very funny and clever story! Enjoy!

"Mortimer Gray's History of Death" by Brian Stableford - in a distant future, in a society of immortals, where children are allowed to be born only to selected "families" and where the "modern" polygamy (six men marry six women) is the main socially accepted way to mate, a man becomes obsessed by the idea if Death; he will write an enormous "History of Death", starting countless debates on the topic; This story is in fact a kind of philosophy discussion - which doesn't bring much as conclusion. Not very good, but not very bad either.

CONCLUSION: this is in fact a 2,5 star book, but as there is no such posibility on webpage, I have to give it three stars - but unlike most of the previous ones this collection is really not a success!
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These 24 stories from 1995 are arguably the best of the year's science fiction. The book opens with a summary of the year's important events in SF. Each story is introduced by well-written author bio, descriptions of the author's other publications and an enticing story preview. Dozois business as usual.

Four of my favorites:

Joe Haldeman's "For White Hill" seems like just another love story on the home planet Earth. Two lovers are attracted by their different approaches to life.

Greg Egan stretches the imagination with "Wang's Carpets," a new kind of life that exists in the same physical world as humans, but several layers of abstraction away from us. Sort of...

James Patrick Kelly's "Think Like a Dinosaur" has become a classic. Comparisons to Tom Goodwin's "The Cold Equations" are appropriate. I find Kelly's story more chilling. Being able to think--and act--like an alien is a matter of empathy.

Terry Bisson's "There Are No Dead" feels like Stephen King's Stand By Me distilled into a Ray Bradbury short story. It has its own logic.

This is a pretty good collection. There is a range of style and setting to the stories. It's likely that at least one will hit you from an unexpected direction. A friendly hit, most likely. The "Honorable Mentions" at the end of the book point to good stories from 1995 that Dozois couldn't find room for. You might enjoy tracking some of them down.
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