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In the new millennium, what secrets lay beyond the far reaches of the universe? What mysteries belie the truths we once held to be self evident? The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, in The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection, the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world. This venerable collection brings together award-winning authors and masters of the field. With an extensive recommended reading guide and a summation of the year in science fiction, this annual compilation has become the definitive must-read anthology for all science fiction fans and readers interested in breaking into the genre.
About the Author
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Terminal LAVIE TIDHAR
Here's a beautifully written and ultimately quite moving portrait of the ordinary people who make up an unlikely crop of astronauts in the future — those who have accepted the government's offer of a one-way trip to Mars.
Lavie Tidhar grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, has traveled widely in Africa and Asia, and has lived in London, the South Pacific island of Vanuatu, and Laos; after a spell in Tel Aviv, he's currently living back in England again. He is the winner of the 2003 Clarke-Bradbury Prize (awarded by the European Space Agency), was the editor of Michael Marshall Smith: The Annotated Bibliography, and the anthologies A Dick & Jane Primer for Adults, the three-volume The Apex Book of World SF series, and two anthologies edited with Rebecca Levene, Jews vs. Aliens and Jews vs. Zombies. He is the author of the linked story collection HebrewPunk, and, with Nir Yaniv, the novel The Tel Aviv Dossier, and the novella chapbooks An Occupation of Angels, Cloud Permutations, Jesus and the Eightfold Path, and Martian Sands. A prolific short-story writer, his stories have appeared in Interzone, Asimov's Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Postscripts, Fantasy Magazine, Nemonymous, Infinity Plus, Aeon, The Book of Dark Wisdom, Fortean Bureau, Old Venus, and elsewhere, and have been translated into seven languages. His novels include The Bookman and its two sequels, Camera Obscura and The Great Game, Osama: A Novel (which won the World Fantasy Award as the year's Best Novel in 2012), The Violent Century, and A Man Lies Dreaming. His most recent book is a big, multifaceted SF novel, Central Station.
From above the ecliptic the swarm can be seen as a cloud of tiny bullet-shaped insects, their hulls, packed with photovoltaic cells, capturing the sunlight; tiny, tiny flames burning in the vastness of the dark.
They crawl with unbearable slowness across this small section of near space, tiny beetles climbing a sheer obsidian rock face. Only the sun remains constant. The sun, always, dominates their sky.
Inside each jalopy are instrument panels and their like; a sleeping compartment where you must float your way into the secured sleeping bag; a toilet to strap yourself to; a kitchen to prepare your meal supply; and windows to look out of. With every passing day the distance from Earth increases and the time lag grows a tiny bit longer and the streaming of communication becomes more echoey, the most acute reminder of that finite parting as the blue-green egg that is Earth revolves and grows smaller in your window, and you stand there, sometimes for hours at a time, fingers splayed against the plastic, staring at what has gone and will never come again, for your destination is terminal.
There is such freedom in the letting go.
There is the music. Mei listens to the music, endlessly. Alone she floats in her cheap jalopy, and the music soars all about her, an archive of all the music of Earth stored in five hundred terabyte or so, so that Mei can listen to anything ever written and performed, should she so choose, and so she does, in a glorious random selection as the jalopy moves in the endless swarm from Earth to Terminal. Chopin's Études bring a sharp memory of rain and the smell of wet grass, of damp books and days spent in bed, staring out of windows, the feel of soft sheets and a warm pyjama, a steaming mug of tea. Mei listens to Vanuatu stringband songs in pidgin English, evocative of palm trees and sand beaches and graceful men swaying in the wind; she listens to Congolese Kwasa-Kwasa and dances, floating, shaking and rolling in weightlessness, the music like an infectious laugh and hot tropical rain. The Beatles sing "Here Comes the Sun," Mozart's Requiem trails off unfinished, David Bowie's "Space Oddity" haunts the cramped confines of the jalopy: the human race speaks to Mei through notes like precise mathematical notations and, alone, she floats in space, remembering in the way music always makes you remember.
She is not unhappy.
At first there was something seemingly inhuman about using the toilets. It is like a hungry machine, breathing and spitting, and Mei must ride it, strapping herself into leg restraints, attaching the urine funnel which gurgles and hisses as Mei evacuates waste. Now the toilet is like an old friend, its conversation a constant murmur, and she climbs in and out without conscious notice.
At first Mei slept and woke up to a regiment of day and night, but a month out of Earth orbit the old order began to slowly crumble and now she sleeps and wakes when she wants, making day and night appear as if by magic, by a wave of her hand. Still, she maintains a routine, of washing and the brushing of teeth, of wearing clothing, a pretence at humanity which is sometimes hard to maintain being alone. A person is defined by other people.
Three months out of Earth and it's hard to picture where you'd left, where you're going. And always that word, like a whisper out of nowhere, Terminal, Terminal ... Mei floats and turns slowly in space, listening to the Beach Boys.
"I have to do this."
"You don't have to," she says. "You don't have to do anything. What you mean is that you want to. You want to do it. You think it makes you special but it doesn't make you special if everyone else is doing it." She looks at him with fierce black eyes and tucks a strand of hair, clumped together in her perspiration, behind her ear. He loves her very much at that moment, that fierce protectiveness, the fact someone, anyone, can look at you that way, can look at you and feel love.
"Not everyone is doing it."
They're sitting in a cafe outdoors and it is hot, it is very hot, and overhead the twin Petronas Towers rise like silver rockets into the air. In the square outside KLCC the water features twinkle in the sun and tourists snap photos and waiters glide like unenthusiastic penguins amongst the clientele. He drinks from his kopi ice and traces a trail of moisture on the face of the glass, slowly. "You are not dying," she says, at last, the words coming as from a great distance. He nods, reluctantly. It is true. He is not dying, immediately, but only in the sense that all living things are dying, that it is a trajectory, the way a jalopy makes its slow but finite way from Earth to Mars. Speaking of jalopies there is a stand under the awnings for such stands are everywhere now and a man shouting through the sound system to come one come all and take the ultimate trip — and so on, and so forth.
But more than that implicit in her words is the question. Is he dying? In the more immediate sense? "No," he says. "But."
That word lies heavy in the hot and humid air.
She is still attractive to him, even now: even after thirty years, three kids now grown and gone into the world, her hair no longer black all over but flecked with strands of white and grey, his own hair mostly gone, their hands, touching lightly across the table, both showing the signs of gravity and age. And how could he explain?
"Space," he tries to say. "The dark starry night which is eternal and forever, or as long as these words mean something in between the beginning and the end of space and time." But really is it selfish, is it not inherently selfish to want to leave, to go, up there and beyond — for what? It makes no sense or no more sense than anything else you do or don't.
"Responsibility," she says. "Commitment. Love, damn it, Haziq! You're not a child, playing with toys, with, with ... with spaceships or whatever. You have children, a family, we'll soon have grandkids if I know Omar, what will they do without you?"
These hypothetical people, not yet born, already laying demands to his time, his being. To be human is to exist in potentia, unborn responsibilities rising like butterflies in a great big obscuring cloud. He waves his hand in front of his face but whether it is to shoo them away or because of the heat he cannot say. "We always said we won't stand in each other's way," he begins, but awkwardly, and she starts to cry, silently, making no move to wipe away the tears, and he feels a great tenderness but also anger, and the combination shocks him. "I have never asked for anything," he says. "I have ... have I not been a good son, a good father, a good husband? I never asked for anything —" and he remembers sneaking away one night, five years before, and wandering the Petaling Street Market with television screens blaring and watching a launch, and a thin string of pearls, broken, scattered across space ... perhaps it was then, perhaps it was earlier, or once when he was a boy and he had seen pictures of a vast red planet unmarred by human feet ...
"What did I ask," she says, "did I complain, did I aspire, did I not fulfill what you and I both wanted? Yes, it is selfish to want to go, and it is selfish to ask you to stay, but if you go, Haziq, you won't come back. You won't ever come back."
And he says, "I know," and she shakes her head, and she is no longer crying, and there is that hard, practical look in her eyes, the one he was always a little bit afraid of. She picks up the bill and roots in her purse and brings out the money and puts it on the table. "I have to go," she says, "I have an appointment at the hair dresser's." She gets up and he does not stand to stop her, and she walks away; and he knows that all he has to do is follow her; and yet he doesn't, he remains seated, watching her weaving her way through the crowds, until she disappears inside the giant mall; and she never once looks back.
But really it is the sick, the slowly dying, those who have nothing to lose, those untied by earthly bonds, those whose spirits are as light as air: the loners and the crazy and worst of all the artists, so many artists, each convinced in his or her own way of the uniqueness of the opportunity, exchanging life for immortality, floating in space heels and toe heels and toe, transmuting space into art in the way of the dead, for they are legally dead, now, each in his or her own jalopy, this cheap mass manufactured container made for this one singular trip, from this planet to the next, from the living world to the dead one.
"Sign here, initial here, and here, and here —" and what does it feel like for those everyday astronauts, those would-be Martians, departing their homes for one last time, a last glance back, some leaving gladly, some tearfully, some with indifference: these Terminals, these walking dead, having signed over their assets, completed their wills, attended, in some instances, their very own wakes: leaving with nothing, boarding taxis or flights in daytime or night, to the launch site for rudimentary training of instruments they will never have use to control, from Earth to orbit in a space plane, a reusable launch vehicle, and thence to Gateway, in Low Earth Orbit, that ramshackle construction floating like a spider web in the skies of Earth, made up of modules some new some decades old, joined together in an ungainly fashion, a makeshift thing.
Here we are all astronauts. The permanent staff is multinational, harassed, monkey-like we climb heel and toe heel and toe, handholds along the walls no up no down but three-dimensional space as a many splendored thing. Here the astronauts are trained hastily in maintaining their craft and themselves and the jalopies extend out of Gateway, beyond orbit, thousands of cheap little tin cans aimed like skipping stones at the big red rock yonder.
Here, too, you can still change your mind. Here comes a man now, a big man, an American man, with very white face and hands, a man used to being in control, a man used to being deferred to — an artist, in fact; a writer. He had made his money imagining the way the future was, but the future had passed him by and he found himself spending his time on message boards and the like, bemoaning youth and their folly. Now he has a new lease on life, or thought he had, with this plan of going into space, to Terminal Beach: six months floating in a tin can high above no world, to write his masterpiece, the thing he is to be remembered by, his novel, damn it, in which he's to lay down his entire philosophical framework of a libertarian bent: only he has, at the last moment, perhaps on smelling the interior of his assigned jalopy, changed his mind. Now he comes inexpertly floating like a beach ball down the shaft, bouncing here and there from the walls and bellowing for the agent, those sleazy jalopymen, for the final signature on the contract is digital, and sent once the jalopy is slingshot to Mars. It takes three orderlies to hold him down and a nurse injects him with something to calm him down. Later he would go back down the gravity well, poorer yet wiser, but never again will he write that novel: space eludes him.
Meanwhile the nurse helps carry the now-unconscious American down to the hospital suite, a house-sized unit overlooking the curve of the Earth. Her name is Eliza and she watches day chase night across the globe and looks for her home, for the islands of the Philippines to come into view, their lights scattered like shards of shining glass, but it is the wrong time to see them. She monitors the IV distractedly, feeling tiredness wash over her like the first exploratory wave of a grey and endless sea. For Eliza space means always being in sight of this great living world, this Earth, its oceans and its green landmasses and its bright night lights, a world that dominates her view, always, that glares like an eye through pale white clouds. To be this close to it and yet to see it separate, not of it but apart, is an amazing thing; while beyond, where the Terminals go, or further yet, where the stars coalesce as thick as clouds, who knows what lies? And she fingers the gold cross on the chain around her neck, as she always does when she thinks of things alien beyond knowing, and she shudders, just a little bit; but everywhere else, so far, the universe is silent, and we alone shout.
"Hello? Is it me you're looking for?"
"Who is this?"
"This is jalopy A-5011 sending out a call to the faithful to prayer —"
"This is Bremen in B-9012, is there anyone there? Hello? I am very weak. Is there a doctor, can you help me, I do not think I'll make it to the rock, hello, hello —"
"This is jalopy B-2031 to jalopy C-3398, bishop to king 7, I said bishop to king 7, take that Shen you twisted old fruit!"
"Hello? Has anyone heard from Shiri Applebaum in C-5591, has anyone heard from Shiri Applebaum in C-5591, she has not been in touch in two days and I am getting worried, this is Robin in C-5523, we were at Gateway together before the launch, hello, hello —"
Mei turns down the volume of the music and listens to the endless chatter of the swarm rise alongside it, day or night neither of which matter or exist here, unbound by planetary rotation and that old artificial divide of darkness and the light. Many like Mei have abandoned the twenty-four-hour cycle to sleep and rise ceaselessly and almost incessantly with some desperate need to experience all of this, this one-time-only journey, this slow beetle's crawl across trans-solar space. Mei swoops and turns with the music and the chatter and she idly wonders of the fate to have befallen Shiri Applebaum in C-5591: is she merely keeping quiet or is she dead or in a coma, never to wake up again, only her corpse and her cheap little jalopy hitting the surface of Mars in ninety more days? Across the swarm's radio network the muezzin in A-5011 sends out the call to prayer, the singsong words so beautiful that Mei stops, suspended in midair, and breathes deeply, her chest rising and falling steadily, space all around her. She has degenerative bone disease, there isn't a question of starting a new life at Terminal, only this achingly beautiful song that rises all about her, and the stars, and silent space.
Two days later Bremen's calls abruptly cease. B-9012 still hurtles on with the rest towards Mars. Haziq tries to picture Bremen: what was he like? What did he love? He thinks he remembers him, vaguely, a once-fat man now wasted with folded awkward skin, large glasses, a Scandinavian man maybe, Haziq thought, but all he knows or will ever know of Bremen is the man's voice on the radio bouncing from jalopy to jalopy and on to Earth where jalopy-chasers scan the bands and listen in a sort of awed or voyeuristic pleasure.
Excerpted from "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Fourth Annual Collection"
Copyright © 2017 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
TERMINAL Lavie Tidhar,
TOURING WITH THE ALIEN Carolyn Ives Gilman,
PATIENCE LAKE Matthew Claxton,
JONAS AND THE FOX Rich Larson,
PRODIGAL Gord Sellar,
KIT: SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED Kathe Koja & Carter Scholz,
VORTEX Gregory Benford,
ELVES OF ANTARCTICA Paul McAuley,
THE BABY EATERS Ian McHugh,
A SALVAGING OF GHOSTS Aliette de Bodard,
THESE SHADOWS LAUGH Geoff Ryman,
REDKING Craig DeLancey,
THINGS WITH BEARDS Sam J. Miller,
FIELDWORK Shariann Lewitt,
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF MR. COSTELLO David Gerrold,
INNUMERABLE GLIMMERING LIGHTS Rich Larson,
FIFTY SHADES OF GRAYS Steven Barnes,
SIXTEEN QUESTIONS FOR KAMALA CHATTERJEE Alastair Reynolds,
COLD COMFORT Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty,
THE ART OF SPACE TRAVEL Nina Allan,
FLIGHT FROM THE AGES Derek Kusken,
MY GENERATIONS SHALL PRAISE Samantha Henderson,
MARS ABIDES Stephen Baxter,
THE VISITOR FROM TAURED Ian R. MacLeod,
WHEN THE STONE EAGLE FLIES Bill Johnson,
THE VANISHING KIND Lavie Tidhar,
ONE SISTER, TWO SISTERS, THREE James Patrick Kelly,
DISPATCHES FROM THE CRADLE: THE HERMIT-FORTY-EIGHT HOURS,
IN THE SEA OF MASSACHUSETTS Ken Liu,
CHECKERBOARD PLANET Eleanor Arnason,
THEY HAVE ALL ONE BREATH Karl Bunker,
MIKA MODEL Paolo Bacigalupi,
THAT GAME WE PLAYED DURING THE WAR Carrie Vaughn,
BECAUSE CHANGE WAS THE OCEAN AND WE LIVED BY HER MERCY Charlie Jane Anders,
THE ONE WHO ISN'T Ted Kosmatka,
THOSE BRIGHTER STARS Mercurio D. Rivera,
A TOWER FOR THE COMING WORLD Maggie Clark,
FIRSTBORN, LASTBORN Melissa Scott,
WOMEN'S CHRISTMAS Ian McDonald,
THE IRON TACTICIAN Alastair Reynolds,
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 2016,
ALSO BY GARDNER DOZOIS,
ABOUT THE EDITOR,