The Cramer/Hartwell Year’s Best has 18 good to great stories, 7 averages ones and only 6 that are below average. Which, from my experience with anthologies is an excellent quality to crap ratio. If you like, what I personally call core SF: spaceships, robots, aliens, first contact, AIs, then this will be an excellent anthology for you, if you are more bend toward so-called literary stories with few SF elements then there are only a few stories to your liking. Including so many flash fiction pieces from Nature was an interesting choice, but while some of them were excellent, some of them weren’t, and it felt that they (Hartwell/Cramer) took just a whole batch without caring for the quality. Still, in the end, a decision I liked and hope to see again next year.
David Langford – New Hope for the Dead
A flash fiction piece that reads as if Langford has taken most of the interesting concepts from the first half of Egan’s novel “Permutation City” and satirized them (Egan gets a nod in the story itself). Not very deep, but it short and fun.
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).
Gardner R. Dozois – When the Great Days Came
If you ask me about a great story from the perspective of a rat, I think you won’t find one better or more authentic than this. On the other hand, if you’re asking me whether this is a good SF story (or whether it has a great plot), I have to say nay. The whole SF angle feels tacked on at the end of the story and the whole plot is about a rat running around.
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.
Justine Robinson – Dreadnought
I hate vignettes, no beginning, no end, just something out of the middle that doesn’t make much sense on its own. If I want incomprehensible writing I can easily rip out one or two pages from a book and read them.
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.
Tobias S. Buckell – Toy Planes
A story about a Caribbean space program that uses second-hand stuff to put its astronaut into orbit. Enjoyable for what it is, but there’s nothing that makes it stand out in any way.
Neal Asher – Mason’s Rats
Unlike in Gardner’s rat story, I liked the plot and the concept behind the story, but the writing didn’t do much for me.
Vonda N. McIntyre – A Modest Proposal
I wonder what the point of writing this was. Sure, it’s not a very desirable future, but since it’s completely unbelievable it feels like a cheap shot, a straw man argument.
Rudy Rucker – Guadalupe and Hieronymus Bosch
This feels like it’s written by a ten years old with ADD. The style is shrill and soon began to grate on my nerves. Worst of all, if you take all the surface weirdness away, what remains is a very ordinary story about saving the world from a strange creature.
Peter F. Hamilton – The Forever Kitten
While Hamilton is more known for his big, fat novels, the stuff I enjoyed most by him in the past is his short work. This is a very short, yet very poignant tale that shows that the protective instinct of parents can lead to very disturbing decisions.
Matthew Jarpe – City of Reason
A fast-paced, inventive action adventure story in solar space whose setting seemed to channel Sterling’s Schismatrix. What I liked most was how it evoked the feeling of distance even inside the solar system, of how lonely a ship is out there.
Bruce Stirling – Ivory Tower
This short piece shows that Sterling hasn’t lost his touch for inventive and poignant stories. Former internet geeks become self-taught physicists and build a modern commune. Whether this is SF or just a real-life story that hasn’t happened yet is debatable, but it’s excellent nonetheless.
Lauren McLaughlin – Sheila
Another very impressive story by someone I haven’t heard about yet. The setting is the near future where AIs have been made possible by memetic design, but memetic evolution allows the AIs to become as diverse as humans are, and like us their goals and ways are manifold.
Paul McAuley – Rats of the System
Some of McAuley’s stories I read in past Year’s Best anthologies had all the right elements I like in SF, yet they never really felt much more like workmanlike stuff, something that was okay but didn’t exactly made me care. RotS seems to be the exception, I liked it tremendously. In the shadows of almighty posthumans, those who believe them gods and those who just want to learn about their technology try to outmaneuver each other.
Larissa Lai – I Love Liver: A Romance
Another very short piece that is at the core about a product of a designer gone rogue. It’s a fun piece that is saved from falling apart by its shortness.
James Patrick Kelly – The Edge of Nowhere
A very well written post-singularity story that remains a bit too vague on the nature of the cognisphere (a knowledge base of everything human) to argue its point about human creativity convincingly.
Ted Chiang – What’s Expected of Us
Stories whose conclusion is that there’s no free will always make a bit uncomfortable, but I think that’s the effect Chaing was aiming for in his story. But until I have a Predictor in my hands, I remain unconvinced that this is anything more than a philosophical thought-experiment.
Michael Swanwick – Girls and Boys, Come Out to Play
Very enjoyable story, an adventure in a far future Greece where someone is building a test run of gods that utilize pheromones. The dynamic between the two heroes Darger and Surplus reminds me a bit of Leiber’s famous fantasy duo, and I hope Swanwick writes enough stories with them to collect them in a book.
Stephen Baxter – Lakes of Light
The third expansion age of his Xeelee future history is one of the bleakest fictional environments, rivaled only by the likes of Warhammer 40k or Barton’s “Dark Sky Legion”. Yet amidst this dark background, Baxter can still write a story that evokes a genuine sense of wonder and awe and shows that there are still little pockets of humanity left. Excellent story.
Oliver Morton – The Albian Message
A very short piece about an alien artifact in solar space whose cargo may be unexpected but not unwelcome. Made me wonder whether this idea had been done before in SF.
Bud Sparhawk – Bright Red Star
A manipulative story that is constructed in such a way that the only solution in some situations is to kill innocents to save humanity. It doesn’t help that the innocent little girl in the story is a stock cardboard character. And the whole human heads idea is ludicrous, a throwback to the worst pulp excesses of early SF.
Alaya Dawn Johnson – Third Days Lights
It begins as a fantasy story and then tries to become an SF story, but never actually achieves it, even if words like posthumans are thrown around. The premise of using universes as power sources doesn’t even make the slightest sense. There are also some bad memes that are prevalent in fantasy, people don’t want to live forever, people get reborn, stuff like that. My reaction might have been different if I read it in a fantasy anthology.
Greg Bear – Ram Shift Phase 2
A short piece that tried to be funny, but I can’t say I was amused, more annoyed. But since humor is always a mileage question, others might feel different.
Gregory Benford – On the Brane
Brane cosmology is utilized to create an old-fashioned first contact story without venturing outside of the solar system. I liked it, at least until the final sentence, which read as if not uttered by the main character but like an uber-optimistic mission statement of the author. Sometimes you need to know when to stop.
R. Garcia y Robertson – Oxygen Rising
An excellent story that shows the end results of a dispute over a world, embedded into a neat far future setting with many modified humans running around.
Adam Roberts – And Future King…
A story where King Arthur is remade as a robot and used to seize control of Britain. Like the Vonda McIntyre story, it’s a satire, but sadly doesn’t work well, both pieces play it much too safe, they might have felt original and fresh decades ago, but today they have no bite and don’t even work well as stories.
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.
Joe Haldeman – Angel of Light
A story that is well written and has its moments, but overall feels a bit marginal. A 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.
Liz Williams – Ikiryoh
A strange future full of gene-engineered creatures from old legend, where one of them, a kappa, has to watch over an odd child from the present queen. While I’m not a big fan of far futures settings where the monarchy is back, this one was well written and had an interesting plot.
Cory Doctorow – I, Robot
The final story of the anthology is an excellent choice, one that evokes both Asimov and Orwell, but has its own voice, all Doctorow. A future Orwellian state meshed with Asimov robots, that is under siege from the rest of the world that has progressed far more than is led on in the beginning.