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There's a certain bittersweet quality to this year's choices in Gardner Dozois' regular The Year's Best Science Fiction collection. Reflecting today's uncertain world, his selection of stories show us a world that is changing faster than we can see yet still provides more and more opportunities for humanity's values to shine through. And like tasting a good wine, we dip into Dozois selection to find that, yes, after all, 2001 was a good year...

New Light On The Drake Equation - Ian R MacLeod
An aging scientist continues his search for extraterrestrial life in a world that doesn't care any more. A story of life, love and the power of vision. MacLeod is able to convey deep emotions in simple words. One of the best stories of 2001.

More Adventures On Other Planets - Michael Cassutt
Romance among teleoperated probes on Europa. A sad, yet hopeful story. Technology may not win the day, and true love's path is seldom smooth, even on an ice moon.

On K2 With Kanakaredes - Dan Simmons
Dan Simmons does Kim Stanley Robinson with a gentle climbing story, that shows how humans and aliens learn to understand each other in desperate conditions on the world's most dangerous mountain. The cold and the danger bring the incomprehensible closer to Earth, and show a way to a new, brighter, tomorrow.

When This World Is All On Fire - William Sanders
Global warming has led to social collapse, and refugees are heading for higher ground. Sanders' story deals with the conflict between Indian reservation police and refugees, in barren land suddenly valuable. Sometimes it's what we can never have that we most desire.

Computer Virus - Nancy Kress
An escaped AI takes a family hostage through their house's systems. The mother needs to save her sick child, but can't leave. She's a genetic engineer, and can use the house lab to design a cure, but it's a race against time, both inside and outside the house. Is the final solution the right one?

Have Not Have - Geoff Ryman
A tale of information poverty, of the third world. Ryman's parable is telling a bittersweet story of loss and gain, of strength in the face of overwhelming change. As Ryman says in a plea for understanding, using the voice of his narrator "How dare they call us have-nots?"

Lobsters - Charles Stross
The first of Charlie's Manfred Macx stories is a info-dense romp around Amsterdam, as a bunch of uploaded lobsters try to escape their virtual prison. It's another step on the Accelerando as we hurtle to the Singularity. Fun, intelligent and full of insight, one of the best SF stories of 2001. And Charlie has good taste in beer and pubs - this is a novella that serves as a decent guide to Amsterdam's best microbrews...

The Dog Said Bow-Wow - Michael Swanwick
A caper story in a post-singularity world, where the rapture of the nerds didn't happen, and the creatures in the net are so unfriendly the world has reverted to a pseudo-victorian steampunk - but with bio enhacements. A con job in Britain goes very wrong, when a modem turns out to still work...

The Chief Designer - Andy Duncan
Not science fiction, but fiction about science, Andy Duncan's novella is a bittersweet look at the life of Sergei Korolev, the father of the Russian space programme. A wonderful story.

Neutrino Drag - Paul Di Filippo
50s drag racers find themselves involved with aliens, and a alien girl who's more - and less - than she seems. A race to the death ends with an explanation for the solar neutrino problem... A fun story, but not Di Filippo at his best.

Glacial - Alastair Reynolds
In the early days of the exploration of the nearby stars, a dead base leaves a mystery to be solved - murder and biological. A relief mission has to solve both mysteries. Not one of Reynolds' best stories, but a reasonable introduction to his work, and another outing for one of his recurring characters, the conjoiner Clavain.

The Days Between - Allen M. Steele
One of his "Coyote" stories about the theft of the first interstellar spacecraft by a group of rebels, this sad little tale is the story of a man totally alone, the only waking body on an interstellar vessel full of frozen sleepers, and how he survives.

One-Horse Town - Howard Waldrop and Leigh Kennedy
History leaks around Troy, home to so many stories, visions and tales. Diggers, defenders and attackers all mix in fire and death. A wonderful tale that is impossible to describe. Just live the prose.

Moby Quilt - Eleanor Arnason
Simple, yet adequate space opera set in a future that's on its way into becoming the Culture. Arnason isn't a great writer, but the story's fun and the biological puzzle intriguing.

Raven Dream - Robert Reed
There are worlds inside ours, worlds wrapped away by perception and learning. It's a strange story, almost poem and ritual. Reed is experimenting with language here, and succeeding admirably. A wonderful writer, at the peak of his skills.

Undone - James Patrick Kelly
A homage to Alfred Bester and Cordwainer Smith in this story of a woman who can never go back. This is a love story, and a tale of the far far future. Stylistically designed in a similar manner to Samuel Delany's Babel 17, this is a powerful tale, one that takes its inspirations and throws them into the 21st century.

The Real Thing - Carolyn Ives Gilman
Time travel is real, and the first volunteer makes it to the future. She's out of her depth at first, until she meets a Bill Gates figure. It's a story of love vs. intellectual property, very much a parable for today's world where rights management is the curse of the digital dark ages.

Interview: On Any Given Day - Maureen F. McHugh
A slice of life from the biotech tomorrow, where rejuvenation treatments and the young don't mix. The generation gap isn't just cultural, now it's viral. McHugh's story is a documentary from tomorrow, and a question for today.

Isabel Of The Fall - Ian MacLeod
A far future tale of forbidden love. MacLeod's poetic style is right for his Middle Eastern tinged world. It's almost impossible to describe this story, you just have to read it.

Into Greenwood - Jim Grimsley
A sad story of rebellion and family loyalties, on a colony world that is torn between two rulers - the alien Hormling and the native intelligent trees - leaving the humans to plot and scheme. A travelogue turns into something deeper, a meditation on the nature of servitude.

Know How, Can Do - Michael Blumlein
An intelligent worm tells its story. It's a strange, poetic story of experiment - almost a love story. Blumein's medical expertise is the key to the story, keeping us on track on to the end and its prospect of change.

Russian Vine - Simon Ings
Earth has been occupied by aliens who have stolen reading. Forced to become an oral culture once more humanity adapts, and learns to live (and even love) with its new masters. This is a powerful and deeply moving story - Ings is one of the best writers of British literate SF currently working.

The Two Dicks - Paul McAuley
Another of the best British writers around today turns his hand to alternate history, in a similar vein to Michael Bishop's Philip K Dick Is Dead, Alas. A successful mainstream novelist, Dick goes to Washington to collect a narcotics agent badge from Nixon. But nothing is quite what it seems - for there is someone or something behind the scenes.

May Be Some Time - Brenda W. Clough
Titus Oates wakes to find himself in the future. Rescued by an experimental time machine, he now has to fit into a very different world. Clough tries hard to ilustrate future shock, but she's too in love with her hero to give him too much of a hard time. Still, it's a fun read.

Marcher - Chris Beckett
A very British story, dealing with issues close to the heart of any island nation - arrival and escape. The protagonist is an immigration officer dealing with a very different type of immigrant. But how does he see himself, and how does his self-image affect his life and relationships. A modern Keith Roberts story.

The Human Front - Ken MacLeod
A long piece to end over 600 large format pages, MacLeod's alternate history was originally published as one of PS Publishing's series of novellas. In a world where wars continue through the second half of the 20th century, and Stalin is killed by US troops, a young man finds his way to becoming a left wing guerilla in a world on the brink of collapse. It's only through the pilots of the strange saucer-shaped bombers that he'll find some measure of peace and happiness. Time travel, alternate worlds and revolution - MacLeod at his best, and possibly at his most political.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 18th, 2002 07:22 am (UTC)
now I disagree with you on quite a lot of those (they'd be the ones in the otehr annual collection that overlaps a lot ;-)
Nancy Kress's viral piece i thought was interesting but unbalanced - too many deii ex machina, too many escapting AI tropes that I've read before and the final actions of the mother not motivated enough by the plot and too much by what the author wanted her to do.
The Dog Said Bow-Wow has such an 80s New Wave feel to me; I'm sure I've read it all in Viriconium or Rats and Gargoyles or Heart of Empire ;-)
I thought Russian Vine was far more about the gulf of understanding than about adaptation; nice idea but I'd like him to have done more with it.
Glacial I really enjoyed - this could tempt me into reading some of his big books. And it's nice to see there's a lot different in the two collections.
Sep. 18th, 2002 08:12 am (UTC)
The trouble with reviewing a book that size, with so many stories, is that it can be very difficult to remember precise details when writing them up!

I guess my dissatisfaction with Computer Virus didn't really come across well, I felt the bio-science was far better than the tech, and the actions of the protagonists were driven by authorial fiat rather than character.

The Dog Said Bow-Wow is Swanwick in romp mode, packing ideas into throwaway back ground, making the story almost as information-dense as one of Charlie's. Yes, there are echoes of classic techno-fantasies, but I do feel that Swanwick was doing something important in depicting the ruins of a failed Singularity. Too often we see post-humans as neo-gods, instead of victims scrabbling to survive in the ruins of those final seconds of the Spike.

I can see what you mean about Russian Vine, I'm sure there's a novel in there trying to get out... I think that where I saw adaptation was in the heroine's attempts to bridge that gulf of understanding between non-literate humans and theirnew alien masters - to the point of rebellion (if she wasn't complicit in the assasination, then I'd be very very surprised...).

Al Reynolds is one of my favourite writers, and I feel he has to work hard to better such excellent earlier stories as Galactic North and Great Wall Of Mars (cronologically the first Clavain story). So while by many standards Glacial is a good story, it's weak compared to other Reynolds' works...
Sep. 18th, 2002 10:55 am (UTC)
When the books are this big, it's easy to end up with more summary than review, for the stories that don't live and sing in your memory

I do feel that Swanwick was doing something important in depicting the ruins of a failed Singularity
it felt, really, like backdrop dressing; it didn't live as a new creation for me, at any rate

and Russian Vine - that's not adaptation - that's collaboration and slow revolt. Of course she was complicit; what's new in a conqueror thinking he's made a real connection with a conquest who's plotting his downfall or at least revenge. I thought of Vichy France, myself. In the end I thought it was a good idea, acted out by some rather cardboard cutouts...
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )