Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction (2006)

6 stories from 15 were good to great, 6 were average and 3 below average. A slightly weaker Year’s Best anthology than those by Hartwell and Gardner, but the comparison with the later might be unfair, Gardner has just so much space that there’s always enough good stuff. Horton’s anthology had many well-written stories, but while the writing was good, the content/plot was only average. On the other hand, it had 4 excellent stories who weren’t in one of the other two Year’s Bests I read, so at least for me, it was worth it. Interestingly, the two shortest selections were also two of the worst stories, while a similar move in Hartwell’s case proved to be very positive for his Best Of.

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.

Tom Purdom – Bank Run

A competent adventure story who failed to capture my interest. His observation that even with universal fabricators raw matter and energy were still drives of economies was spot-on, but his conclusion about software and entertainment driven by the same old economies seems wrongheaded. You’ll get a Bitchun society ala Doctorow where the reputation for things done is what counts, not old-style money.

Douglas Lain – A Coffee Cup/Alien Invasion Story

A seriously weird story where nothing seems to happen but written so enthrallingly that you won’t hardly notice the thin plot. There’s no real resolution that explains anything, but still the story is kinda interesting. I liked it, YMMV.

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.

Joe Haldeman – Heartwired

More of a sketch than a story about a couple who try to regain romantic infatuation for each other for some days via the help of a potion. Very weak effort IMHO.

Susan Palwick – The Fate of Mice

Excellent story that references its main influence (Flowers for Algernon) directly in the story. A mouse gets uplifted and has to come to grip with its own mortality. Despite the heavier undercurrents of the story, its written in something approaching a light tone, which makes the story fun to read too.

Howard Waldrop – The King of Where-I-Go

Like some stories in Horton’s anthology, this is very well written, but the plot or content itself is not very memorable. It has some strange time travel who doesn’t really feel like real time travel. It’s nice, but that’s it.

Wil McCarthy – The Policeman’s Daughter

Excellent story that takes place in McCarthy’s Queendom of Sol future where matter fax machines can duplicate and transport humans across the whole Sol system, and where even old backups of your self can be reactivated. Here a conflict between younger and older selves takes place and shows that sometimes you can be your own, worst enemy.

Leah Bobet – Bliss

Another well-written story about a future drug that failed to impress me. The SFnal idea is minimal and the story could have easily been a mainstream story about drug abuse. Nice, but nothing more.

Robert Reed – Finished

When you speculate about future technologies, then the limits you impose upon them to create the potential for plot conflict hinge upon the clever choice of these limits. Either it makes your story look foresighted or ridiculous. In this well-written story sadly the second is the case.

James Van Pelt – The Inn at Mount Either

My first thought upon reading this story was: “Who in his right mind would build something this dangerous, this is only calling for trouble.” Apart from that, when you know what the shift zones are for, you know how the story is going to end. The story has some nice imagery and is well written, but I still felt it was only okay.

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.

Stephen Leigh – “You” by Anonymous

A little bit of experimental writing that thinks it’s more clever than it really is. Furthermore, the connection to being science fiction is really thin. That is a one-gag story that even when it works for someone will only work once, after that there’s really no reason to go back to it. Sadly it didn’t work even once for me, only annoyed me.

Daniel Kaysen – The Jenna Set

One of these stories that with only a bit of speculation about current technology stretched a little bit further brings you into SF territory (automated human telephone avatars). It shares two aspects with Susan Palwick’s story in this anthology, the first already mentioned, there’s only one slight area of speculation about technology, all the rest is the present we know. The second is that it too is written in a light tone that makes it fun to read, despite that the themes are no less deep than in stories who feel heavier because they have no humor in it. I like this combination of heavy themes and light style, but it might not be for everyone.

Alastair Reynolds – Understanding Space and Time

A description of this story might make you wonder if just one story can fuse all the elements therein into a cohesive and successful narrative: a virus wipes out the human race, one sole survivor is slowly going mad when he’s killed in an accident and is later revived by aliens. Then he goes on a quest to understand space and time and everything. This doesn’t seem to make much sense, but you’ll have to read this story, it does not only make sense, but it’s a beautiful story that is about all the things that appeal to me in science fiction, the need to understand, but all this combined with a human at the center of the story, someone you can relate to. An excellent story for closing this anthology.