For this collection Gardner Dozois selected SF stories which he considered as best amongst those published in 2006. The one from previous year was bad - but either 2006 was a better year or maybe Gardner Dozois was more inspired, because this anthology is way, WAY better than the horror from 2005.
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 2006 and at the end there is also the very useful section of "honourable 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.
Most stories are good, honest, solid stuff, with no less than six being VERY GOOD: "Where the golden apples grow", "Dead men walking" (the BEST in this collection), "Yellow card man" (SECOND BEST), "The Pacific mystery", "Okanoggan Falls" and "The town on blighted sea". On another hand for my personal taste there were also four real stinkers: "Julian: a Christmas story" (the most clichéd and predictable), "The house beyond your sky" (the worse), "The highway men" (the most stupid) and "Every hole is outlined" (the sickest).
That being said, I cannot rate this collection five stars, mostly because of a generally depressed and pessimistic mood in most of those stories. There is not even one amongst them in which we could find at least an ounce of exhilarating joy that is usually associated (at least for me) with the exploration of new possibilities, new horizons, new discoveries, new knowledge; in fact there is virtually no joy associated with anything. It sounds almost as all modern SF was written by a bunch of terminal cancer patients for a public made of masochists enjoying chronic depression ...
Linked to the previous point, there is also an almost absolute lack of humour in those series; only in "Okanoggan Falls" the author seems to be able to find some merriment in life - even if the story is of course about a crushing disaster (what else?).
A rather good surprise is that in at least two stories there is a discreet but nevertheless clear sympathy for Christianism - even if in other stories, when they mention religion at all, Christianism is the one that is bashed, disparaged or at least very ostensibly boycotted... Still, two stories sympathetic to Christian religion in a Gardner Dozois anthology, that is quite an event...
Below, more of my impressions about every story, with some limited SPOILERS:
"I row-boat" by Cory Doctorow - in a future world mostly abandoned by humans who "downloaded" into virtual realities, an intelligent row-boat meets a coral reef, which just recently also became intelligent and fully conscious... A story maybe more appealing to informatics obsessed geeks than to the average Joe (like me), but still a GOOD, honest read, with especially an interesting view of religious debates amongst AIs...)))
"Julian: a Christmas story" by Robert Charles Wilson - a dystopian novella about a young homosexual aristocrat living in America which, once capitalism destroyed the world by exhausting natural resources, reverted to a kind of economy and society similar to XIX century United States, except that it is an authoritarian theocracy; this was in fact just the first chapter of a novel author wanted to write and which he later published in 2010 under the title "Julian Comstock", so this thing has no real ending; it includes of course an obligatory dump on Christianity and Christians... Ultimately, a rather BAD, clichéd, quite predictable thing.
"Tin marsh" by Michael Swanwick - on Venus, in a not so distant future, two prospectors looking for minerals have a disagreement and as result all hell breaks loose; an interesting story, which asks maliciously this question: "When great capitalist companies take away large portions of freedom from people who work them - is it ALWAYS a bad thing?" GOOD story.
"The djinn's wife" by Ian McDonald - a kind of sequel to "Little goddess", which figured in the previous year's collection, this thing is a kind of cyberpunk situated in futuristic India; as the title indicates this is about a young woman, a traditional dancer, who is being courted by a, well, kind of djinn... In fact it is ALMOST the same story as "Little goddess" - but still, it is quite original and well written. GOOD story.
"The house beyond your sky" by Benjamin Rosenbaum - it was a very ambitious attempt to write something about an entity (a man?, an alien? a god?, an AI? - your guess is as good as mine...) who creates universes. Sadly, the result is a pretentious, chaotic and incomprehensible mess. NOT GOOD - AVOID.
"Where the golden apples grow" by Kage Baker - this is a VERY GOOD story about colonization and terraforming of Mars; two very different boys, who were already born on Mars, will meet and go through a perilous journey... A well written, solid "old style " SF story by the greatly regretted Kage Baker, who left us in 2010 aged barely 57...
"Kin" by Bruce McAllister - a 12-years old human boy contacts an absolutely nightmarish, terrifying alien creature and offers it a job...; a GOOD, surprising story - but with a rather poor ending
"Signal to noise" by Alastair Reynolds - a good story (be it SF or not) should not leave the reader indifferent but call for a reaction (other than yawning if possible); well, this tale of loss and grieving in two alternate realities certainly is a GOOD story, because even if I found it partly depressing and partly unsettling, it certainly is something you don't read casually or forget easily...
"The Big Ice" by Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold - the Big Ice is a unique geological formation on a distant planet; its many mysteries fascinate the scientists including a woman named Vega, who is the hero/narrator of this story - and maybe a little bit more than that... It is an AVERAGE honest story, even if the politics of this future world seem quite absurd...
"Bow shock" by Gregory Benford - a novella about an astronomer whose career just took a big hit and whose personal life is also unstable - and he can't efficiently cope with it because he developed an obsession with one of many objects he is studying... Not a masterpiece, but a GOOD honest story, even if I saw the solution of the "mystery" coming already on the page five...
"In the river" by Justin Stanchfield - an interesting story about the First Contact and the price a female scientist pays for successfully communicating with aliens who came to visit us, establishing a temporary base on the distant edge of Solar System. A honest AVERAGE story.
"Incarnation day" by Walter Jon Williams - after a couple of weaker stories which Gardner Dozois still selected for his previous collections, Walter Jon Williams is back on the track with this story about a horrible brave new world in which children are not born, but first created as software, before being downloaded into fully grown bodies at 18... A GOOD story, albeit once again, if religion still exists in this future and the Buddhism does very well, the Christianism is of course totally extinct...
"Far as you can go" by Greg Van Eekhout - a strange, but well written thing, about a kind of devastated world in which two unlikely friends go for an adventure; it doesn't have a real beginning or a real ending - it is all about atmosphere; still, a GOOD story.
"Good mountain" by Robert Reed - a novella clearly inspired by Jack Vance's classical "Blue world" novel and also probably in part by "Dune" and the purple-worm monster from Dungeons and Dragons game system...))); on a metal-poor world of floating islands the population faces an unprecedented cataclysm... A GOOD story, harmed however by a very, VERY disappointing ending...
"I hold my father's paws" by David D. Levine - in a future world people can regress and become animals, in both body and mind, if they wish so...; a freakishly weird and very disturbing story, but it is definitely a very original thing, which shakes the reader very strongly indeed. I rate it as GOOD because of the wallop it packs, even if I really cannot say that I liked it.
"Dead men walking" by Paul J. McAuley - in a distant future, after some horrible war between outer planets separatists and Earth-based government, the dissidents are locked up in a concentration camp on Ariel (one of moons of Uranus); the narrator of this story, NOT EXACTLY a human, is dying, has only little time to register his final message and expects no rescue...; surprisingly, although NOT EXACTLY human, the narrator lets us believe that he is a Christian... Albeit not very long, this is a VERY GOOD story - in fact THE BEST in the collection.
"Home movies" by Mary Rosenblum - inspired at least in part by a classical Francis Scott Fitzgerald short story (I am not saying which one to avoid spoilers), this tale about a woman who lives and registers experiences for the benefits of other people is a GOOD, honest thing and in fact one of the best cyber-punk stories I ever read.
"Damascus" by Daryl Gregory - a woman joins a secret cult which practices possibly the most abject, the most hateful and the most nightmarish perversion of Christian's teachings...; later, she becomes the leader of an even more extreme fraction of this cult...; an extremely shocking and very sad thing, but nevertheless a GOOD, solid story, with a surprisingly respectful treatment of REAL Christian beliefs...
"Life on the preservation" by Jack Skillingstead - well written but freakishly weird story about a girl from the future (or is she from an alternate reality?) who comes to our times (our reality?) to destroy the world (or may be to save it?). Nothing is very clear here and I cannot say that I understood everything in this story but it is well written. An AVERAGE, honest thing.
"Yellow card man" by Paolo Bacigalupi - a sequel to "The calorie man" which figured in the previous collection (and which I didn't like at all...); an ethnic Chinese refugee, chased from Malaysia by Muslim fanatics, tries to survive in the most appalling misery in a nightmarish reality of future Thailand, after the world as we know it ended. It is a very tough, in fact a pretty nightmarish thing, but still, this is a VERY GOOD story, a rare case in which the sequel is better than the original...
"Riding the crocodile" by Greg Egan - I usually don't like this author AT ALL, but here, he really delivered an interesting story, about two immensely powerful, quasi-immortal and very bored humans, who go on a quest in hope to find some new sense to their lives. The ending is somehow weak - in fact there is no real ending - but still, a GOOD story.
"The ile of dogges" by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette - a short, clever story about time travel and also the censorship and repression in times of Queen Elizabeth, an "enlightened" monarch, worshipped nowadays by the politically correct crowd, but who in reality was as cruel and ruthless as her monstrous dad... A GOOD story.
"The highway men" by Ken MacLeod - a talented writer, Ken MacLeod is also a quite extreme left-winged radical, therefore it is quite logical, that this story is in the same time very well written and abysmally stupid, beginning with an outlandishly ridiculous explanation how World War III started, continuing with global warming "climate disaster" hysteria and ending with the old dream of all Marxist revolutionaries - a violent uprising thanks to which all frustrated losers can wantonly murder anybody who displeased them or who fared better than them in life (or simply to whom they owe money...) Well written, but I HATED it!
"The Pacific mystery" by Stephen Baxter - in an alternate reality III Reich and Japan control the Old World, with Great Britain reduced to the role of a German vassal and USA barricaded in Americas...; an absolutely enormous German flying battleship, "Reichsmarschall Herman Goering", is send on an exploration mission to Pacific, which in this reality was NEVER BEFORE crossed! The story was certainly influenced by Harry Turtledove writings, but it made me think also a little of the old classics "Robur the Conqueror" (1886) by Jules Verne, "The war in the air" (1908) by H. G. Wells and especially "The temple" (1920) by H. P. Lovecraft. A VERY GOOD story!
"Okanoggan Falls" by Carolyn Ives Gilman - Earth was conquered by aliens and one day the inhabitants of Okanoggan Falls, Wisconsin, receive an order to evacuate their town, which will be demolished. The wife of the mayor decides to approach alien commanding officer, hoping that leniency can be shown to her beloved home place... This is I believe the only story in the collection containing some humour - it is also written in a very lively, pleasant and witty style, with some highly adorable misandry (female equivalent of misogyny)... A VERY GOOD story!
"Every hole is outlined" by John Barnes - in a very distant future the crew of an interstellar cargo must replace a deceased member. It seems that the usual way to do it is to buy a young girl on one of countless "slaver worlds"... Not only the initial premise is shockingly stupid, but later author simply didn't know what to make with this story so he went full Warp Factor 5 into the weird and supernatural... I DIDN'T LIKE IT - read at your own risk.
"The town on blighted sea" by A. M. Dellamonica - this story takes place in a huge refugee camp, build by aliens for human political refugees, more precisely the people who lost in an Earth-wide, devastating civil war (in which both sides were supported by different alien backers)... A crime is committed and the victim is a local alien - therefore measures have to be taken. A VERY GOOD story.
"Nightingale" by Alastair Reynolds - in a distant future a group of mercenaries try to board a space "Flying Dutchman" (a huge specimen too), looking for an arch-infamous war criminal on the run; well written adventure/action story, with some distant echoes from classical westerns, war movies and also some clear influences from "2001:Space Odyssey", "War games" and "Alien 4" (but no, NO xenomorphs here); the ending, usually always the most critical spot, well, I guess everybody will appreciate it differently - but it is not bad at all, unlike in so many other modern SF stories; a GOOD , solid, honest story
CONCLUSION: a GOOD, honest, solid collection, well worth buying, reading and keeping. Enjoy!