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Carry the Lantern High

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection  (The Year’s Best Science Fiction, volume 3)

Edited by Gardner Dozois 

27 Aug, 2020

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Gardner R. Dozois’ 1986 The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection is an anthology of … do I need to spell this out? As one might expect, it covers stories from 1985.

Once more into the breach! Only thirty-two of these to go! Which at one per two months will keep me busy until 2026.

A surprising aspect of the anthology, at least from the perspective of someone old enough to have lived through the 1980s, is how quaint this all feels. Many of the stories would not have been out of place in magazines of the 1970s. Some, like the Tiptree, wouldn’t have been too surprising to encounter in the 1950s or even the 1940s. There is an awareness that the world outside the US exists (in a sense), but the treatment of that far far away can be reminiscent of old Escape episodes.

There aren’t any terrible stories in this collection (terrible in a technical sense), although a lot of them have, as is so often true of older SF, aged poorly. Dozois chose stories of consistent quality, so it would be hard for me to single out any one story for particular praise. If one is interested in the better examples of American short science fiction of the Reagan Era, this is a valuable resource, provided one realizes that Dozois mainly curates material by white guys. There’s likely a whole world outside the light cast by his lantern.

In a negative sense, Fringe” is of personal interest to me, because it was Card’s Folk of the Fringe, which includes that story, that convinced me A: I didn’t want to read more Card, and B: I probably wouldn’t enjoy living anywhere surrounded by people like him. 

Introduction: Summation: 1985 • essay by Gardner Dozois

A broad look at the state of SF in 1985, SF which is beginning to take on a form familiar to modern readers. No online magazines because online is only just getting started, but the major publishers and also Baen have appeared on the scene. A number of them — Del Rey and DAW — are sufficiently established as to have to deal with the problem of what to do when the founding editor retires or dies. Knowing how the 1990s played out for Del Rey and DAW, I’d have to say DAW handled the crisis better.

Dozois takes pains to deal with the elephant in the room — that his new position as editor of Asimovs makes him somewhat biased on the matter of which magazine produces the best short fiction — but strangely does not bother to comment on something clear to anyone who has this book in hand, that he lavishes praise on Bluejay, publisher of this volume. 

The Jaguar Hunter• (1985) • novelette by Lucius Shepard

Forced by his wife’s lavish spending habits to take up jaguar hunting once more, a hunter must face the supernatural. 

Dogfight • (1985) • novelette by William Gibson and Michael Swanwick

An ambitious wargamer wins the world at the cost of his soul.

Interesting bit: a young woman is subjected to a medical treatment that makes her averse to touch and to sex. This is supposed to help her focus on her schoolwork. 

Consent does not appear to be a thing in this universe. 

Fermi and Frost” • (1985) • short story by Frederik Pohl

Global thermonuclear war dooms most of the human population to a lingering miserable death, either from the immediate effects or the nuclear winter that follows. There’s a remnant: Iceland’s handful of inhabitants. Their survival is not guaranteed.

Green Days in Brunei• (1985) • novella by Bruce Sterling

Seeking to escape the influence of his domineering mob-connected grandfather, a Chinese-Canadian engineer takes a job in a charming Asian pocket kingdom. He soon discovers that the pleasing façade conceals some very cut-throat politics. 

Snow” • (1985) • short story by John Crowley

A technological answer to death and loss proves to have its own melancholy drawbacks. 

The Fringe• [The Mormon Sea] • (1985) • novelette by Orson Scott Card

In post-American Utah after the Big Whoops, a judgemental teacher draws the homicidal fury of upset schoolboys.

The Lake Was Full of Artificial Things” • (1985) • short story by Karen Joy Fowler

A technological answer to death and loss proves to have its own melancholy drawbacks. 

There were themes to which Dozois was very attracted (see Snow” above). 

Sailing to Byzantium• (1985) • novella by Robert Silverberg 

A twentieth century man arrives in a distant tomorrow and takes a lover who proves to have an unfortunate condition. 

A technological answer to death and loss proves to have its own melancholy drawbacks (see above), which does not mean it’s not worth trying. 

Solstice • (1985) • novelette by James Patrick Kelly

A middle aged man, alarmed that his much younger lover has taken on a paramour, attempts to orchestrate his rival’s humiliation.

Duke Pasquale’s Ring • [Doctor Eszterhazy] • (1985) • novella by Avram Davidson

Doctor Eszterhazy’s efforts to confound a demonic figure vex but do not vanquish the foe. Eszterhazy’s efforts pale in comparison to the unforeseen consequences of the demonic rival’s brush with success.

More Than the Sum of His Parts” • (1985) • short story by Joe Haldeman

Horribly mutilated in an industrial accident, an engineer embraces his new prosthetics with more enthusiasm than his doctors could have hoped … or feared.

Out of All Them Bright Stars” • (1985) • short story by Nancy Kress

A waitress in a backwater town diner serves her first off-world visitor. Her gracious hospitality is a stark contrast to that provided by her bigoted co-worker. 

No twist. She doesn’t get eaten or anything. She’s surprised but professional. 

Side Effects• (1985) • novelette by Walter Jon Williams

An avaricious doctor sees nothing wrong with volunteering his patients as experimental subjects in multiple medical programs. After all, who ever hear of unanticipated interactions?

Other times. I wasn’t terribly surprised by the reckless research protocol nor by the fact that the doctor discussed a woman’s medical condition with her husband and not with her. 

The Only Neat Thing to Do • [Rift] • (1985) • novella by James Tiptree, Jr.

An idealistic space scout discovers too late the dreadful reason for the disappearance of two of her colleagues. 

Like The Cold Equations,” this story falls apart if one introduces even rudimentary safety procedures. 

Dinner in Audoghast • (1985) • short story by Bruce Sterling

In a prosperous African city, four luminaries are alarmed by the doleful prognostications of a man cursed with prophetic visions. 

This story includes a rather nasty joke about African slavery. 

Under Siege• (1985) • novelette by George R. R. Martin

Psychic time travel offers the America of tomorrow a chance to avert the atomic war that reduced humanity to a pitiful remnant. For the deformed mutant on whose shoulders the effort rests, it offers an escape from himself. 

Martin read this at a WilfCon, a convention held in Waterloo a very long time ago. I know I go on about rape in his fiction, but I could also gripe about the plethora of self-loathing disabled people. The protagonist is one such. 

Flying Saucer Rock & Roll • (1985) • novelette by Howard Waldrop

Musically ambitious teens manage to first offend a local gang, then insult the gang’s own band. The kids manage to talk the gang into a singing contest, one complicated by unexpected audience members.

A Spanish Lesson• (1985) • novelette by Lucius Shepard

An expatriate American’s tropical debauchery is complicated by newcomers who bring with them echoes of the fallen Third Reich.

Roadside Rescue” • (1985) • short story by Pat Cadigan

Stranded by the side of the road, the offer of help from an alien’s chauffeur is welcome. There is, of course, a price. 

Paper Dragons• [Land of Dreams] • (1985) • novelette by James P. Blaylock

The hermit crab migration, featuring as it does increasingly large crabs, might be a horror to crab-haters. For Filby and Augustus Silver, the migration is an unparalleled opportunity.

The word oriental” turns up a lot in this. Other times. 

Magazine Section” • (1985) • short story by R. A. Lafferty

A charming author of unusual tales struggles to adapt to a world with no place for charming authors of unusual tales. 

The War at Home” • (1985) • short story by Lewis Shiner

Americans who eluded the draft are never the less haunted by memories of a war in which they did not serve. 

Rockabye Baby• (1985) • novelette by S. C. Sykes

Paralysed in a traffic mishap, the artist leaps at the chance to regain mobility. There is, however, a cost that makes him hesitate. 

Green Mars• [Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson)] • (1985) • novella by Kim Stanley Robinson

Climbing Mars’ tallest mountain provides a bitter former politician with the opportunity to reconcile himself to a Mars greatly transformed … despite his efforts. 

No relation to the novel by the same name, although some details of the setting are adopted and transformed in the later, larger work. 

Honorable Mentions: 1985• essay by Gardner Dozois 

A promising and quite lengthy list of works from which I might make a to-be-read list, if only I were less busy.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Third Annual Collection is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo). I did not find it at Book Depository.