After a rather disastrous thirteenth collection and a good fourteenth, this one, devoted to the best SF short stories and novellas of 1997 is the best since the 80s and it fully deserves five stars. Most stories are good, some are VERY good. As in previous years the general mood of many of them is rather grim and depressing but this time there are also some cheerful merry stories included and this is a very welcome thing. This collection includes also a overview of what happened in SF (largely understood) in 1997 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.
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:
"Beauty in the Night" by Robert Silverberg - on an Earth under a ruthless alien occupation, a boy and his aunt try to survive the best they can; a very well written, very dark story, but which lacks a proper ending, as it is basically only the first chapter of a novel Robert Silverberg was writing in 1998
"Second Skin" by Paul J. McAuley - a high tech spy story situated in a distant future on Proteus (one of the moons of Neptune); quite good, with an excellent description of a large human friendly habitat buid inside a small, cold and very distant moon.
"Steamship Soldier on the Information Front" by Nancy Kress - a depressing story about an investor looking for profitable placements in a future world which seems very developped technologically and extremely unhappy in every other aspect; I couldn't however understand the ending...
"Reasons to Be Cheerful" by Greg Egan - a very good but again quite depressing story happening in a near future; a young boy fells very ill and the whole arsenal of future best medicine is mobilised to save his life... You will have to discover the rest by yourself.
"Moon Six" by Stephen Baxter - a slightly weird and quite gloomy story about a glitch in the space-time continuum which causes a handful of people from different parallel worlds to meet on Moon; a honest story, but once again rather sad
"We Will Drink a Fish Together" by Bill Johnson - a very well written and ultimately quite cheerful story about a Secret Service agent in charge of protection of an alien ambassador to Earth soon after the First Contact.
"Escape Route" by Peter F. Hamilton - a "space opera" story; the crew of an independent space freighter is hired to carry a team of geologists looking for rare metals in an asteroid belt in a distant and almost unexplored solar system; needless to say, they will find much more that they bargained fore... A nice "old style" space opera.
"Itsy Bitsy Spider" by James Patrick Kelly - a sad but very well written and original story about the care for senile people in a near future. I can not say that I enjoyed it, but I liked it a lot.
"A Spy in Europa" by Alastair Reynolds - another high tech future spy story, this time happening in a city submerged in the internal ocean of Jupiter's moon Europa; a fair warning - it is quite a brutal tale...
"The Undiscovered" by William Sanders - THE JEWEL IN THE CROWN! The BEST story in the whole book! In the end of XVI century, in a world ALMOST exactly like ours, Cherokee Indians (important notice - William Sanders is himself a Cherokee Indian) living in what will be one day North Carolina raid a village of their hated enemies, the Tuscarora nation. The returning war party brings amongst the captives an Englishman, who was previously captured and enslaved by Tuscarora - he is the first white man the Cherokee ever saw. The mutual cultural shock between the Cherokee and their prisoner is one of the best and merriest stories I read in a very long time. I was reading this story in the subway and at one moment people started changing places to go away from me, because I was wildly laughing with tears running from my eyes!
"Echoes" by Alan Brennert - once again a very gloomy story; it is about the genetically "upgraded" children and their struggles in the future society. A honest story.
"Getting to Know You" by David Marusek - and again a sad, gloomy and depressing tale about a future high tech society; a honest, well written, original story about the meeting of two long estranged sisters, one rich, one poor...
"Balinese Dancer" by Gwyneth Jones - the only story in the collection I didn't like; in a near future Europe the society desintegrates slowly but surely and descends into chaos. Why? The story doesn't say... In this time of turmoil a British family goes to holiday in France and wife and husband try to remember why the heck did they marry... It is hardly SF and it bored me almost to death.
"Marrow" by Robert Reed - the SECOND best story in the collection; on board of a Jupiter-size spaceship on a voyage around the Galaxy, the Commander summons her best Captains for a secret conference; the style of this story is a little bit like in Philip Jose Farmer's "World of tiers". A very good thing. Enjoy!
"Heart of Whitenesse" by Howard Waldrop - in an alternative world XVI century Europe is in the middle of a new Ice Age; a secret agent serving queen Elizabeth investigates a mysterious immigrant from the continent... A very strange but quite funny and very well written story.
"The Wisdom of Old Earth" by Michael Swanwick - in a distant future most of humanity lives in outer space and Earth is a natural park, where some "aborigens" live in the wilderness and in the ruins of old cities. A tourist from a wealthy orbital city goes on a high risk safari in the torrid jungles of what was once United States... A good, solid SF story, although quite sad.
"The Pipes of Pan" by Brian M. Stableford - an interesting, but once again very depressing story about the "colateral damage" of humanity achieving immortality and eternal youth. Shocking but interesting.
"Crossing Chao Meng Fu" by G. David Nordley - the THIRD best story in the collection: in a relatively near future a group of scientists and extreme sports amateurs attempt to walk through the huge Chao Meng Fu crater on Mercury, without assistance of vehicles, just with what they can carry in their backpacks. A very good and interesting story. Enjoy!
"Yeyuka" by Greg Egan - in a near future Africa a ghastly new epidemic, the Yeyuka, decimates the population; a Western surgeon volunteers to help and discovers a reality even worse than he expected; a good, well written story, with a very shocking ending
"Frost Painting" by Carolyn Ives Gilman - an aging lesbian travels from New York to Montana trying to find her much younger partner who dumped her to join a kind of alien-worshipping cult; quite well written, even if the main character is not exactly very likeable.
"Lethe" by Walter Jon Williams - in a very distant future in which humanity reached immortality and eternal youth, a man looses his beloved wife in a rare accident from which there was no escape; this story describes his wanderings in search of any way to numb his pain... A good, although sad and depressing story.
"Winter Fire" by Geoffrey A. Landis - clearly inspired by the siege of Sarajevo, this is a nightmarish vision of a future ethnic war in Europe; once flourishing city of Salzburg in Austria is besieged by the hords of New Orthodoxy, fanatic zealots belonging to a very radical branch of orthodox church; I must say I didn't like it much as I found it boring. Also, the main leader of the New Orthodoxy is called "The Scorpion of Bratislava" - well, the only problem is that Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia, and Slovaks (like Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Slovenes and Croatians ) are catholics...)))
"Nevermore" by Ian R. MacLeod - another sad and depressing story centered around an attempt to become immortal by high technology - that one is however of particularly high quality. I liked it a lot.
"Open Veins" by Simon Ings - and again another sad and depressing story centered around an attempt to become immortal by high technology - that one however is much weaker than "Nevermore". The only story in the collection which I consider rather weak.
"After Kerry" by Ian McDonald - a man looks for his estranged sister in a weird future Ireland. This vision of future is really creepy and depressing, but the story itself is very good. Enjoy!
"The Masque of Agamemnon" by Sean Williams and Simon Brown - the FIFTH best story in the whole collection; Agamemnon summons the captains of his starfleet for a bal in honor of the Troian ambassador Paris whose starship is expected to arrive soon; everybody is invited, including his brother Menelaus and his slutty wife Helen... A very original and well written story.
"Gulliver at Home" by John Kessel - the travels of Gulliver as seen by his wife; a very original and well written thing. I liked it a lot!
"A Cold Dry Cradle" by Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre - the FOURTH best story in the collection; the surprising history of the first manned mission to Mars and what the astronauts discovered there. Nothing more here - you will have to read it by yourself. Enjoy!
CONCLUSION: this is an excellent collection, which will give you hours and hours of very interesting and/or pleasant lecture. ENJOY!