Year’s Best SF 3, Ed. David G. Hartwell

Tor, 1998, 448 pages, C$8.50 mmpb, ISBN 0-06-105901-3

Who do you trust?

When you get down to it, that’s the only worthwhile question when you buy a “best-of” anthology. Normally, people don’t have the same tastes and chances are that once in a while, a gem to another will be garbage to you. In SF, there are now two annual “best of” anthologies. Gardner Dozois edits one, David Hartwell edits the other.

I’ll state right up-front that from what I’ve seen, I tend to trust Hartwell rather than Dozois. Not only have I met Hartwell and heard a few suspicious things from Dozois about media SF, but the content of the anthologies themselves are very different.

One thing that struck me of Dozois’s anthology is how… well… most of the anthology wasn’t true *Science*-Fiction. Fantasy yes, magical realism yes, social-fiction yes, but hard-SF was practically absent. Not so with Hartwell, who selects stories that are mostly, obviously, from the genre of true science-fiction. (Unlike Dozois, Hartwell has proven his knowledge of other fields by editing anthologies of Horror, Fantasy, etc… Maybe that’s why he doesn’t feel the need to put everything he likes in one big “SF” anthology.)

Year’s Best SF 3 contains more than twenty stories in almost 450 pages. Fortunately, most of them are short and Hartwell avoids selecting interminable novellas (another pet peeve of mine; never mind). Most of them are readable, most of them are firmly based upon new ideas and most of them are enjoyable.

Among those:

  • In “The Nostalginauts”, S.N.Dyer shows us a future high-school graduation where almost everyone there is present twice, at twenty-five years intervals. This is my favourite story of the volume: Densely written, credibly extrapolated, with a fun punch at the end. I look forward to see more of Dyer’s stuff.
  • Tom Cool continues to produce entertaining material (after his excellent debut novel Infectress) with the paranoid “Universal Emulators”, where matters of identities and counter-identities are much more complex -or simple- than we might think.
  • If Tom Cool takes on identities, Nancy Kress does new stuff with moods in “Faithful to Thee, in my Fashion”. Would you believe future seasonal mood fashions? Good sociological extrapolations, fascinating premise and Kress makes it work. Nicely subtle “unhappy” ending too.
  • Geoffrey Landis’s “Turnover” seems to me to exemplify the capacity of SF to provide creative freedom to unorthodox science. Best of all, Landis uses a silly tone to postulate silly theories. The result is a lot of fun.
  • Gregory Benford morphs himself briefly in Ray Bradbury to write “The Voice”, an updated version of Fahrenheit 451‘s basic premise. Meanwhile, Bradbury is in the anthology too, with a decidedly un-hard-SF tale named “Mr. Pale”. Complete fantasy, but enjoyable.
  • Greg Egan is up to his usually provocative self with “Yeyuka”, a tale of bio-technology and technological imperialism.

On the other hand, I wasn’t able to finish the stories of William Gibson, Kim Newman and R. Garcia y Robertson.

Still, given that the remainders of the stories are pretty impressive, Year’s Best SF 3 gets my recommendation for anyone wishing to get an idea of where the genre is going at the moment. Good for neophytes, good for jaded fans, good for everyone, Year’s Best SF 3 is a solid choice. Best of all, it’s even a bit cheaper than the usual paperback!

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