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Year's Best SF 17 by David G. Hartwell

Year's Best SF 17

by David G. Hartwell (Editor), Kathryn Cramer (Editor)

Other authors: Charlie Jane Anders (Contributor), Madeline Ashby (Contributor), Tony Ballantyne (Contributor), Elizabeth Bear (Contributor), Gregory Benford (Contributor)19 more, Neil Gaiman (Contributor), Carolyn Ives Gilman (Contributor), Karen Heuler (Contributor), Gwyneth Jones (Contributor), Nancy Kress (Contributor), Yoon Ha Lee (Contributor), Ken Liu (Contributor), Pat MacEwen (Contributor), Ken MacLeod (Contributor), Judith Moffett (Contributor), Nnedi Okorafor (Contributor), Paul Park (Contributor), Robert Reed (Contributor), Mercurio Rivera (Contributor), Mercurio D. Rivera (Contributor), Karl Schroeder (Contributor), Bruce Sterling (Contributor), Michael Swanwick (Contributor), Genevieve Valentine (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Year's Best SF (17)

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892193,700 (3.7)1



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** The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three • Ken MacLeod
In a totalitarian future, an editor purports to be seeking contributions to a new anthology. But why is he doing this at the very public launch of a new experimental technology? Eh, this one didn't really come together for me. A bit too gimmicky, and the ending didn't convince...

*** Dolly • Elizabeth Bear
An experimental model of sex doll is suspected of having killed its (her?) owner. I wasn't really convinced by the narrative that the killing was justified even if the robot was sentient, but the story was redeemed from preachiness by the complication of having the female investigator own her own robot.

*** Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer • Ken Liu
Post-singularity, a young girl cannot conceive of why her mother might value the concept of physical 'reality' over virtual explorations. But in a memorable last day together, there is bittersweet communication.

**** Tethered • Mercurio Rivera
A human girl and an alien girl are best friends, growing up together. But as they both mature, the differences between species separate them... but are the differences really so different? A nice exploration of the meaning of friendship and personal identity. Again, very bittersweet.

*** Wahala • Nnedi Okorafor
A space shuttle, returning from Mars after 40 years, crash lands into a post-war desert. There to meet them are only two mutant children, expecting to meet human colonists. But what they find is stranger than either of them expected to find. A story of conflict, fear, and hope for understanding.

**** Laika’s Ghost • Karl Schroeder
Lots of fun, semi-satirical stuff jammed into this tale of a near-future arms inspector investigating rumors of a new kind of super-explosive, accompanied by a young American refugee fleeing Google, The Soviet Union Online, and who knows who else... Apparently there are more stories about Agent Gennady - I must read them.

*** Ragnarok • Paul Park
A post-apocalyptic poem, set in Iceland, in the form of an Edda... better than I expected.

** Six Months, Three Days • Charlie Jane Anders
Two clairvoyants start dating. She believes that she has free will, choosing between the many possible futures she sees. He believes that everything is predestined, seeing only one future. Both of them are really annoying people, and I didn't care about their relationship.

*** And Weep Like Alexander • Neil Gaiman
A rather slight, but amusing story. A man walks into a bar and announces that he is an "uninventor." Humanity has been saved from many seemingly good ideas that turned out to be more annoying than expected - such as flying cars. But is there anything left for him to uninvent?

*** The Middle of Somewhere • Judith Moffett
Not so much a story as an educational piece regarding the effects of global warming. Sure, it's set in (possibly) the near future - although it might be the present - but it's certainly not science fiction. A teen girl from a religious family of climate-deniers survives a tornado in the company of a self-sufficient elderly woman.

** Mercies • Gregory Benford
After learning about serial killers in school, a boy of the peaceful future develops a time travel technique and, at the end of his life, sets out to go back in time and eliminate history's worst killers before they have a chance to commit their evil deeds. The ending wasn't as powerful as I believe the author meant it to be.

** The Education of Junior Number 12 • Madeline Ashby
In the future, self-replicating robots are quickly proliferating. They love humans, and will self0destrunt at the thought of anti-human violence. Their existence seems on the verge of changing human relationships, but their ways are alien to us.

** Our Candidate • Robert Reed
A popular political candidate offers the doomsaying underdog a deal. And it turns out that politicians can be real jerks. (No, say it isn't so!) The ending felt a bit forced, and didn't have the expected punch.

**** Thick Water • Karen Heuler
Nice sci-fi/horror story. A 4-person team has landed on an alien planet for scientific observations. But only one of the scientists observes the safety protocols - and the results are quite satisfyingly creepy.

*** The War Artist • Tony Ballantyne
The war artist's job is to observe, and create suitably inspiring pieces of propaganda to sway public opinion. It takes a pretty woman to make him reassess his job. Nicely cynical.

*** The Master of the Aviary • Bruce Sterling
A dark and cynical tale of a post-apocalyptic future, and an 'academic' who hearkens back to the glories of the past, in the face of general indifference and political opposition.

** Home Sweet Bi’Ome • Pat MacEwan
I have to admit, humor is often a hard sell, with me. Not that I don't like humor, but... This story of a woman with Hyperallergic Syndrome and her tribulations, with a dash of romance was ok... but just not really my thing.

**** For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again • Michael Swanwick
With a one-way trip out to pursue a career amongst aliens and the stars imminent, a man decides to take a final trip to experience Earth and history, and visits Ireland. There, he meets a beautiful woman who seduces him - but who has more on her agenda than sex. Good story. Satisfying ending.

*** The Ki-anna • Gwyneth Jones
A man travels to an alien planet to investigate the death of his twin sister. He suspects it was murder, although, officially, it's been called an accident. The story is a decent mystery tale, but I feel like it missed some opportunities to delve deeper into the issues it brings up regarding cultural differences.

* Eliot Wrote • Nancy Kress
Sorry, really didn't like this one. Clunky story about metaphor and the conflict between science and mystical thinking. All the characters were awkward caricatures, and none of them were convincing, either from a narrative or an ideological perspective.

*** The Nearest Thing • Genevieve Valentine
Pretty good entry into the genre of "advanced robots: are they really sentient?" Very, very similar in theme to the Elizabeth Bear piece that appears earlier in this volume.

** The Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel • Yoon Ha Lee
This reads like notes for a story, not a story. It's a series of paragraphs, each describing an alien race or situation. Nice writing, but it doesn't feel like a finished work.

*** The Ice Owl • Carolyn Ives Gilman
Second reading of this story. (Previously read in Nebula Awards Showcase.) I'd really like to read more by Gilman; I love her style - but I still had issues with this story. --- Sets up a very nicely done world and situation: a rebellious teenage girl and her flaky, irresponsible mother, flitting around known planets at lightspeed after a political disturbance/genocide analogous to the Holocaust. (It's called the Holocide, and there's even looted art.) However, the ending is completely unsatisfying, feels rushed, and falls flat. It's one of those where you get the feeling that the author feels like you ought to think her characters made the right decisions - but they clearly didn't, nor does it work from a dramatic perspective.

2.78 average rounds up to 3.
Just as a note, it's funny how much editorial decisions affect the 'Best of's... I haven't read the corresponding anthology from Strahan for this year yet, but I feel like I like his choices better, in general... ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
In most years I would read a lot of SF so when the Year's best anthologies get published, I had read most of the stories before that. In some years, I would miss most of the great stories for one reason or another. But regardless of how my reading year had been, I would always read the different anthologies - there will always be at least one gem there... or at least a few stories worth revisiting.

2011 ended up being a very strange year for me- I read very little number of books and stories written in the same year so I have a lot of catching up to do. And Hartwell and Cramer's anthology just happened to be the first on the pile (probably the size of it helped - all other anthologies are bigger and not at convenient to carry around - and I refuse to read these on my Kindle.

One of the things I love about these anthologies is that I know what to expect - I won't find slipstream and fantasy in the SF ones; i won't find horror in a fantasy one or SF in a horror one. This leaves the borderline stories a little out of it but there are enough of the cross-genre variety of anthologies so these can stay clean.

And for a 17th year, Hartwell and Cramer had found enough good SF stories. The Introduction is lamenting the state of the SF (and the demise of Borders and what t hat meant for publishers) and the book's internal order had been changed at least once without anyone catching up that the introduction is calling a story "another story from" before the story that says "the first story from". And they could have found more than one way to say that this is the first printing of a story - as a lot of the selections are actually from online sources. But all these were peripheral things because the 23 stories made up for any deficiency the book might have had.

"The Best Science Fiction of the Year Three" by Ken MacLeod despite its name that almost make you think that there is a second introduction is a fine story about the state of SF in a future and/or alternative world. You feel almost as if you are in bubble that is inside of a bubble and inside of a bubble. You don't have space exploration or a dying Earth - you just have humans, changes which are not too hard to be believed and a very good storytelling

Elizabeth Bear opens the world of AI with "Dolly" and even if the story is about AI and technology, it is also one of the most humane of the stories in the volume. Not entirely unexpected considering who the author is.

Ken Liu pulls one of the stories with weird names that actually make sense only after you read the story: "Altogether Elsewhere, Vast Herds of Reindeer". It is about AI and singularity... and it is not. Because he does pretty much the same thing as Bear (adding a family) and manages to develop a family story using the canvas of the high technology.

Mercurio D. Rivera finally takes us to the space and to Titan with "Tethered" - this is a SF anthology after all, we need space stories. Aliens and friendship do not mix together easily... until Rivera decides to see what he can come up. The story is bittersweet for the most part and one of those stories and worlds that I hope never gets into a longer form - I loved it as a short story but as a novel, I suspect it will be disastrous.

Nnedi Okorafor's 'Wahala" continues the thread of the space stories... except that it is in on Earth (and of course in Africa) and the planet had lived through some accident. That's the story that actually managed to surprise me - some of the elements came almost of nowhere but fit properly and created a nice story.

Karl Schroeder's "Laika’s Ghost" is a spy story in a future setting or a thriller in the future or whatever else you want to call it in this vein. Mars, USSR, past, future, radiation, lies and a beautiful woman all blend into a story that makes you want to read more about this world and about the main character.

And then comes Ragnarok by Paul Park. In a poetic form. And pretty interesting. I liked it but I am not sure it really had place in a pure SF anthology - not because of the format but because of the story it told.

Charlie Jane Anders's "Six Months, Three Days" is another one of those borderline stories - I would not have called it SF. Don't get me wrong - this is actually one of my favorite stories last year - about choices, seeing the future and dealing with that... but I am not sure it is SF.

Neil Gaiman's "And Weep Like Alexander" is short and hilarious. Like one of those jokes you can tell while having a drink with friends. Ever wondered why we do not seem to make as much progress as we really should? Well... Gaiman has a theory.

Judith Moffett's "The Middle of Somewhere" is the second near future story after the opening one but unlike the first one, this one does not even feel as SF - the only thing that makes it a SF is that it is actually set in the future... although it would have worked if it had been set in the 1980s. Or in 2012. Nice story, good style but... not really SF.

And what will be a SF anthology without a time travel story? Gregory Benford makes sure we don't need to find out with his "Mercies". It is a popular theme and the angle he is using is not overly creative either... but even if the end is almost obvious, it still managed to be somewhat surprising.

Madeline Ashby gets us back to AI with "The Education of Junior Number 12" which is a nice, readable and forgettable. Almost the same can be said about "Our Candidate" by Robert Reed - his latest take on power and elections. At least Reed manages to wrap up the story into somewhat interesting end and to show once again that time does not change politics.

And after these two stories, comes "Thick Water" by Karen Heuler - the only real exploration story in the volume. It is predictable and there is nothing that even hints at a surprise. But it is also one of those stories that are getting close to the horror genre without crossing into it and the kind of story you would expect in a SF anthology. Maybe not in an Year best one but then, there is a limited number of stories to choose from and this one is good after all.

Tony Ballantyne's "The War Artist" is about the war in the future... and about why we need war and how it gets justified. It feels a little bland compared to some of the other stories.

"The Master of the Aviary" by Bruce Sterling is looking into the politics of a future city... and the self-preservation instinct of one of the citizens. Or is it just cowardice? Move the story to a fantasy world with no changes and you have a fantasy story. On the other hand Pat MacEwan' "Home Sweet Bi’Ome" cannot be classified as anything else but SF. What happens if we build houses from human genome so that people with severe allergies can live in peace? Well - as it turns out, there are a few things the creators of those houses forgot about.

Michael Swanwick's "For I Have Lain Me Down on the Stone of Loneliness and I’ll Not Be Back Again" somehow manages to be longer than its title (I really don't get the fascination with long titles for short works...). It has a space element... but it is a ballad about Ireland and the Irish. Nice, lyrical and making the SF elements almost redundant and unimportant (and there are a lot of them).

Gwyneth Jones's "The Ki-anna" is another of the space stories and is chilling. Every time I thought I know what happens next, something changed and the story went elsewhere. And all starts so mundanely - a scientist disappears and her twin brother refuses to believe she is dead. The search leads to exposing a world that you would not have expected. That's the second story in the anthology that veers toward horror without breaching the line and probably the darkest of all the stories.

Nancy Kress had always been one of the authors I expect good stories from. "Eliot Wrote" has a framing sequence around the main story... which simply does not work. And the main story itself is almost banal. Yes, it is SF. But it is trivial. And much weaker than pretty much anything else in the anthology.

Thankfully Genevieve Valentine gets the anthology back on track with yet another AI story "The Nearest Thing". It may be an old topic and unoriginal but it is well done and pretty readable. But then comes Yoon Ha Lee with "The Vector Alphabet of Interstellar Travel" which is using the second experimental format after the poetic one used earlier. It is SF... or it is fragments of SF at least but I still don't find it to be a real story (and time does not change that - I read it when it was initially publisher, I read it now again). It just does not seem to be my style - but then I never liked experimental fiction.

For some unfathomable reason, the editors decided to close the volume with "The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman. It is SF. It has great ideas. It is executed marvelously. In short - it is the best story in the anthology. Maybe it is stuck at the end to make sure that the book ends on a high note... And just maybe it felt even better because of the few weak stories before that. On the other hand - maybe not. Because it has everything you might wish for - a world that is different enough to make it interesting, characters that just jump out of the page, space travel, a huge crime and secrets that need to be revealed. And a family.

Overall another strong year as it seems and another good anthology. And even if some of the stories were not as good as the rest, there was no really bad one - even the one which style did not work for me is readable. So off to the next anthology now. ( )
2 vote AnnieMod | Jul 17, 2012 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Hartwell, David G.Editorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cramer, KathrynEditormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Anders, Charlie JaneContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ashby, MadelineContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ballantyne, TonyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, ElizabethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benford, GregoryContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gaiman, NeilContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gilman, Carolyn IvesContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Heuler, KarenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, GwynethContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Kress, NancyContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lee, Yoon HaContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Liu, KenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
MacEwen, PatContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
MacLeod, KenContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Moffett, JudithContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Okorafor, NnediContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Park, PaulContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Reed, RobertContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rivera, MercurioContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Rivera, Mercurio D.Contributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Schroeder, KarlContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Sterling, BruceContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Swanwick, MichaelContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valentine, GenevieveContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Harris, JohnCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062035878, Mass Market Paperback)

Once again, the finest short-form sf offerings of the year have been collected in a single volume. With Year's Best SF 17, acclaimed, award-winning editors and anthologists David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer demonstrate the amazing depth and power of contemporary speculative fiction, showcasing astonishing stories from some of the genre's most respected names as well as exciting new writers to watch. Prepare to travel light years from the ordinary into a tomorrow at once breathtaking, frightening, and possible, with tales of wonder from:

Elizabeth Bear
Gregory Benford
Neil Gaiman
Nancy Kress
Michael Swanwick
and others.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:35 -0400)

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