Gardner’s anthology had 17 good to great stories, 6 average stories and only 7 that were below average. Nearly the same quality to crap distribution like in Hartwell’s Best Of anthology this year. Gardner’s choices cover a much wider definition of SF than Hartwell’s, there’s stuff from the core of SF to the fringe and everything between. Since my taste runs more toward the core SF stuff, I liked the Hartwell anthology a bit more, but Gardner’s anthology had enough stories that weren’t in Hartwell’s anthology that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, like Peter Watts’s and Derryl Murphy’s “Mayfly”, Ian McDonald’s “The Little Goddess” or Alastair Reynolds’s “Zima Blue”.
Ian McDonald – The Little Goddess
The path of life of a young girl is chronicled, who is a goddess in her younger years, then loses everything and has to find another place for herself in a world that is struggling with new technologies. Excellent story.
Paolo Bacigalupi – The Calorie Man
Bacigalupi’s stories have rubbed me the wrong way in past Best’s Anthologies, this one is no exception. His futures all seem to wallow in worlds in decay, where every achievement of the modern society seems to have been lost to made place for some widely implausible, totalitarian system. Not very entertaining to read either.
Alastair Reynolds – Beyond the Aquila Rift
Oh man, what a disappointment. Til the final paragraph of the story this was one of the best stories, and then the author has to ruin the whole thing. It was one of these throw the book at the wall moments. A pilot and his crew got error routed in an alien transport system and strand far away from home.
Daryl Gregory – Second Person, Present Tense
Another very impressive story, excellent writing, and the main idea is quite neat (a girl destroy her identity via a drug and when a second personality takes her place her parents have a hard time dealing with it). I wanted to say more about the story, but it’s hard to say something when everything seems perfect.
Jay Lake and Ruth Nestvold – The Canadian Who Came Almost All the Way Back from the Stars
Another good story that suffers from a ho-hum, average ending. A Canadian whom all think a crackpot builds a stardrive and leaves Earth. Now the NSA wants his knowledge and waits for his return.
Michael Swanwick – Triceratops Summer
It feels as if this is a lightweight, short variant of the final point of his novel “Bones of the Earth”. Since I was annoyed at his conclusion then, my reaction to this story is the same, a story that is made pointless by its own plot device.
Robert Reed – Camouflage
Another excellent story that takes place on Reed’s Great Ship setting, a spaceship larger than most planets touring the galaxy. This time, a man on the run from the Master Captain of the Great Ship has to solve a murder. You get strange aliens, intrigue and a nice mystery.
Ken MacLeod – A Case of Consilience
A good first contact story that nods its head to Blish’s famous novel, but stands easily on its own. The ages old tradition of the twist ending is utilized, but since it’s such a good twist and I hadn’t seen it coming, it was welcome.
Bruce Sterling – The Blemmye’s Strategem
This reads much more like a historical piece than science fiction, taking place during the time of the crusades. The Silent Master, an obvious non-human entity, has a hidden plan and his two human disciples find out his hidden agenda nearly too late. I liked it.
William Sanders – Amba
An absorbing story amidst the backdrop of a near future Earth that is in the clutches of the disastrous effects of global warming. The hero is a typical hard shell, compassionate core type, common in noire fiction, which may be one reason why I liked the story.
Mary Rosenblum – Search Engine
Assuming that the erosion of privacy is a bad thing is IMHO the easy assumption, without giving much thought to how realistic this really is. A society where everyone can track everything about everyone is a society where it will be much harder than even today for politicians to plot an event such as is at the core of this story. A transparent society may indeed be the end of real privacy, but Rosenblum’s story never ask why this is a bad thing, it just assumes it is and uses a cheap scare tactic to convince the reader to think likewise.
Chris Beckett – Piccadillly Circus
A badly realized mind-uploading future mixed with a bland story of those few humans who have remained in the flesh. The story meanders from here to there, but can’t decide what it actually wants to say, and ends nowhere.
David Gerrold – In the Quake Zone
Wow, I never expected that Gerrold still had it. He’s written some excellent stuff years ago, but I thought he’d lost it along the way. This one is not only a great story, it’s also one that feels very fresh in a SFnal sense. It starts as a time travelling story somewhere in the recent past, but where it’s going from there is really unexpected, figuratively speaking.
Liz Williams – La Malcontenta
In an unspecified future a matriarchy has mostly rid itself of men. A girl is imprisoned by her own kind for having been in short contact with one of the remaining men-artifacts, but when a celebration is held she gets to leave her prison for a short time. Overall a very thin story, both on content, plot and setting. Not very good.
Stephen Baxter – The Children of Time
After an apocalypse has washed away our present civilization, it’s back to the stone age. Told in a sequence of vignettes that sketch the lifes of some children living millions of years apart, complemented with some information of how humanity survives and adapts. Very generic stuff, neither is there an interesting plot, nor a very interesting setting.
Vonda N. McIntyre – Little Faces
Far future story where women and sentient space ships live in a kind of symbiotic relationship. It’s a nice, little story, but most of the attraction of the story comes from the strange setting, not the plot.
Gene Wolfe – Comber
I don’t like most stuff by Wolfe, this is no exception, a nonsensical setting that I have a hard time seeing as anything even remotely SFnal. It’s mostly weird stuff thrown together, it doesn’t make sense, and I didn’t enjoy reading it.
Harry Turtledove – Audubon in Atlantis
I’m not a big fan of alternate history, mostly because I don’t see most AH as SF, and much of it seems written by the number. This one is an exception, an excellent story about growing old and dealing with the fact that your time and age has come to an end.
Hannu Rajaniemi – Deus Ex Homine
An impressive story about people who get infected with an AI-plague that remakes them into powerful posthuman entities with whom humanity is at war. I really liked this story, both the writing and the idea content were very high, but lately I get a little annoyed with all those writers whose only idea of a transhuman/posthuman future is almost inevitable pessimistic (all those pessimistic writers are somehow connected to England, maybe it’s something in the water there).
Stephen Popkes – The Great Caruso
Popkes has a style that just gives you hope, makes you feel good for the future, even when he writes about a person who’s about to get killed by little machines in her body. He transforms human warmth into words, which is a rare skill even among writers.
Neal Asher – Softly Spoke the Gabbleduck
An entertaining action adventure involving a hunting party on an alien world. The mystery of the gabbleduck sadly turned out to be a mere plot device for advancing the story, not something more interesting.
Alastair Reynolds – Zima Blue
There are stories where the final revelations about a mystery can’t stand up to the expectations that have been built in the begin, fortunately this wasn’t one of those. The reason why a post-human artist became obsessed with the color zima blue is quite mind-boggling, and the parts that deal with memories are quite interesting too. Excellent story.
David Moles – Planet of the Amazon Women
What looks like an intriguing concept at first is revealed as nothing as mere fantasy upon further reading. The whole thing of causal anomaly is just a cover, the author never intends to explain just how this impossible timeline where only female life exists has developed, or how this so-called anomaly came into existence on a world in our timeline. In the end the story stops without solving anything, and I wondered what the point was. Meh.
Dominic Green – The Clockwork Atom Bomb
A weapon inspector in Congo finds something that could literally tear the Earth apart, but local powers use it as a waste dump. The main character is nicely done, you feel as if his job makes him dance on the edge between sanity and insanity every day, which has made him rather cynical, which is refreshing to read after too much PC characterization. Excellent story.
Chris Roberson – Gold Mountain
Alternate history that shows China as a superpower instead of America. Some stuff of the setting is odd, on one hand they can build skyhooks, on the other hand this world looks more backward than ours (but I try not to think too much about stuff like this). The main story is about guilt, nicely done but nothing outstanding.
Gwyneth Jones – The Fulcrum
Another annoying story. A plot device that is never really explained and could easily have been transformed by magic (the given explanation is pure technobubble bullshit) drives a predictable story.
Peter Watts and Derryl Murphy – Mayfly
One of the highlights in this anthology, a very short, yet poignant tale that shows that sometimes the best intentions can still have horrible side-effect. Or at least for the parents of a child whose mind is simulated inside of a computer and then plugged into her real body, and who seems to have the need to harm herself. I thought the ending was really well done, both liberating and distressing, something you don’t expect to feel at the same time for the same action.
Elizabeth Bear – Two Dreams on Trains
An average story that left not much of an impression either way. There’s nothing really bad or annoying about it, but the story is so thin and short that I had a hard time to care about any of the characters or their actions.
Joe Haldeman – Angel of Light
A story that is well written and has its moments, but overall feels a bit marginal. Man sells old pulp magazines to get a christmas gift for his kids, with the twist that in this future a religion that meshes Christianity and Islam exists.
James Patrick Kelly – Burn
Well written, interesting setup, but the ending felt kinda weak, mostly because the story couldn’t decide which side it to take or whether to make a stand at all, thus making the point of the story fuzzy.