Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I should have been reading more SF in 2000

I'm always a bit leery of "best" collections because what determines good, better, and best is highly subjective. My mom kidnapped this book (see, I'm not the only one who steals books) from a shelf in a staffroom where it had been languishing for years. She passed it on to me because she knows I'm a SF nutbag and it would have a good home with me. I'm really happy she found it and really happy that I broke down and read it - it was chock-full of refreshing, bite-sized SF that were tinted with the strange optimism of the millennium. I had a great time reading it and now I've got a good, healthy list of authors whose work I should check out.

Paul J. McAuley, "Reef" - A slightly scary story with interesting political implications that takes place against the backdrop of a bacterial-engineered reef asteroid.

David Brin, "Reality Check" - A call for you to check your reality. There are exits all around if you know when and where to look. This supershort doesn't have much story going for it but is pleasantly jarring.

Robert Silverberg, "The Millennium Express" - Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and Ernest Hemingway destroy culture for shits, giggles, and the chance to let the future have its own culture. I am sympathetic to the bombers, which is totally understandable and very disconcerting at the same time.

Tananarive Due, "Patient Zero" - Legitimately freaked me out. A lot. This is a zombie story without the zombies which just makes it an epidemic story and a thousand times scarier than shambling ur-people.

Ken MacLeod, "The Oort Crowd" - A super-short that tries to read the messages from the stars and warns that if they don't understand our responses soon there could be trouble coming from closer to home.

M. Shayne Bell, "The Thing About Benny" - Kind of really adorable. In a world where plant species are going extinct in the wild, Benny and his keeper have to track down exotics in office buildings to the soothing strains of Abba. There's an interesting commentary here about autodidacts and their place in the world, too.

Brian Stableford, "The Last Supper" - A middling sort of man proposes to his girlfriend at the ultra-chic bio-engineered bistro she favors and gets more than a refusal for his troubles. Funny and freaky, this story scoots along and gives you just enough details about the universe to leave you wanting more.

Joan Slonczewski, "Tuberculosis Bacteria Join UN" - A supershort written as a news article about the statehood of Tuberculosis being recognized and accepted into the UN. It could happen, I guess.

Howard Waldrop, "Our Mortal Span"

David Langford, "Different Kinds of Darkness"

Norman Spinrad, "New Ice Age, or Just Cold Feet?" - A very, very funny supershort that is a caustic commentary on climate change. It pins down the hue and cry of the debate with a tone that is spot on.

Stephen Dedman, "The Devotee" - You rarely see noir stories set in the blinding sun of the Australian desert and that's too bad because it makes a surprisingly good setting. A detective follows the path of a knockout dame with only one leg and her devoted lover. Dark in places, funny in others, the story jogs happily along and wraps itself up tidily.

Chris Beckett, "The Marriage of Sky and Sea" - I've started thinking of this story as The Unauthorized Biography of James T. Kirk. A space explorer gets sick of his voyages and courts the daughter of a primitive king, not realizing that in doing so he's also courting disaster.

John M. Ford, "In the Days of the Comet" - Men and Neumanner travel through space but only one subset of that group is subject to disease. A super-short, this story doesn't answer questions, only asks them.

Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Birthday of the World" - Sometimes I really hate Ursula K. Le Guin but I'm thinking I should give her a second (or fifth, or seventh) chance because I ended up really enjoying this story, but on reflection it still has the same problem of simplicity that I usually find so irritating in her work. It's a very Le Guin story and if you like Le Guin you'll like it.

Greg Egan, "Oracle" - True facts: this story (almost a novella, really) made me do more research about Alan Turing than I had done before and it made me very, VERY sad. The last few years of Turing's life are all the proof we need that we're still a barbaric species and even our greatest thinkers, even those thinkers who have done great work at war, aren't protected from the barbarism of our species. But this is a re-imagining of Turing's later life that saves him some of the strive he suffered here. It's also really cool and makes a totally believable (and somewhat pitiable) villain out of a C.S. Lewis analogue.

Nancy Kress, "To Cuddle Amy" - Kind of crappy? I know this story is supposed to be about the potential problems of genetically engineered humans but it just came off kind of campy and melodramatic.

Brian W. Aldiss, "Steppenpferd" - A not-terrible far-future fic about a divided earth and the possibilities of divergent evolutionary paths fucking us over as a species.

Stephen Baxter, "Sheena 5" - This story is SUPER COOL and seems like a not-too-impossible but seriously problematic ethically solution to the issue of asteroid mining. Plus there's an obvious commentary about why breeding species that are smarter than us and evolve faster than us is generally not a good idea.

Darrell Schweitzer, "The Fire Eggs" - Wonderfully creepy, this story explores the way that humans react to the unexplained, especially when science fails them. It's an interesting examination of spirituality in scientists.

Robert Sheckley, "The New Horla" - This short is halfway between cute and pathetic, which I think is exactly the point. I HATE the narrator, which is totally intentional on the part of the author, but I'm sympathetic to him and his very strange evening in spite of how unlikeable he is.

Dan Simmons, "Madame Bovary, C'est Moi" - This faux-journal article is fucking hilarious. What would happen if writing was actually creating, how can you tell if something is literature or trash, and where do suicidally depressed Scandinavians want to live are all questions asked and answered in this very funny story.

Robert Reed, "Grandma's Jumpman" - I'm pretty big into Heinlein so I was feeling pretty defensive as I read this story. Heinlein was unapologetic about the war-heavy, uber-macho aspects of his work and this story is a pretty good way of calling out that style of writing. It's like a film that Paul Verhoeven would make if he tried for sincerity instead of satire (though his satire is hilarious and brilliant).

Charles Dexter Ward, "Bordeaux Mixture" - I think this is a story about genetically modified crops becoming the dominant species on the planet but that could just be the tomatoes talking.

Robert Charles Wilson, "The Dryad's Wedding" - What is language? What is communication? Are we capable of understanding messages from alien intelligences or would those messages seem like noise in the system to us? Wilson writes a sad story with a missed message and potentially damning results.

Michael F. Flynn, "Built Upon the Sands of Time" - Oh, Christ, what a depressing story. Confusing to follow, full of hard and terrifying numbers, it's about the loss of something you can't remember losing. A severe mind-fuck and a good read.

Ted Chiang, "Seventy-Two Letters" - Hell yes! Hell yes. This novella is a discussion about all the various despicable -isms we live with seen through the lens of an alternate nineteenth century full of golems. Even if the science is different humans are the same - just as terrible and wonderful as they are here, always trying to make the world better for some and better for everybody in turn.

     - Alli

Hartwell, David G., Ed. Year's Best SF 6. Harper Collins. New York: New York. 2001.