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Castles Made of Sand

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection  (The Year’s Best Science Fiction, volume 12)

Edited by Gardner Dozois 

23 May, 2023

The End of History


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Gardner Dozois’ 1995 The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection is, as one might expect, the twelfth annual anthology of notable science fiction edited by Gardner Dozois. The contents of the anthology were first published in 1994. In addition to the essays listed in the table of contents, each story is accompanied by a short biographical note about the author.

You always get your money’s worth from these anthologies, at least in terms of page count. Whether or not you’ll like the texts Dozois selected is unpredictable. I felt this collection was a bit disappointing; Dozois seems to have a reason for feeling SF (or at least short SF) was in the doldrums at this time (but see below). I didn’t actively dislike most of the stories but aside from the Ryman, which could easily be reenacted today, I was not all that keen on most of them. However, I must admit that all but the Turner and the Resnick were competent. Not embarrassing.

Still, readers seem to have liked these stories. They garnered a plethora of award nominations, more than I care to count and list; given the diversity of awards, the stories appealed to fans and pros alike. Not only that; they’ve been republished elsewhere. Of the roughly two dozen stories, only the Cadigan, the Fintushel, and the Kerr appear from ISFDB records not to have been later reprinted under other editors1.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble). I did not find The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Twelfth Annual Collection at Chapters-Indigo. I did see earlier volumes, so maybe Chapters does have this without it being searchable.

Now for the nitty-gritty.

Summation: 1994 • (1995) • essay by Gardner Dozois

The usual lengthy and detailed commentary on the industry. Dozois’ take on the mid-1990s was that SF publishers weren’t printing as much really good work; my take is that it was one of the better periods to be reading SF. Perhaps the difference is due to Dozois’ primary focus on short fiction, which he felt to be of vital importance to SF. While I don’t dislike short fiction (an often-delightful relic of a bygone era in publishing), I prefer novels. The 1990s were not a great era for magazines for many reasons, distributor consolidation being a significant factor. But there were many great novels.

One oddity struck me in Dozois’ essay. When he is discussing Star Trek Voyager, he namechecks actor Kate Mulgrew (he doesn’t think much of her acting). Dozois must have liked other actors in STV, but he doesn’t name any of them.

Forgiveness Day • [Yeowe and Werel • 2] • (1994) • novella by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Ekumen observer and her local military bodyguard overcome their profound culture gap during a kidnapping.

It is possible to write about a man and woman working together without being romantically involved, but this story doesn’t challenge the usual convention. Decently written, although the story’s cultures do not wander far from terrestrial models.

(Which is to say, if an American SFF author of this era mentions slavery, it will be of the US sort, and if they mention a losing war, odds are it will be modeled on Vietnam) 

The Remoras • [The Great Ship Universe] • (1994) • novelette by Robert Reed

Deep within an endlessly travelling planet-sized starship, a woman takes pity on a seemingly desperate social-pariah acquaintance of her husband’s. This proves a terrible misstep.

Nekropolis • (1994) • novelette by Maureen F. McHugh

A servant’s tolerably miserable life is upended by socially inappropriate infatuation.

Deep social divides and exploitation seem to be this volume’s themes.

Margin of Error” • (1994) • short story by Nancy Kress

Betrayed by her sister, a scientist turned housewife revels in long delayed revenge on her sibling, a revenge made easy by said sibling’s personal flaws.

Cilia-of-Gold • [Xeelee] • (1994) • novelette by Stephen Baxter

Confronted by unexpected life on Mercury, humans tell each other just-so stories about the lifeform’s evolutionary history.

There is no guarantee that the suppositions are correct. That said, in other works Baxter has shown his characters deducing the history of the galaxy with a glance, so perhaps some of the scientists got it right.

Going After Old Man Alabama” • (1994) • short story by William Sanders

A powerful but illiterate Native American sorcerer’s bold plan to rewrite history is sabotaged by ignorance.

Melodies of the Heart • (1994) • novella by Michael F. Flynn

An elderly woman proves far older than anyone would have guessed. The reason behind her longevity could offer hope to an ill girl, but only if the two patients can somehow be kept alive long enough.

Newbery Medal material.

The Hole in the Hole • [Wilson Wu and Irving • 1] • (1994) • novelette by Terry Bisson

Two car fans stumble over a unique find in an obscure junkyard. Buying the vehicle is easy enough. Getting it home is another matter.

Paris in June” • (1994) • short story by Pat Cadigan

An attempt to assist a homeless woman goes badly for her equally homeless would-be benefactor.

Flowering Mandrake • (1994) • novelette by George Turner

Genetic imperatives ensure that first contact between alien and humans goes badly.

I was distracted by the assertion that the alien came from a giant star too short-lived to have habitable worlds, and also because I’ve seen this sort of alien before, in Leinster’s story Proxima Centauri.” This story would have been more at home in a Bleiler & Dikty Best SF than it is here.

None So Blind” • (1994) • short story by Joe Haldeman

An inspired genius provides the world with a choice between being able to see and being able to comprehend.

Haldeman frequently adopts a particular narrative pattern; it’s very distinctive. When you read the story, I think you’ll see the pattern.

Cocoon • (1994) • novelette by Greg Egan

Why would someone target a biotechnology company for a concerted sabotage campaign? And would the person investigating survive their discovery of the answer?

Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge • [Birthright Universe] • (1994) • novella by Mike Resnick

Visiting Earth to better understand the fortunately now-extinct Man who once ruled the Milky Way, alien researchers discover Man’s most dreadful secret.

Speaking of stories better suited to a Truman or Eisenhower-era anthology, this would be another.

Dead Space for the Unexpected” • (1994) • short story by Geoff Ryman

A hard-working executive is guided towards perfection by the ever-present automated performance rating.

This has aged astonishingly well. Perhaps horrifyingly well is the better phrase.

Cri de Coeur • (1994) • novella by Michael Bishop

A nearly successful sub-light voyage is complicated by a sequence of disasters just as it arrives in the Epsilon Eridani system.

The timing of the second mishap, a meteor impact that renders the target world nearly uninhabitable, suggests malicious artifice, although it appears to be bad luck.

One of the complications is that the protagonist’s son has Down Syndrome. There’s some muttering about limited resources but … not to spoil the story, the boy isn’t in any real danger of being airlocked for the greater good. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t published in Astounding.

The Sawing Boys” • (1994) • short story by Howard Waldrop

Yet another straightforward criminal plan confounded by klezmer music. 

The Matter of Seggri • [Hainish] • (1994) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

Like many Hain-settled worlds, during the long period of interstellar isolation, Seggri developed its own peculiar customs, in this case dictating strict segregation of men and women. The interregnum is over. How will Seggri deal with knowledge that their ways are not the only ways? 

I am always a bit surprised by the unsubtlety of Le Guin’s title.

This is reviewed at greater length here.

Ylem • (1994) • novelette by Eliot Fintushel

Profit-oriented time forays result in unforeseen complications.

Asylum • (1994) • novella by Katharine Kerr

Lucky enough to be in the UK when American democracy dies in a fascist coup, an American author wrestles with the reality of life as a political refugee.

On the plus side, it looks like the coup will be very good for her book sales. Not only that, the author is well connected and unlikely to be set adrift in the Channel as a warning to other refugees.

Red Elvis • (1994) • novelette by Walter Jon Williams

Fate leads the Presley boy down a very different path.

California Dreamer” • (1994) • short story by Mary Rosenblum

A survivor of the Great Quake offers refuge to two other quake survivors and in so doing is shown a path to a new life.

Until I checked the bibliographic information on this, I had no idea Rosenblum had died.

Split Light” • (1994) • short story by Lisa Goldstein

Shabbetai Tzvi, a man driven by messianic fervor, prisoner of the Sultan, appears powerless. Nevertheless, the fate of the world depends on a decision the vision-plagued prophet will make.

Les Fleurs Du Mal • [Biotech Revolution] • (1994) • novella by Brian Stableford

The 26th century may fancy itself beyond old sins like premeditated murder, but the corpses of the slain are proof that at least one person still embraces old sins. However, the killer has not reckoned with Oscar Wilde.

Not that Oscar Wilde.

I just shelved my Stableford mass market paperbacks and am considering reviewing one. But not one from this sequence of stories, about which I am cool.

Honorable Mentions: 1994 • (1995) • essay by Gardner Dozois

What it says on the tin.

1: There’s an odd flurry of 2015 reprints from this specific volume in Galaxy’s Edge. I wonder if there is a story there?