Of Supernatural Private Eyes, saurian biopets, interstellar e-commerce and glitches in God's software - SF in Year of Grace 2001,
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This review is from: The Year's Best SF 7 (Year's Best SF (Science Fiction)) (Mass Market Paperback)
This seventh yearly anthology edited by David G. Hartwell presents a selection of SF stories he considered as best in 2001. This highly symbolic moment somehow failed to inspire this particular editor, because I found David G. Hartwell's seventh yearly collection significantly LESS GOOD than its immediate competitor, the Gardner Dozois anthology - which in 2001 was GREAT (see my review of this one).
This anthology doesn't have the yearly review and "honourable mentions" list offered by Dozois. It is also less voluminous than Dozois mastodons and more focused on short stories, instead of novellas. Still, there is nineteen stories to discover here and some of them are good - and three are REAL good.
Only five of stories figured also in Dozois selection (they are marked below with letters GD), however a further five of them also figured in "Redshift" collection. Therefore, if you have already those two collections, by buying this one you will get only nine new stories - but as amongst them will be the BEST one, well, I think it is still economically sound to purchase this book (especially if you buy a used copy).
A most peculiar thing happened also in this collection - one of stories, "A matter of mathematics" by Brian Aldiss, appears here for the SECOND TIME! It already figured in 1999 collection (Year's Best SF 5) by the same editor, but under its original title "An Apollo Asteroid". Since then Brian Aldiss re-published the story under a different title and the editor AGAIN included it in his yearly collection, but clearly without noticing that it is the SAME STORY he already published two years earlier, because there is no mention of this fact or of the initial title...
Below, my more detailed impressions with some limited SPOILERS
"Computer Virus" by Nancy Kress - basically, a quasi-remake of final scenes of "Blade Runner" (the film rather than the original novel), with just the replicants being replaced by - well, something else... A good, solid thing, but once again, as usual in Nancy Kress stories, everything is the fault of the Big Bad US Government Plot - I think she was probably bitten by a government when she was little and never fully recovered from the trauma...))) (GD)
"Charlie's Angels " by Terry Bisson - a funny, well written story about a Supernatural Private Eye - and nothing more will be said about the plot; however be prepared for clichés, more clichés and an INCREDIBLY STUPID conclusion!
"The Measure of All Things" by Richard Chwedyk - the JEWEL IN THE CROWN and the BEST STORY in this collection! One day toy makers started to produce pet sized living and talking dinosaurs for children - now, many years later, a visitor comes to one of the shelters for abandoned and/or abused "biopet saurs"... THE BEST story I read in the first eight months of the Year of Grace 2013.
"Russian Vine" by Simon Ings - a shocking, difficult but quite good story about humanity living under occupation, after Earth was conquered by a race of ruthless aliens. Books and reading of some great classics play a considerable role here. Can't say I understand the title though - maybe I didn't read enough Turgenev (shame on me by the way). (GD)
"Under's Game" by Michael Swanwick - a two pages long (or rather short), pretty funny parody of already legendary "Ender's Game".
"A Matter of Mathematics" by Brian Aldiss - a weird, but well written and ultimately quite satisfying short story about barrier breaking discoveries which completely change our perception of life, universe and all those sorts of things. Born in 1925 (and still with us in September 2013) Brian Aldiss figures amongst the giants of Sci-Fi and here he shows that he didn't lose his edge, even at the respectable age of 74 (his age in 1999). WARNING: this story was published earlier, in 1999, under the title "An Apollo Asteroid" and it figured already in "Year's Best SF 5" from the same editor...)))
"Creative Destruction" by Edward M. Lerner - the initial idea of electronic commerce between humanity and alien civilizations was great but it was then mercilessly drowned in clichés, clichés and yet more clichés... So here once again a great multinational corporation, motivated by absolute greed, hatches a sinister plot and murders people to cover its tracks - making certain that any profits illegally made will be seized when the secret is finally uncovered and that people involved will end in jail until the end of their lives, instead of enjoying their less impressive but still respectable amount of riches on a tropical island... The story is not only full of clichés but also too long and towards the end simply boring.
"Resurrection" by David Morrell - this is the first SF story by the author of "Rambo: the first blood" and it is a very successful one - the SECOND BEST in this collection; it is about cryonics - and I am not saying anything more. Enjoy!
"The Cat's Pajamas" by James Morrow - it is an absolutely surrealistic and very amusing story about two people who, "tired of enlightenment and technocracy, decided to hop in the car and drive to romanticism or preindustrial paganism or even all the way to hunter-gatherer utopianism - but who only got as far as Pennsylvania"...))) Nothing more will be said here. The THIRD best story in the collection. Enjoy!
"The Dog Said Bow-Wow" by Michael Swanwick - a meeting of souls between two con..., well, I will say persons rather than men, because one of them is a talking, highly intelligent dog. To call this story surrealistic would be the understatement of the year... It is however well written and certainly funny by moments - please be advised however that it includes a (very unnecessary in my modest opinion) detailed description of the copulation of a dog with a woman... (GD)
"The Building" by Ursula K. Le Guin - on the planet Qoq there are two species, one of which builds since hundreds of years an enormous building - but never uses it for anything. Well written, but do not expect any answers to the questions asked by this story - the conclusion seems to be missing in action.
"Grey Earth" by Stephen Baxter - an old woman belonging to our species lives the last days of her life amongst a tribe of Neanderthal people. Extremely depressing, without conclusion and especially portraying the Neanderthal people as less than human - something which was already proven to be completely ludicrous well before 2001...
"The Lagan Fishers" by Terry Dowling - yet another depressing story, this one about an alien invasion of most unusual nature. Well written, but also for some reason assuming that the greatest ambition of most people is to simply suicide...
"In Xanadu" by Thomas M. Disch - this is the first SF story this renowned author (sadly deceased since, as he died in 2008) produced after an almost 20-years long break (he was of top SF writers in the 70s) - and honestly, this return is not a success. The story is supposedly about a dead guy whose memories and conscience were downloaded on a hard drive for a kind of digital afterlife - but I sincerely couldn't understand this thing and found it so chaotic and poorly written that I couldn't even finish it... The WORST story in the collection.
"The Go-Between" by Lisa Goldstein - even if this is not the worst story in the collection, it is to my personal taste the MOST STUPID! A woman is nominated as Ambassador to an alien civilization to negotiate an important treaty - but the aliens are really hard to understand and therefore the talks are very hard. Well written, I concede that, but what really angered me, is that according to the author just because ONE drunk guy starts an argument and then kicks a dog, it is the proof that the WHOLE human race is soooooo evil (boohoo, boohoo, boohoo) that it should avoid any further contact with other sapient species, so we do not contaminate them (boohoo, boohoo, boohoo)! Jeez, Louise!
"Viewpoint" by Gene Wolfe - a kind of libertarian manifesto; a man receives $100.000 and then must escape both the bandits and the government, who will stop at nothing to take it from him... A good general idea and good writing, but I found the message rather nonsensical. Also, it seems that a couple of pages are missing towards the end or maybe this story was simply poorly edited and shortened in the wrong place, because the conclusion arrives without warning and without respecting the timeline of the story.
"Anomalies" by Gregory Benford - and what if the universe was just very advanced software? And then what if it suffered from glitches? An interesting idea, maybe too big for such a short story - but still this thing is a rather honest read.
"Glacial" by Alastair Reynolds - this novella is the sequel to the short story "Great Wall of Mars" published in 2000; in a distant future refugees from a war their side lost in Solar System find a very icy world which can sustain (and actually sustains) life; but this world presents also an extremely surprising puzzle to the newcomers... A good, honest read. I liked this story much, much more than the one from 2000. (GD)
"Undone" by James Patrick Kelly - a short story about a far-future freedom fighter fleeing furtively far-further into the future...))) I cannot say that I liked it very much, as it is really weird and freaky - but I cannot say that I hated it either, as it is well written and original (for sure you do not read this kind of stuff every day). Give it a try and make your own mind. (GD)
CONCLUSION: this book is a kind of 3,5 stars thing, not as successful as previous yearly anthologies by David G. Hartwell - maybe it was because for the first time this collection was co-edited by another person, Kathryn Cramer. Still, I do not regret that I bought it - there are some good stories and the discovery of "The measure of all things" was in itself reason enough to purchase this book.