In this tenth yearly collection Gardner Dozois selected stories published in 1992, which he considered as the best or most important for this year. The anthology includes as always an overview of what happened in SF (largely understood) in 1992 and at the end there is also the very useful section of "honourable mentions" - stories which couldn't be published in this collection, but which were also of good quality.
As in previous year collection, this time the quality of many of the stories was not so great - which is a pity, because some stories are absolutely WONDERFUL! The general mood of almost all of them is rather grim and depressing. It seems that for almost all the modern SF writers any kind of new discoveries and technologies can bring only more problems and disasters - there is hardly anything optimistic in scientific progress, including the advances in medicine!
Two more things seem to be the rule in stories Gardner Dozois selects: the "maleficent" US government and a total irresponsibility and abysmal stupidity of high ranking military commanders. US government is frequently shown as a totalitarian entity, kidnapping, enslaving and/or killing US citizens without any fear of consequences and the generals spend their time inventing always more deadly weapons and then deploying them in such manner that they ALWAYS lose control other them... After reading eight volumes of "Year's best SF", I am still waiting to find in those stories at least ONE high ranking officer who would not be a clueless, incompetent bully. It almost seems to me that most of the modern SF is a kind of "revenge of the nerds", produced by people mostly without any military background but who feel a kind of irrational violent hatred against anything military and ESPECIALLY anything even remotely connected to US Army.
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 (stories about vampires, ghosts, demons, etc) 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:
"Griffin's Egg" by Michael Swanwick - in a relatively close future Moon becomes a very busy mining/industrial center, with most of the Earth polluting heavy industries relocated there; then, suddenly, a disaster happens, which forces Moon human population into some very hard choices... This is a good story, with a rather likeable hero and an interesting plot, but the ending is somehow weaker. Also, the description of the disaster which is the central event in the story is really ridiculous.
"Even the Queen" by Connie Willis - this is the THIRD BEST story in this anthology. It will probably be fully appreciated mostly by ladies, as this is VERY women oriented - but still I simply loved it! In a near future, women achieved Final Liberation, but somehow a great deal of things remained the same... The story is very feminist, but unlike the usual brand of feminism (bitter, hateful and silly), it is very wise, brilliantly written and especially extremely merry, cheerful and funny. I laughed so madly reading it that I almost cracked my ribs. Enjoy!
"The Round-Eyed Barbarians" by L. Sprague de Camp - an alternate history tale in which in XVI century the Chinese, by then very technologically advanced, conquered most of North America and then met the proud but technologically very inferior Spanish conquistadors. This is a witty, funny and pleasantly written thing.
"Dust" by Greg Egan - two years earlier Greg Egan wrote "Learning to be me", about the possibilities informatics create for "downloading" the contents of our brains on a support and thus offering us a kind of immortality; this was a very good story. This one is not a sequel, but explores the same theme from a somehow different angle. Sadly, it is also not as excellent as "Learning to be me", with the last pages and especially the ending being very disappointing.
"Two Guys from the Future" by Terry Bisson - a very funny little story about time travel and artists; not exactly a masterpiece, but a very cheerful and entertaining thing
"The Mountain to Mohammed" by Nancy Kress - a very grim, dark tale about a near future in USA, in which it is legally FORBIDDEN to give medical assistance to people without insurance; a young doctor breaks this rule to secretly treat the poor. Nancy Kress knows how to write, I give her that, but once again, her opinions on her own country (USA) could be coming as well from North Korean propaganda...
"The Coming of Vertumnus" by Ian Watson - a story which begins very well and promises a lot - but comes to a pathetic crash towards the end. I rather liked however the description of radical environmentalists and how their growing influence affects negatively the world in this story...
"A Long Night's Vigil at the Temple" by Robert Silverberg - this story is as much SF as fantasy, but I found it very good, as can be expected from such a famous writer; it treats of a founding myth of an ancient religion and an unexpected revelation which can shake this old belief to the core; although Christianity does not exist in this particular world, it made me think of this fundamental Christian belief - "the truth sets us free"...
"The Hammer of God" by Arthur C. Clarke - it was the first SF story (and only the second fiction) ever published in TIME magazine; frankly, I found it rather weak, especially considering who wrote it; this description of an effort of all humanity to avoid the collision of Earth with a giant asteroid is not very good and as for the vision of the world in near future, it is simply ludicrous.
"Grownups" by Ian R. MacLeod - in this one, we see an alternate Earth, very much as ours, except that amongst humans there are THREE genders, instead of two - and EACH of them is necessary for reproduction; the story is well written, but be prepared for a lot of gross moments, as the physiology of those alternate humans is described with lots of details, including impressions of smells and tastes... Also, the ending is completely unsatisfying and leaves a lot of things unexplained. All in all, I didn't like it much.
"Graves" by Joe Haldeman - an excellent modern horror story, short but powerful; a pair of American soldiers in charge of recovering bodies of fallen comrades during Vietnam War makes a brief but extremely weird and troubling encounter... A very good fantastic/horror story.
"The Glowing Cloud" by Steven Utley - a very long short story about adventures of some time travellers during the terrifying eruption of Mount Pelée on island of Martinique, on 8 May 1902. If it was reduced by half it could be an honest story - but at its length of 51 pages, its reading proved to be a bit of a slog, really... Prepare coffee before reading.
"Gravity's Angel" by Tom Maddox - possibly the weakest story in the collection, about sexism amongst scientists and how does it causes disasters; when they are written with an ideological agenda, stories (not only SF stories) are usually bad - and this one just confirms this rule...
"Protection" by Maureen F. McHugh - very intelligent, very well written and absolutely TERRIFYING this is the SECOND BEST story in the collection; in a future America devastated by - what else!? - global warming, capitalism was overthrown and Marxists-Leninists seized power; in this story we follow the tribulations of a young woman, who was sentenced to 10 years of concentration camp for assault and robbery; this is one of the most intelligent and in the same time scariest things I read in a long time. The only reason I do not consider it as the best story of the collection, is because of an absolute masterpiece, about which more further...
"The Last Cardinal Bird in Tennessee" by Neal Barrett Jr. - a short one act play, in a future America devastated by - what else!? - global warming; very funny and very dark in the same time; I liked it.
"Birth Day" by Robert Reed - a story about a world in which revolted artificial intelligences, somehow liberated from the necessity to reside in any hardware, took control of the Earth and govern kindly, but firmly, a very submissive humanity; I can not say it is an immortal masterpiece, but it certainly made me think a lot - even if it was in part about what point exactly the author wanted to make in this story...
"Naming Names" by Pat Cadigan - a modern fantasy, feminist story about wizards and witches living amongst us; not a bad thing, but also nothing particularly special.
"The Elvis National Theater of Okinawa" by Jonathan Lethem and Lukas Jaeger - the shortest and the weirdest story in the collection; in a near future, the globalized society produces an art which freely mixes all the past influences in a joyful organized chaos; funny, but not particularly good.
"The Territory" by Bradley Denton - an alternate history tale about an episode of War Between States in Kansas - the raid of Quantrill guerillas against the city of Lawrence; it begins in a very shocking way and shows great promise, but ultimately what follows is a very disappointing and absolutely politically correct ending, as clearly author couldn't muster the courage to follow the original path of the story...
"The Best and the Rest of James Joyce" by Ian McDonald - a completely nonsensical, chaotic and rather boring alternate history/parallel universe story about the different possible destinies of James Joyce. I hardly managed to finish it.
"Naming the Flowers" by Kate Wilhelm - FBI and all the evil US government are after a little girl of mysterious origins; an average Joe living a middle life crisis finds himself implicated; this is rather a good story, feeling a lot like an "X-Files" episode; however the very idea of actual American government organizing a secret kidnapping and illegal incarceration of a child born in USA (and therefore a US citizen with full rights) is rather ludicrous...
"Snodgrass" by Ian R. MacLeod - no SF and the WORST story in the collection; an alternate history tale in which John Lennon left the Beatles before they became famous - and now he is basically a bitter, slightly insane bum; a story both boring and depressing.
"By the Mirror of My Youth" by Kathe Koja - a very feminist story in which the morale is that "marriage, like slavery, should be illegal" and also that it is morally acceptable if a woman kills her husband, not in self-defence, but just because he is a jerk; obviously, divorce is not an option...
"Outnumbering the Dead" by Frederik Pohl - THE BEST STORY in the collection and the best SF story I read in a very long time! In future, almost all people live extremely long lives, (many centuries at least), staying young and never getting ill. But an extremely reduced tiny minority of people are still "mortals" and their time is usually over after a mere one hundred years. This is the story of the final years of life of one of them. Frederik Pohl wrote this story after reaching the respectable age of 70 - and it is one of the absolutely best things he wrote in his long and prestigious career. Very clever, very well written, full of humour, with a great deal of information about this new brave world - this is a TREASURE! But what is the best in this story, is that although dealing with decline and death, it is in the same time one of the most optimistic and beautiful things I read since long time and it is a welcome change from all the gloomy moaning and whining which fills modern SF field. Enjoy!
CONCLUSION: although there are some very very good stories present, ultimately there are so many weaker ones, that as a whole this is only a three star collection. Honest, but nothing more.