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The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection  (The Year’s Best Science Fiction, volume 13)

Edited by Gardner Dozois 

21 Nov, 2023

Blatant Self-Aggrandizement


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1996’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection is the thirteenth volume in Gardner Dozois’ Best Science Fiction of the Year anthology series. The anthology was also published under the title The Best New Science Fiction: 10th Annual Collection, which seems pretty confusing.

Digression: this is the 2500th review on James Nicoll Reviews. The trick to writing 2500 reviews is to write 2499 reviews, then write one more.

In a shocking departure from the model used by Judith Merril, Dozois curiously defines a year as twelve consecutive months. In this collection, those months are those from the calendar year 1995. 1995 is recent enough to be modern in some respects, long enough ago to be rather quaint in others, and rich in seemingly insignificant items that would over the next almost thirty years grow into the reality in which we are currently trapped.

There are, I think, twenty-four stories. Six stories were written by five women (Le Guin appears twice).

Dozois’ tastes appear to have been well aligned with those of the award-voting public: I see at least five Hugo finalists and at least six Nebula finalists in the table of contents. Editors also appear to have liked his taste in stories; I could find no story in this anthology that was not later collected elsewhere.

As previously stated, I think Dozois’ model for structuring a Best SF anthology was inspired (either directly or indirectly) from Judith Merril’s Best SF anthologies. One of the striking elements of Merril’s approach is how widely she cast her net. How does Dozois compare? 

Sources were as follows, in order of number of stories drawn from the source1:

Asimov’s Science Fiction — 9

Omni — 6

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction — 3

New Legends — 3

Far Futures — 2

High Fantastic: Colorado’s Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, and Science Fiction — 1

Interzone — 1

Wheel of Fortune — 1

Whereas the most recent Merril reviewed drew fairly evenly from sixteen sources, Dozois has eight, two of which account for more than half the contents. Whereas Merril was willing to forage outside SF, Dozois was not. One interesting detail that leapt out at me is that since both The Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy and Omni were edited by women, Dozois was more likely to select stories edited by women than he was to select stories written by women. However, what most fascinated me was the domination by Asimov’s Magazine, with whose editor Dozois appears to have shared a remarkable rapport … perhaps because Dozois also edited Asimov’s. It must have been so delightful for the editors of competing magazines that the editor of Asimov’s had a high-profile Best SF anthology to showcase stories from his own magazine.

As usual, I enjoyed the annual summation and dutiful copied the honorable mentions into the grand file of stories I should hunt out but probably will forget. Dozois’ introductions for the authors are also of note; they would be well worth any time spent reading them.

My insistence on reading books in one go regardless of length combined with Dozois’ love of morose stories conspired against my enjoyment of this book: reading this was like eating a hundred kilo sack of very sad truffles. However, the nominations and reprint attest that a lot of other people enjoyed the contents. I will recommend the Egans and Sanders, but don’t interpret that as a mark against the other stories.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Kobo). In what seems to be a recurring pattern with this ailing book company, I did not find The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirteenth Annual Collection at Chapters-Indigo, even though the Kobo edition should available through Chapters.

Let’s have some details.

Summation: 1995 • essay by Gardner Dozois

This seems exceptionally voluminous. Interesting to see the impending death of SF, which (as Dozois points out) is always impending. So many writers died.

A Woman’s Liberation • [Yeowe and Werel • 4] • (1995) • novella by Ursula K. Le Guin

A former slave relates her long and often unpleasant journey towards freedom.

Starship Day” • (1995) • short story by Ian R. MacLeod

The first starship’s arrival at another star is for almost everyone a momentous occasion. The protagonist, for reasons that are compelling, prefers to focus on immediate creature comforts.

A Place with Shade • [The Remarkables] • (1995) • novelette by Robert Reed

A professional terraformer is hired to mentor a rich, beautiful, mad young woman who is probably not trying to kill him. Probably.

I feel embarrassed that I don’t enjoy Reed’s fiction more than I do.

Luminous • (1995) • novelette by Greg Egan

Having with tremendous effort discovered a previously overlooked aspect of theoretical mathematics, two researchers must now survive the very practical implications of that discovery.

The Promise of God” • (1995) • short story by Michael F. Flynn

A powerful man struggles not to abuse his paranormal gifts.

Lots of boobs in this short story. Psychic powers apparently come bundled with male gaze.

Death in the Promised Land • (1995) • novella by Pat Cadigan

Virtual reality proves gloriously entertaining but insufficiently virtual. It’s tremendous fun for the players who survive, but less so for the officers charged with investigating the violent deaths.

For White Hill • (1995) • novella by Joe Haldeman

In the midst of a genocidal war, an artist visits an Earth scoured of organic life by humanity’s enemy. There the artist finds love and one final surprise left by the enemy.

In general, Dozois favored death-heavy stories. He must have greatly enjoyed this one.

Some Like It Cold” • [Moment Universes] • (1995) • short story by John Kessel

A time traveler retrieves a doomed actress from the moment of her death … but not for altruistic reasons.

The Death of Captain Future • [The Captain Future Duet] • (1995) • novella by Allen Steele

A foolish spaceship captain’s obsession with pulp SF proves ill-advised preparation for all too real dangers … IIIIIIINNNNNNN SPPPPPAAAAACCCCE!

Wouldn’t it be nice if avoid life threatening delusions” were an admonition irrelevant to modern life?

The Lincoln Train” • (1995) • short story by Maureen F. McHugh

In a version of the American Civil War in which the Federal government was more resolute in its treatment of rebels, a young slaver on her way to likely doom in the Oklahoma relocation camps is offered charity by kindly Samaritans … but not friendship, since she is a slaver.

The events in the story may seem like an overreaction to rebellion, but consider the alternative through which we are currently living.

We Were Out of Our Minds with Joy • [North American Future] • (1995) • novella by David Marusek

Romance in the thrilling world of tomorrow is complicated by power imbalance and the reality that the same technology used to extend and enhance life can also stunt it.

This was expanded into Counting Heads, which I remember as tolerable if long. I believe hated the sequel.

Radio Waves • (1995) • novelette by Michael Swanwick

An unpleasant dead man learns in the afterlife lessons that he refused to learn in life.

Although the man who learned better” is a stock narrative (one of the stock narratives), Swanwick’s prose and setting stand out.

Wang’s Carpets • (1995) • novelette by Greg Egan

A post-human lives an austere life of exploration; they discover that no matter how creative human-derived entities may become, the universe can always astonish.

Casting at Pegasus • (1995) • novelette by Mary Rosenblum

An underpaid, prickly artist follows her own path despite manipulative efforts to steer her towards more socially acceptable aka lucrative expression.

The repeated observation in-story that It was good night for flying” takes on a different significance now. The author’s career was cut short by a fatal plane crash.

Looking for Kelly Dahl • (1995) • novella by Dan Simmons

A teacher pursues a former student across the realities left in the student’s wake. The teacher is critical of his quarry, and insufficiently wary.

This is an SFnal patina for a story about a teacher who ultimately wasn’t there for a student who needed him.

Think Like a Dinosaur • (1995) • novelette by James Patrick Kelly

A teleportation service employee conscientiously ensures that all involved conform to the terms of service, even when certain parties would prefer not to do so.

This story reminds me of The Cold Equations” in that the outcome is preordained … but in this case, there is no appeal to objective science. Someone will die because absurd regulations have to be enforced, even when alternatives exist.

Coming of Age in Karhide • [Hainish] • (1995) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

A young person of a species closely related to humans (but very different in some respects) experiences their planet’s unique coming of age process.

Le Guin, having rethought some of her premises for Left Hand of Darkness, revisits the setting to paint in details that should have been there to begin but due to certain cultural blinders, were not. On the one hand, not as memorable as the original. On the other, generally this sort of rethinking classics decades after the fact is catastrophically ill-conceived and this story wasn’t.

Genesis • (1995) • novella by Poul Anderson

A post-human community of consumed minds visits ancient Earth to discover what its ruling intelligence has made of that world.

Posthumanism and Poul Anderson are an awkward fit. This is a particularly awkward Anderson, rich in descriptive infodumps and lectures delivered in stilted language.

I have of course read the novel-length expansion of Genesis but I didn’t much care for it.

Feigenbaum Number” • (1995) • short story by Nancy Kress

An irritable, judgmental professor deals poorly with his ability to see the perfect world that could be, superimposed on the flawed world that is.

Home” • (1995) • short story by Geoff Ryman

An old person struggles to deal with the thoughtlessly cruel world of tomorrow.

There Are No Dead” • (1995) • short story by Terry Bisson

Boyhood friends who lamentably became adults are subject to life’s usual travails. Youthful fantasy offers escape.

Recording Angel • [The Book of Confluence] • (1995) • novelette by Paul J. McAuley

A dutiful megastructure functionary deals with travelers from the distant past.

Is it weird how many of these stories involve people being unhappy with the futures in which they find themselves? Although in this case, the travelers spent five million years discovering that the Milky Way is the only galaxy with life2, which is a bit disappointing.

Elvis Bearpaw’s Luck • (1995) • novelette by William Sanders

After the fall of Western civilization, a Native American rogue tries to revise an important rite. This does not end well.

Part of the humor here is that while the characters believe or at least assert that they have returned to unsullied traditional Native American ways, the text does not support that interpretation. Part of the joke is the slow reveal of the rite, so no spoilers.

Ah, Sanders, proof that someone can be talented and an irritable bigot with a talent for alienating people. I have Journey to Fusang (1988) and The Wild Blue and the Gray (1991) upstairs. I should find space for one or the other one of these days.

Mortimer Gray’s History of Death” • (1995) • novella by Brian Stableford

Narrowly surviving the Coral Sea disaster thanks to a plucky eight-year-old girl, a quasi-immortal intellectual sets out to write a grand Whig history of death. His personal history proves far more mundane than that which he documents.

ISFDB does not lump this in with Stableford’s Emortality series. If it’s not part of that series, then it is an early draft. It is my least favorite of his series. Although the elements that annoyed me in the Emortality series are absent, some readers may find our hero something of a pompous numpty.

Honorable Mentions: 1995” • essay by Gardner Dozois

Works almost good enough to make it into this large volume.

1: Death in the Promised Land appeared in both Omni and Asimov’s, somehow, and Looking for Kelly Dahl in both Omni and High Fantastic: Colorado’s Fantasy, Dark Fantasy, and Science Fiction, so the count is off by two.

2: Science marches on: in the McAuley, there is no life in other galaxies because galactic collisions created chaotic conditions hostile to life. The Milky Way is said to be a highly atypical exception. We now know that, contra McAuley, the Milky Way has also hoovered up smaller galaxies; their corpses are detectable in the sky if one knows where and how to look.