This collection is the second installment in the popular and long-running "The Year's Best Science Fiction" series:
Fantastic Science Fiction!
The Year's Best -- And Biggest Collection
Here's the cream of the crop: short stories, novelettes, novellas by science fiction writers already famous and awarded for their high-quality work in science fiction. Writers like:
Octavia E. Butler
About the Author
Gardner Dozois (1947-2018), 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 was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2011 and has received the Skylark Award for Lifetime Achievement. He lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Read an Excerpt
The Year's Best Science Fiction, Second Annual Collection
By Gardner Dozois
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1985 Gardner Dozois
All rights reserved.
I had heard of Lucius Shepard before 1984 — he had previously published two stories in 1983, one in Universe and one in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction — but as 1984 progressed, it became difficult to avoid hearing about him. Suddenly, Shepard was appearing all over the genre magazine and anthology market, bringing out one memorable story after another, in one of those sudden explosive outbursts of talent so characteristic of SF. Partway through the year, his powerful first novel Green Eyes (a very strange mixture of SF, voodoo/zombie horror fantasy, and Southern Gothic) appeared, to good critical response, throwing more fuel on the fire. By the end of 1984, Shepard had become one of the three or four most talked-about young writers of the year, and had received Nebula nominations for nine different works of fiction (five of them in the same award category!). Not bad for one year's work ...
Shepard was born in Lynchburg, Virginia, "raised hell in high school and hallucinated for a year and a half at the University of North Carolina," then dropped out to travel widely in the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, living for some time abroad. He "beat his brains out" for a long time as a rock musician for several rock'n'roll bands that "nearly made it," but has given that up, claiming that "the resultant brain damage has left me handicapped to the extent that I am only fit now for writing science fiction." He has become a frequent contributor to Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and has also sold to Omni, Universe, and The Clarion Awards. His story "Solitario's Eyes" was a finalist for last year's World Fantasy Award. Upcoming are two new novels: The Weeping Woman, from Berkley, and Foreign Devils, from Tor Books. He is currently working on a new novel, tentatively entitled Psiderweb. He lives — for the moment, at least — in Nantucket, Massachusetts.
In the harrowing story that follows, he shows us that we do learn even from the experience of war — the only question is, learn what?
Three weeks before they wasted Tecolutla, Dantzler had his baptism of fire. The platoon was crossing a meadow at the foot of an emerald-green volcano, and being a dreamy sort, he was idling along, swatting tall grasses with his rifle barrel and thinking how it might have been a first-grader with crayons who had devised this elementary landscape of a perfect cone rising into a cloudless sky, when cap-pistol noises sounded on the slope. Someone screamed for the medic, and Dantzler dove into the grass, fumbling for his ampules. He slipped one from the dispenser and popped it under his nose, inhaling frantically; then, to be on the safe side, he popped another — "A double helpin' of martial arts," as DT would say — and lay with his head down until the drugs had worked their magic. There was dirt in his mouth, and he was very afraid.
Gradually his arms and legs lost their heaviness, and his heart rate slowed. His vision sharpened to the point that he could see not only the pinpricks of fire blooming on the slope, but also the figures behind them, half-obscured by brush. A bubble of grim anger welled up in his brain, hardened to a fierce resolve, and he started moving toward the volcano. By the time he reached the base of the cone, he was all rage and reflexes. He spent the next forty minutes spinning acrobatically through the thickets, spraying shadows with bursts of his M-18; yet part of his mind remained distant from the action, marveling at his efficiency, at the comic-strip enthusiasm he felt for the task of killing. He shouted at the men he shot, and he shot them many more times than was necessary, like a child playing soldier.
"Playin' my ass!" DT would say. "You just actin' natural."
DT was a firm believer in the ampules; though the official line was that they contained tailored RNA compounds and pseudoendorphins modified to an inhalant form, he held the opinion that they opened a man up to his inner nature. He was big, black, with heavily muscled arms and crudely stamped features, and he had come to the Special Forces direct from prison, where he had done a stretch for attempted murder; the palms of his hands were covered by jail tattoos — a pentagram and a horned monster. The words DIE HIGH were painted on his helmet. This was his second tour in Salvador, and Moody — who was Dantzler's buddy — said the drugs had addled DT's brains, that he was crazy and gone to hell.
"He collects trophies," Moody had said. "And not just ears like they done in 'Nam."
When Dantzler had finally gotten a glimpse of the trophies, he had been appalled. They were kept in a tin box in DT's pack and were nearly unrecognizable; they looked like withered brown orchids. But despite his revulsion, despite the fact that he was afraid of DT, he admired the man's capacity for survival and had taken to heart his advice to rely on the drugs.
On the way back down the slope, they discovered a live casualty, an Indian kid about Dantzler's age, nineteen or twenty. Black hair, adobe skin, and heavy-lidded brown eyes. Dantzler, whose father was an anthropologist and had done field work in Salvador, figured him for a Santa Ana tribesman; before leaving the States, Dantzler had pored over his father's notes, hoping this would give him an edge, and had learned to identify the various regional types. The kid had a minor leg wound and was wearing fatigue pants and a faded COKE ADDS LIFE T-shirt. This T-shirt irritated DT no end.
"What the hell you know 'bout Coke?" he asked the kid as they headed for the chopper that was to carry them deeper into Morazan Province. "You think it's funny or somethin'?" He whacked the kid in the back with his rifle butt, and when they reached the chopper, he slung him inside and had him sit by the door. He sat beside him, tapped out a joint from a pack of Kools, and asked, "Where's Infante?"
"Dead," said the medic.
"Shit!" DT licked the joint so it would burn evenly. "Goddamn beaner ain't no use 'cept somebody else know Spanish."
"I know a little," Dantzler volunteered.
Staring at Dantzler, DT's eyes went empty and unfocused. "Naw," he said. "You don't know no Spanish."
Dantzler ducked his head to avoid DT's stare and said nothing; he thought he understood what DT meant, but he ducked away from the understanding as well. The chopper bore them aloft, and DT lit the joint. He let the smoke out his nostrils and passed the joint to the kid, who accepted gratefully.
"Que sabor!" he said, exhaling a billow; he smiled and nodded, wanting to be friends.
Dantzler turned his gaze to the open door. They were flying low between the hills, and looking at the deep bays of shadow in their folds acted to drain away the residue of the drugs, leaving him weary and frazzled. Sunlight poured in, dazzling the oil-smeared floor.
"Hey, Dantzler!" DT had to shout over the noise of the rotors. "Ask him whass his name!"
The kid's eyelids were drooping from the joint, but on hearing Spanish he perked up; he shook his head, though, refusing to answer. Dantzler smiled and told him not to be afraid.
"Ricardo Quu," said the kid.
"Kool!" said DT with false heartiness. "Thass my brand!" He offered his pack to the kid.
"Gracias, no." The kid waved the joint and grinned.
"Dude's named for a godamn cigarette," said Dt disparagingly, as if this were the height of insanity.
Dantzler asked the kid if there were more soldiers nearby, and once again received no reply; but, apparently sensing in Dantzler a kindred soul, the kid leaned forward and spoke rapidly, saying that his village was Santander Jimenez, that his father was — he hesitated — a man of power. He asked where they were taking him. Dantzler returned a stony glare. He found it easy to reject the kid, and he realized later this was because he had already given up on him.
Latching his hands behind his head, DT began to sing — a wordless melody. His voice was discordant, barely audible above the rotors; but the tune had a familiar ring, and Dantzler soon placed it. The theme from "Star Trek." It brought back memories of watching TV with his sister, laughing at the low-budget aliens and Scotty's Actors' Equity accent. He gazed out the door again. The sun was behind the hills, and the hillsides were unfeatured blurs of dark green smoke. Oh, God, he wanted to be home, to be anywhere but Salvador! A couple of the guys joined in the singing at DT's urging, and as the volume swelled, Dantzler's emotion peaked. He was on the verge of tears, remembering tastes and sights, the way his girl Jeanine had smelled, so clean and fresh, not reeking of sweat and perfume like the whores around Ilopango — finding all this substance in the banal touchstone of his culture and the illusions of the hillsides rushing past. Then Moody tensed beside him, and he glanced up to learn the reason why.
In the gloom of the chopper's belly, DT was as unfeatured as the hills — a black presence ruling them, more the leader of a coven than a platoon. The other two guys were singing their lungs out, and even the kid was getting into the spirit of things. "Musica!" he said at one point, smiling at everybody, trying to fan the flame of good feeling. He swayed to the rhythm and essayed a "la-la" now and again. But no one else was responding.
The singing stopped, and Dantzler saw that the whole platoon was staring at the kid, their expressions slack and dispirited.
"Space!" shouted DT, giving the kid a little shove. "The final frontier!"
The smile had not yet left the kid's face when he toppled out the door. DT peered after him; a few seconds later, he smacked his hand against the floor and sat back, grinning. Dantzler felt like screaming, the stupid horror of the joke was so at odds with the languor of his homesickness. He looked to the others for reaction. They were sitting with their heads down, fiddling with trigger guards and pack straps, studying their bootlaces, and seeing this, he quickly imitated them.
Morazan Province was spook country. Santa Ana spooks. Flights of birds had been reported to attack patrols; animals appeared at the perimeters of campsites and vanished when you shot at them; dreams afflicted everyone who ventured there. Dantzler could not testify to the birds and animals, but he did have a recurring dream. In it the kid DT had killed was pinwheeling down through a golden fog, his T-shirt visible against the roiling backdrop, and sometimes a voice would boom out of the fog, saying, "You are killing my son." No, no, Dantzler would reply; it wasn't me, and besides, he's already dead. Then he would wake covered with sweat, groping for his rifle, his heart racing.
But the dream was not an important terror, and he assigned it no significance. The land was far more terrifying. Pine-forested ridges that stood out against the sky like fringes of electrified hair; little trails winding off into thickets and petering out, as if what they led to had been magicked away; gray rock faces along which they were forced to walk, hopelessly exposed to ambush. There were innumerable booby traps set by the guerrillas, and they lost several men to rockfalls. It was the emptiest place of Dantzler's experience. No people, no animals, just a few hawks circling the solitudes between the ridges. Once in a while they found tunnels, and these they blew with the new gas grenades; the gas ignited the rich concentrations of hydrocarbons and sent flame sweeping through the entire system. DT would praise whoever had discovered the tunnel and would estimate in a loud voice how many beaners they had "refried." But Dantzler knew they were traversing pure emptiness and burning empty holes. Days, under debilitating heat, they humped the mountains, traveling seven, eight, even ten klicks up trails so steep that frequently the feet of the guy ahead of you would be on a level with your face; nights, it was cold, the darkness absolute, the silence so profound that Dantzler imagined he could hear the great humming vibration of the earth. They might have been anywhere or nowhere. Their fear was nourished by the isolation, and the only remedy was "martial arts."
Dantzler took to popping the pills without the excuse of combat. Moody cautioned him against abusing the drugs, citing rumors of bad side effects and DT's madness; but even he was using them more and more often. During basic training, Dantzler's D.I. had told the boots that the drugs were available only to the Special Forces, that their use was optional; but there had been too many instances of lackluster battlefield performance in the last war, and this was to prevent a reoccurrence.
"The chickenshit infantry should take 'em," the D.I. had said. "You bastards are brave already. You're born killers, right?"
"Right, sir!" they had shouted.
"What are you?"
"Born killers, sir!"
But Dantzler was not a born killer; he was not even clear as to how he had been drafted, less clear as to how he had been manipulated into the Special Forces, and he had learned that nothing was optional in Salvador, with the possible exception of life itself.
The platoon's mission was reconnaissance and mop-up. Along with other Special Forces platoons, they were to secure Morazan prior to the invasion of Nicaragua; specifically, they were to proceed to the village of Tecolutla, where a Sandinista patrol had recently been spotted, and following that, they were to join up with the First Infantry and take part in the offensive against León, a provincial capital just across the Nicaraguan border. As Dantzler and Moody walked together, they frequently talked about the offensive, how it would be good to get down into flat country; occasionally they talked about the possibility of reporting DT, and once, after he had led them on a forced night march, they toyed with the idea of killing him. But most often they discussed the ways of the Indians and the land, since this was what had caused them to become buddies.
Moody was slightly built, freckled, and red-haired; his eyes had the "thousand-yard stare" that came from too much war. Dantzler had seen winos with such vacant, lusterless stares. Moody's father had been in 'Nam, and Moody said it had been worse than Salvador because there had been no real commitment to win; but he thought Nicaragua and Guatemala might be the worst of all, especially if the Cubans sent in troops as they had threatened. He was adept at locating tunnels and detecting booby traps, and it was for this reason Dantzler had cultivated his friendship. Essentially a loner, Moody had resisted all advances until learning of Dantzler's father; thereafter he had buddied up, eager to hear about the field notes, believing they might give him an edge.
"They think the land has animal traits," said Dantzler one day as they climbed along a ridgetop. "Just like some kinds of fish look like plants or sea bottom, parts of the land look like plain ground, jungle ... whatever. But when you enter them, you find you've entered the spirit world, the world of the Sukias."
"What's Sukias?" asked Moody.
"Magicians." A twig snapped behind Dantzler, and he spun around, twitching off the safety of his rifle. It was only Hodge — a lanky kid with the beginnings of a beer gut. He stared hollow-eyed at Dantzler and popped an ampule.
Moody made a noise of disbelief. "If they got magicians, why ain't they winnin'? Why ain't they zappin' us off the cliffs?"
"It's not their business," said Dantzler. "They don't believe in messing with worldly affairs unless it concerns them directly. Anyway, these places — the ones that look like normal land but aren't — they're called...." He drew a blank on the name. "Aya-something. I can't remember. But they have different laws. They're where your spirit goes to die after your body dies."
"Don't they got no Heaven?"
"Nope. It just takes longer for your spirit to die, and so it goes to one of these places that's between everything and nothing."
"Nothin'," said Moody disconsolately, as if all his hopes for an afterlife had been dashed. "Don't make no sense to have spirits and not have no Heaven."
"Hey," said Dantzler, tensing as wind rustled the pine boughs. "They're just a bunch of damn primitives. You know what their sacred drink is? Hot chocolate! My old man was a guest at one of their funerals, and he said they carried cups of hot chocolate balanced on these little red towers and acted like drinking it was going to wake them to the secrets of the universe." He laughed, and the laughter sounded tinny and psychotic to his own ears. "So you're going to worry about fools who think hot chocolate's holy water?"
"Maybe they just like it," said Moody. "Maybe somebody dyin' just give 'em an excuse to drink it."
Excerpted from The Year's Best Science Fiction, Second Annual Collection by Gardner Dozois. Copyright © 1985 Gardner Dozois. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
INTRODUCTION - Summation: 1984,
Salvador – Lucius Shepard,
Promises To Keep – Jack McDevitt,
Bloodchild – Octavia E. Butler,
Blued Moon – Connie Willis,
A Message to the King of Brobdingnag – Richard Cowper,
The Affair – Robert Silverberg,
Press Enter – John Varley,
New Rose Hotel – William Gibson,
The Map – Gene Wolfe,
Interlocking Pieces – Molly Gloss,
Trojan Horse – Michael Swanwick,
Bad Medicine – Jack Dann,
At the Embassy Club – Elizabeth A. Lynn,
Pursuit of Excellence – Rena Yount,
The Kindly Isle – Frederik Pohl,
Rock On – Pat Cadigan,
Sunken Gardens – Bruce Sterling,
Trinity – Nancy Kress,
The Trouble with the Cotton People – Ursula K. Le Guin,
Twilight Time – Lewis Shiner,
Black Coral – Lucius Shepard,
Friend – James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel,
Foreign Skins – Tanith Lee,
Company in the Wings – R. A. Lafferty,
A Cabin on the Coast – Gene Wolfe,
The Lucky Strike – Kim Stanley Robinson,
BOOKS BY GARDNER DOZOIS,
ABOUT THE EDITOR,