Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

1996: Year's Best SF (Hartwell, David G.)

Symptomatic of science fiction in transition (4/5)
From March 30, 2010

Compared to the collection New Legends (edited by Greg Bear, but published in 1995), this collection is briefer and inferior. However, the stories "Evolution" and "The Ziggurat" are very much noteworthy. It's still better than most anthologies out there.

Hartwell doesn't stick to any specific sub-genre of science fiction as he highlights a wide range of the art from 1995 (all stories were published in 1995). This is Hartwell's first of a series of "Year's Best" anthologies which seem to be growing thicker and thicker each year. This is the first of the series and it jam-packed with big names: Silverberg, Baxter, Benford, Haldeman, Le Guin, Zelazny, Kress, Sheckley, and Wolfe.

Hartford states in his introduction that 1995 was a revival year for novellas, yet he only included three novellas with only one, Wolfe's "The Ziggurat," being the most hauntingly memorable. Hartwell also includes introductions to each story, which just looks like academic name dropping. Poul Anderson is misspelled TWICE is these introductions as "Paul Anderson" (135, 203). I haven't the faintest clue how an editor who actually KNOWS science fiction could possibly have let this slip by! David G. Hartwell (editor) may have a Ph.D. in Comparative Medieval Literature and may have been nominated for a Nebula award fifteen times but, honestly, how can you misspell the name of a science fiction master like Poul Anderson?


James Patrick Kelly: Think Like a Dinosaur (novelette) - 3/5 - A transmitted translight traveler stops over at a dino-like alien base inhabited by a single human who assists other humans on the journey. The process is know to be destructive and without failure... until now. The human fixture and dino must think of a unilateral solution. 26 pages ----- It may not have been a particularly fanciful read at the time but it remains one of the stories that sticks on the mind. Kelly's collection by the same name seems to have a small cult following but I haven't been able to procure a copy in two years.

Patricia A. McKillip: Wonders of the Invisible World (shortstory) - 4/5 - A lá Connie Willis, a time traveling researching places herself in a situation where she must conform to licensing standards yet perform as an angel would. 14 pages

Robert Silverberg: Hot Times in Magma City (novella) - 2/5 - Recovering addicts of various sorts volunteer to extinguish volcanic uprisings in the southern California valleys or whatever the hell else is included in Cali-geography because as a non-Cali resident, all the Cali-name dropping was just superfluous and the characters were f-l-a-t. 64 pages ----- If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you could have predicted that I would've disliked anything produced by Silverberg... this is no exception.

Stephen Baxter: Gossamer (shortstory) - 3/5 - Wormhole traveler is accidently dumped on Pluto where she makes a fragile and possibly climatic discovery which impinges on her sole survival on the desolate planetoid. 23 pages

Gregory Benford: A Worm in the Well (novelette) - 4/5 - A solar phenomenon beckons the employment of an ore tug, but further in the appointment finds that the prize is much, much bigger than she bargained for and must confront qualms concerning debt payment and scientific discovery. 33 pages

William Browning Spencer: Downloading Midnight (novelette) - 3/5 - Mostly indecipherable and full of capitalizations, a sort of futuristic cyberpunk world is being havocked by a rouge avatar. The digital hunt spills into reality as the Net becomes more and more disrupted. 33 pages ----- A cyberpunk story during a period when cyberpunk was being replaces by post-cyberpunk. This is an awkward insertion into the collection, but the collection has a cyberpunk representation.

Joe Haldeman: For White Hill (novella) - 4/5 - Otherworldly artists gather on a sterilized, scorched earth to erect a combined monument in memory of earth's once greatness and hence destruction during multiple century alien war. Befallen by an unprecedented calamity, the artists strive to complete their works whether to be eternal or not. 56 pages

William Barton: Saturn Time (shortstory) - 4/5 - A fine alternate history of what the US space program would have looked like if it weren't for all the cutbacks since the Apollo missions, misguided leaders, and the evolution of spacecraft design. 21 pages

Ursula K. Le Guin: Coming of Age in Karhide (novelette) - 1/5 - I read The Left Hand of Darkness and gagged my way through it as it's not my particular sub-genre of science fiction (that being xeno-sociological science fiction). I wasn't especially keen on going further than the first page as I had already trudged halfway through the short story in Greg Bear's collection of New Legends. It's not my specialty but some people actually like it. 25 pages ----- I still can't touch this stuff. I'd rather tenderize my fist on a wall than trudge through this again. However, her novel Lathe of Heaven was masterful.

Roger Zelazny: The Three Descents of Jeremy Baker (shortstory) - 3/5 - Black hole delving man discovering, inconveniently, that his ship isn't up to par with the tidal pulls and bails out. An energy-like alien being assists the spaceman during their experiments with the spin of the void and its effects on space-time. 10 pages ----- Zelazny is apparently loved by the masses for some trait I have yet to discover. His Damnation Alley was ghastly and this shortstory doesn't inspire me either.

Nancy Kress: Evolution (novelette) - 5/5 - An antibiotic resistant bug rears its ugly head in a New York and some citizens don't take kindly to doctors persistent in administering the antibiotic endozine. When a mother catches word of her son's antidisestablishmentarianism she confronts the doctor and father of her child about the situation and therapy. 30 pages ----- I don't have any Kress novels but this was excellent! Another of her stories, "Inertia" was published in the Wastelands anthology but it wasn't as impressive as this. She's at the top of my to-buy list, for sure.

Robert Sheckley: The Day the Aliens Came (shortstory) - 3/5 - When aliens arrive on earth, there's a windfall of unexpected situations an author finds himself in, including writing a novella for an alien audience (with a cast of love-inducing pretzels) and a group which focuses their effort in composite alien life forms, which just sounds like a giant alien orgy. 14 pages ----- Mmm, not my favorite Sheckley. His earlier work from the 1960s is highly, highly recommended, however.

Joan Slonczewski: Microbe (shortstory) - 4/5 - A planet with genetic material and bodies like zooids (circular, donut-shaped), the research team is stunned and must investigate for themselves. When the flora and fauna prove to be difficult and zooidal, one member takes it one step further to probe the mystery at the cost of the team. 16 pages

Gene Wolfe: The Ziggurat (novella) - 5/5 - A soon-to-be divorcee in the wintery woods in being harassed by his nagging wife, three children (one of his own) and three creepy scouts of unknown origin. The harassment turns to theft and kidnapping, which is where the decision is made to take the offensive. 92 pages ----- This must be the scariest story I've ever read; I still get creeped out simply thinking about it. My eyes were glued to the pages like no other story had done before. This is why I started reading Wolfe and while not everything he's created as been great (like the stories in Starwater Strains) his novels allow the reader to reflect on what wasn't mentioned... Wolfe would rather than gaudily drop obvious details onto the pages.

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