The Year's Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Sixteenth Annual Collection

by Gardner Dozois
     
 

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The past through tomorrow are boldly imagined and reinvented in the twenty-five stories collected in this showcase anthology. Many of the field's finest practitioners are represented here, along with stories from promising newcomers, including:
William Barton * Rob Chilson * Tony Daniel * Cory Doctorow * Jim Grimsley * Gwyneth Jones * Chris Lawson * Ian

Overview

The past through tomorrow are boldly imagined and reinvented in the twenty-five stories collected in this showcase anthology. Many of the field's finest practitioners are represented here, along with stories from promising newcomers, including:
William Barton * Rob Chilson * Tony Daniel * Cory Doctorow * Jim Grimsley * Gwyneth Jones * Chris Lawson * Ian McDonald * Robert Reed * William Browning Spencer * Allen Steele * Michael Swanwick * Howard Waldrop * Cherry Wilder * Liz Williams

A useful list of honorable mentions and Dozois's insightful summation of the year in sf round out this anthology, making it indispensable for anyone interested in SF today.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
Each year, Gardner Dozois' Year's Best Science Fiction anthology wins plaudits for the quality and scope of its selections, not to mention its artful blend of new faces and crowd-pleasing veterans. (The summation of the year and recommended reading list have also become must-read items for devotees of the genre.) This 19th installment includes works by Nancy Kress, Robert Reed, Geoff Ryman, Allen Steele, Michael Cassott, and many others.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dozois's Year's Best, like any successful representative of a large constituency, sometimes suffers from blandness and inconsistency. As usual, it's oversized23 stories, nearly 600 pagesand includes a variety of types of SF as well as near-horror, fantasy and humor. Five of the stories are final nominees for Nebulas, and two new ``Hainish'' stories by Ursula LeGuin were nominated for Tiptree Awards; ``The Matter of Segrri'' won. No story here is less than competent and professional; but, with a few exceptions, there is a voiceless sameness in the writing, practically a house style, that over so many pages grows tedious. (Nearly half the stories, by page count, come from the Dozois-edited Asimov's Science Fiction.) A number are flawed (``hard'' SF stories about ``aliens'' that think just like humans) or unremarkable, but these are outweighed by many fine pieces and by standouts such as LeGuin's ``Forgiveness Day,'' perhaps the best story in the book; Eliot Fintushel's ``New Wave''-like ``Ylem''; William Sanders's ``Going After Old Man Alabama'' and Terry Bisson's ``The Hole in the Hole,'' both of which are winning and funny; Katherine Kerr's chilling ``Asylum''; and Michael Bishop's grand and humane ``Cri de Coeur.'' Dozois's intelligently and ably put-together anthology does its stated job as well as any one book or editor could. Even with competition, it would still be the best of the Best. (July)
Publishers Weekly
This annual anthology remains the best one-stop shop for short fiction, and it's a must for fans of literary SF. The notion of intelligence links several stories. Nancy Kress, in "Computer Virus," posits an intelligent computer program trying to save its life, but it does so by risking that of a child. The dense and busy "Lobsters" by Charles Stross considers the implications of denying intelligent uploaded constructs here, of lobsters human rights or autonomy. Michael Blumlein's zany "Know How, Can Do," easily the best story, posits a self-aware worm linked to a human brain, told from the point of view of the worm, "Flowers for Algernon"-style, as it acquires human intelligence, language and emotions. Alternative realities remain a productive theme. In "The Two Dicks," Paul McAuley posits an alternative reality where Philip K. Dick, who in this world wrote mainstream fiction instead of SF, meets Nixon. Ken MacLeod's ambitious, character-driven "The Human Front," set in an alternative reality just a little different from ours, describes a man's growth toward adulthood in a war-torn Britain. Dan Simmons, Alastair Reynolds, Maureen F. McHugh and Paul Di Filippo also contribute especially memorable tales. Although one could quibble with Dozois's choices and there are one or two clunkers in here this anthology is an enjoyable read that overall maintains high standards of quality and variety. It's essential for SF fans who simply don't have time to separate the wheat from the chaff on their own. (July 23) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
From David Marusek's tale of a future where reality's borders collide with the unreal ("The Wedding Album") to Kage Baker's latest novella featuring the time-traveling "Company" ("Son Observe the Time"), the 27 stories in this annual collection bear witness to the vitality of the sf short story. Including tales by Tanith Lee, Frederick Pohl, Hal Clement, Michael Swanwick, and others, this volume displays the best and brightest of the genre to good advantage. Suitable for most sf or short story collections. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Kirkus Reviews
As ever, Dozois leads his anthology with a homerun by Ian R. MacLeod and follows it with a second MacLeod, "Isabel of the Fall." Two dozen tales give ballast to this voyage into SF and fantastic realism, including MacLeod's "New Light on the Drake Equation," which takes place perhaps a century from now. The story turns on Tom Kelly, a fading SETI scientist who's on a French hilltop radio-scanning the heavens for First Contact and using as his guide the Drake Equation, which helps map the likely areas an alien culture might try to contact us from. The fallible equation is less certain than he is, but Tom has great assurance about contact-for a number of decades. During them, he's visited by his ex-lover, the star-crossed Terr, a hyperenthusiast who exhausts subjects that interest her and who left Tom to take up flying with wings attached to a newly improved back musculature (Tom took up drinking to pass the time). Aside from descriptions of marvelous scientific advances in personal grooming, little confronts the reader except many pages of fine writing about waiting, waiting, waiting. "Isabel of the Fall" is a future children's story looking back at the urchin Isabel, who was taken into the Dawn Church, became a Dawn singer, and had to climb the minaret daily to clean the great mirrors that collect light from heaven-until she had a great fall . . . Also outstanding: Dan Simmons's "On K2 with Kanakaredes," about a trio of climbers forced to accept the company of a bug-shaped, six-legged alien, Kanakaredes from Aldebaran, when they climb Everest. And not to be missed: Nancy Kress's "Computer Virus"-about a mother whose home is invaded by-well, check the title. True fiction. The pure stuff.
From the Publisher

“Anyone interested in contemporary short sf should own this volume” —Washington Post Book World

“All of the stories in the collection are thought-provoking and well-written, succeeding on their own as stories quite apart from the genre label.” —Arizona Daily Star

“This anthology represents contemporary SF at its very best. . . . There's little doubt that Dozois is to the 1980s and 1990s what John W. Campbell Jr., was to the 1940s and 1950s---the finest editor in the world of short SF.” —Publishers Weekly

“For anyone interested in sf short stories, this is the best---indeed, the only---place to start.” —Kirkus Reviews

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312264741
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/30/1999
Series:
Year's Best Science Fiction Series , #16
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
624
Sales rank:
266,426
File size:
1 MB

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Read an Excerpt

The Year's Best Science Fiction

Sixteenth Annual Collection


By Gardner Dozois

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1999 Gardner Dozois
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-312-26474-1



CHAPTER 1

Oceanic

GREG EGAN


As the new century approaches, it's become obvious that Australian writer Greg Egan is one of the Big Names to emerge in SF in the nineties, probably the best new "hard-science" writer to enter the field since Greg Bear, and already one of the most widely known of all Australian genre writers. In the last few years, he has become a frequent contributor to Interzone and Asimov's Science Fiction, and has made sales as well to Pulphouse, Analog, Aurealis, Eidolon, and elsewhere; many of his stories have also appeared in various Best of the Year series, and he was on the Hugo final ballot in 1995 for his story "Cocoon," which won the Ditmar Award and the Asimov's Readers Award. His first novel, Quarantine, appeared in 1992 to wide critical acclaim, and was followed by a second novel in 1994, Permutation City, which won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His most recent books are two new novels, Distress and Diaspora, and three collections of his short fiction, Axiomatic, Luminous, and Our Lady of Chernobyl. Upcoming is a new novel, Teranesia. He has had stories in our Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Fifteenth Annual Collections. He has a Web site at http://www.netspace.net.au/~gregegan/.

Here he takes us into the far future and across the galaxy for a powerful, evocative, and compelling study of a young boy's coming-of-age, as that boy struggles to understand the world and his place in it and grapples with controversial and perhaps potentially deadly issues of faith and acceptance and God's Plan For The World, as well as diving deep into a literal ocean of mystery in search of answers to the kinds of questions it has always been dangerous to ask, in any age and on any world....


ONE

The swell was gently lifting and lowering the boat. My breathing grew slower, falling into step with the creaking of the hull, until I could no longer tell the difference between the faint rhythmic motion of the cabin and the sensation of filling and emptying my lungs. It was like floating in darkness: every inhalation buoyed me up, slightly; every exhalation made me sink back down again.

In the bunk above me, my brother Daniel said distinctly, "Do you believe in God?"

My head was cleared of sleep in an instant, but I didn't reply straight away. I'd never closed my eyes, but the darkness of the unlit cabin seemed to shift in front of me, grains of phantom light moving like a cloud of disturbed insects.

"Martin?"

"I'm awake."

"Do you believe in God?"

"Of course." Everyone I knew believed in God. Everyone talked about Her, everyone prayed to Her. Daniel most of all. Since he'd joined the Deep Church the previous summer, he prayed every morning for a kilotau before dawn. I'd often wake to find myself aware of him kneeling by the far wall of the cabin, muttering and pounding his chest, before I drifted gratefully back to sleep.

Our family had always been Transitional, but Daniel was fifteen, old enough to choose for himself. My mother accepted this with diplomatic silence, but my father seemed positively proud of Daniel's independence and strength of conviction. My own feelings were mixed. I'd grown used to swimming in my older brother's wake, but I'd never resented it, because he'd always let me in on the view ahead: reading me passages from the books he read himself, teaching me words and phrases from the languages he studied, sketching some of the mathematics I was yet to encounter first-hand. We used to lie awake half the night, talking about the cores of stars or the hierarchy of transfinite numbers. But Daniel had told me nothing about the reasons for his conversion, and his ever-increasing piety. I didn't know whether to feel hurt by this exclusion, or simply grateful; I could see that being Transitional was like a pale imitation of being Deep Church, but I wasn't sure that this was such a bad thing if the wages of mediocrity included sleeping until sunrise.

Daniel said, "Why?"

I stared up at the underside of his bunk, unsure whether I was really seeing it or just imagining its solidity against the cabin's ordinary darkness. "Someone must have guided the Angels here from Earth. If Earth's too far away to see from Covenant ... how could anyone find Covenant from Earth, without God's help?"

I heard Daniel shift slightly. "Maybe the Angels had better telescopes than us. Or maybe they spread out from Earth in all directions, launching thousands of expeditions without even knowing what they'd find."

I laughed. "But they had to come here, to be made flesh again!" Even a less-than-devout ten-year-old knew that much. God prepared Covenant as the place for the Angels to repent their theft of immortality. The Transitionals believed that in a million years we could earn the right to be Angels again; the Deep Church believed that we'd remain flesh until the stars fell from the sky.

Daniel said, "What makes you so sure that there were ever really Angels? Or that God really sent them Her daughter, Beatrice, to lead them back into the flesh?"

I pondered this for a while. The only answers I could think of came straight out of the Scriptures, and Daniel had taught me years ago that appeals to authority counted for nothing. Finally, I had to confess: "I don't know." I felt foolish, but I was grateful that he was willing to discuss these difficult questions with me. I wanted to believe in God for the right reasons, not just because everyone around me did.

He said, "Archaeologists have shown that we must have arrived about twenty thousand years ago. Before that, there's no evidence of humans, or any co-ecological plants and animals. That makes the Crossing older than the Scriptures say, but there are some dates that are open to interpretation, and with a bit of poetic license everything can be made to add up. And most biologists think the native microfauna could have formed by itself over millions of years, starting from simple chemicals, but that doesn't mean God didn't guide the whole process. Everything's compatible, really. Science and the Scriptures can both be true."

I thought I knew where he was headed, now. "So you've worked out a way to use science to prove that God exists?" I felt a surge of pride; my brother was a genius!

"No." Daniel was silent for a moment. "The thing is, it works both ways. Whatever's written in the Scriptures, people can always come up with different explanations for the facts. The ships might have left Earth for some other reason. The Angels might have made bodies for themselves for some other reason. There's no way to convince a non-believer that the Scriptures are the word of God. It's all a matter of faith."

"Oh."

"Faith's the most important thing," Daniel insisted. "If you don't have faith, you can be tempted into believing anything at all."

I made a noise of assent, trying not to sound too disappointed. I'd expected more from Daniel than the kind of bland assertions that sent me dozing off during sermons at the Transitional church.

"Do you know what you have to do to get faith?"

"No."

"Ask for it. That's all. Ask Beatrice to come into your heart and grant you the gift of faith."

I protested, "We do that every time we go to church!" I couldn't believe he'd forgotten the Transitional service already. After the priest placed a drop of seawater on our tongues, to symbolize the blood of Beatrice, we asked for the gifts of faith, hope, and love.

"But have you received it?"

I'd never thought about that. "I'm not sure." I believed in God, didn't I? "I might have."

Daniel was amused. "If you had the gift of faith, you'd know."

I gazed up into the darkness, troubled. "Do you have to go to the Deep Church, to ask for it properly?"

"No. Even in the Deep Church, not everyone has invited Beatrice into their hearts. You have to do it the way it says in the Scriptures: 'like an unborn child again, naked and helpless.'"

"I was Immersed, wasn't I?"

"In a metal bowl, when you were thirty days old. Infant Immersion is a gesture by the parents, an affirmation of their own good intentions. But it's not enough to save the child."

I was feeling very disoriented now. My father, at least, approved of Daniel's conversion ... but now Daniel was trying to tell me that our family's transactions with God had all been grossly deficient, if not actually counterfeit.

Daniel said, "Remember what Beatrice told Her followers, the last time She appeared? 'Unless you are willing to drown in My blood, you will never look upon the face of My Mother.' So they bound each other hand and foot, and weighted themselves down with rocks."

My chest tightened. "And you've done that?"

"Yes."

"When?"

"Almost a year ago."

I was more confused than ever. "Did Ma and Fa go?"

Daniel laughed. "No! It's not a public ceremony. Some friends of mine from the Prayer Group helped; someone has to be on deck to haul you up, because it would be arrogant to expect Beatrice to break your bonds and raise you to the surface, like She did with Her followers. But in the water, you're alone with God."

He climbed down from his bunk and crouched by the side of my bed. "Are you ready to give your life to Beatrice, Martin?" His voice sent gray sparks flowing through the darkness.

I hesitated. "What if I just dive in? And stay under for a while?" I'd been swimming off the boat at night plenty of times, there was nothing to fear from that.

"No. You have to be weighted down." His tone made it clear that there could be no compromise on this. "How long can you hold your breath?"

"Two hundred tau." That was an exaggeration; two hundred was what I was aiming for.

"That's long enough."

I didn't reply. Daniel said, "I'll pray with you."

I climbed out of bed, and we knelt together. Daniel murmured, "Please, Holy Beatrice, grant my brother Martin the courage to accept the precious gift of Your blood." Then he started praying in what I took to be a foreign language, uttering a rapid stream of harsh syllables unlike anything I'd heard before. I listened apprehensively; I wasn't sure that I wanted Beatrice to change my mind, and I was afraid that this display of fervor might actually persuade Her.

I said, "What if I don't do it?"

"Then you'll never see the face of God."

I knew what that meant: I'd wander alone in the belly of Death, in darkness, for eternity. And even if the Scriptures weren't meant to be taken literally on this, the reality behind the metaphor could only be worse. Indescribably worse.

"But ... what about Ma and Fa?" I was more worried about them, because I knew they'd never climb weighted off the side of the boat at Daniel's behest.

"That will take time," he said softly.

My mind reeled. He was absolutely serious.

I heard him stand and walk over to the ladder. He climbed a few rungs and opened the hatch. Enough starlight came in to give shape to his arms and shoulders, but as he turned to me I still couldn't make out his face. "Come on, Martin!" he whispered. "The longer you put it off, the harder it gets." The hushed urgency of his voice was familiar: generous and conspiratorial, nothing like an adult's impatience. He might almost have been daring me to join him in a midnight raid on the pantry — not because he really needed a collaborator, but because he honestly didn't want me to miss out on the excitement, or the spoils.

I suppose I was more afraid of damnation than drowning, and I'd always trusted Daniel to warn me of the dangers ahead. But this time I wasn't entirely convinced that he was right, so I must have been driven by something more than fear, and blind trust.

Maybe it came down to the fact that he was offering to make me his equal in this. I was ten years old, and I ached to become something more than I was; to reach, not my parents' burdensome adulthood, but the halfway point, full of freedom and secrets, that Daniel had reached. I wanted to be as strong, as fast, as quick-witted and widely read as he was. Becoming as certain of God would not have been my first choice, but there wasn't much point hoping for divine intervention to grant me anything else.

I followed him up onto the deck.

He took cord, and a knife, and four spare weights of the kind we used on our nets from the toolbox. He threaded the weights onto the cord, then I took off my shorts and sat naked on the deck while he knotted a figure-eight around my ankles. I raised my feet experimentally; the weights didn't seem all that heavy. But in the water, I knew, they'd be more than enough to counteract my body's slight buoyancy.

"Martin? Hold out your hands."

Suddenly I was crying. With my arms free, at least I could swim against the tug of the weights. But if my hands were tied, I'd be helpless.

Daniel crouched down and met my eyes. "Ssh. It's all right."

I hated myself. I could feel my face contorted into the mask of a blubbering infant.

"Are you afraid?"

I nodded.

Daniel smiled reassuringly. "You know why? You know who's doing that? Death doesn't want Beatrice to have you. He wants you for himself. So he's here on this boat, putting fear into your heart, because he knows he's almost lost you."

I saw something move in the shadows behind the toolbox, something slithering into the darkness. If we went back down to the cabin now, would Death follow us? To wait for Daniel to fall asleep? If I'd turned my back on Beatrice, who could I ask to send Death away?

I stared at the deck, tears of shame dripping from my cheeks. I held out my arms, wrists together.

When my hands were tied — not palm-to-palm as I'd expected, but in separate loops joined by a short bridge — Daniel unwound a long stretch of rope from the winch at the rear of the boat, and coiled it on the deck. I didn't want to think about how long it was, but I knew I'd never dived to that depth. He took the blunt hook at the end of the rope, slipped it over my arms, then screwed it closed to form an unbroken ring. Then he checked again that the cord around my wrists was neither so tight as to burn me, nor so loose as to let me slip. As he did this, I saw something creep over his face: some kind of doubt or fear of his own. He said, "Hang on to the hook. Just in case. Don't let go, no matter what. Okay?" He whispered something to Beatrice, then looked up at me, confident again.

He helped me to stand and shuffle over to the guard rail, just to one side of the winch. Then he picked me up under the arms and lifted me over, resting my feet on the outer hull. The deck was inert, a mineralized endoshell, but behind the guard rails the hull was palpably alive: slick with protective secretions, glowing softly. My toes curled uselessly against the lubricated skin; I had no purchase at all. The hull was supporting some of my weight, but Daniel's arms would tire eventually. If I wanted to back out, I'd have to do it quickly.

A warm breeze was blowing. I looked around, at the flat horizon, at the blaze of stars, at the faint silver light off the water. Daniel recited: "Holy Beatrice, I am ready to die to this world. Let me drown in Your blood, that I might be redeemed, and look upon the face of Your Mother."

I repeated the words, trying hard to mean them.

"Holy Beatrice, I offer You my life. All I do now, I do for You. Come into my heart, and grant me the gift of faith. Come into my heart, and grant me the gift of hope. Come into my heart, and grant me the gift of love."

"And grant me the gift of love."

Daniel released me. At first, my feet seemed to adhere magically to the hull, and I pivoted backward without actually falling. I clung tightly to the hook, pressing the cold metal against my belly, and willed the rope of the winch to snap taut, leaving me dangling in midair. I even braced myself for the shock. Some part of me really did believe that I could change my mind, even now.

Then my feet slipped and I plunged into the ocean and sank straight down.

It was not like a dive — not even a dive from an untried height, when it took so long for the water to bring you to a halt that it began to grow frightening. I was falling through the water ever faster, as if it was air. The vision I'd had of the rope keeping me above the water now swung to the opposite extreme: my acceleration seemed to prove that the coil on the deck was attached to nothing, that its frayed end was already beneath the surface. That's what the followers had done, wasn't it? They'd let themselves be thrown in without a lifeline. So Daniel had cut the rope, and I was on my way to the bottom of the ocean.

Then the hook jerked my hands up over my head, jarring my wrists and shoulders, and I was motionless.

I turned my face toward the surface, but neither starlight nor the hull's faint phosphorescence reached this deep. I let a stream of bubbles escape from my mouth; I felt them slide over my upper lip, but no trace of them registered in the darkness.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Year's Best Science Fiction by Gardner Dozois. Copyright © 1999 Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

Gardner Dozois is the editor of Asimov's Science Fiction magazine and of many anthologies. Winner of the Hugo Award for Best Editor ten times, he lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Gardner Dozois, one of the most acclaimed editors in science-fiction, has won the Hugo Award for Best Editor 15 times. He was the editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine for 20 years. He is the editor of the Year’s Best Science Fiction anthologies and co-editor of the Warrior anthologies, Songs of the Dying Earth, and many others. As a writer, Dozois twice won the Nebula Award for best short story. He lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

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