James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

Far Away, But Maybe Someday

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection  (The Year’s Best Science Fiction, volume 5)

By Gardner Dozois 

23 Jan, 2021

Special Requests

2 comments

Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

Gardner Dozois’ 1988 The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection is the fifth Dozois anthology of noteworthy science fiction from the previous calendar year. I too am horrified that Dozois used the term collection” when anthology” would have been more appropriate. 

And what did the SF of 1987 — now thirty-four years in the past — look like?



It’s important to remember as one reads these stories that the US was at this time led by an entertainment figure of dubious cognitive ability, the UK Tories had apparently cast aside the social contract that had held sway for decades, while the Russians presented a looming menace to the West. A pandemic swept the world unchecked. Also, the world offered a richer selection of Germanies than it now does, but far fewer Yugoslavias.

As with previous volumes, the annual summation is fascinating, recalling history I either forgot or never knew. Also, as with previous volumes, it’s curious how … archaic is not the kindest word… traditional many of these SF stories seem, despite being a mere three plus decades old. How could stories from just few a years ago (but a span that is nonetheless equal to the lifespan of a Dark Ages peasant’s lifespan) come to seem so antiquated? But I did note a few stories bordering on modern — the Kelly, for example, or the Murphy — while others — any given Endless Foreign War story — benefit from the US having come full circle on the warmongering front. 

A consequence of the series’ focus on SF is that the passage of time has more visible effects on SF than it has on fantasy. Think of reading this as examining the tree rings of science fiction, finding indirect evidence of social events in the rise and ebb of specific subgenres. 

Nota bene: Rachel in Love is effective but I hated rereading this tale of careless abuse. 

Now for the long gambol through all the entries. Think of this as a menu. If you buy the anthology, you’ll know what stories you want to read.

Introduction: Summation: 1987 essay by Gardner Dozois

1987 offered many positive trends (more book lines, more SF on best seller lists), some worrisome trends (one of the new imprints was from Walden Book Company, Inc., and the blurring of lines between publisher and bookseller worried traditional publishers), and some trends, like the rise of sharecropped novels (in which new writers wrote in other people’s properties), of which Dozois firmly disapproved. Nevertheless, despite reservations, the overall tone seems optimistic (millennials can get their older siblings to explain what optimism” was). 

Rachel in Love • (1987) • novelette by Pat Murphy

An ape, imbued with the memories of a dead girl, is left unprotected when the scientist who implanted the memories of his daughter in her dies. She soon discovers her cosseted upbringing has not prepared her for the hostile world that waits her. 

Dream Baby • (1987) • novelette by Bruce McAllister

An idealistic nurse does a tour in wartime Vietnam and discovers that she is starting to see the future. Not only does this make an already horrible experience worse but … when an ambitious officer learns her secret, it makes her a military asset. The officer will never let her go, no matter what she suffers. 

Flowers of Edo • (1987) • novelette by Bruce Sterling

A samurai morose over Japan’s post-Meiji transformation explores modernized Edo with a chance-met low-born companion. The men discover that Japan’s demons have modernized as well. 

In many stories, the disillusioned samurai would have leaped on the chance to reinvent himself as a demon hunter. This fellow was hoping for a fun night on the town and he doesn’t let himself get too distracted from this mission. 

Maybe it would have been better if Dozois had not said of 19th century Japan that it was a milieu as strange and mysterious as any alien planet.” 

Forever Yours, Anna” • (1987) • short story by Kate Wilhelm

A depressed graphologist’s quest to discover the woman hiding behind the artfully written letters provided by a client takes the expert to an unexpected destination.

At the Cross-Time Jaunters’ Ball • (1987) • novelette by Alexander Jablokov

Who could possibly want to kill a critic of artfully crafted parallel worlds? And yet, someone was trying to kill said critic. 

Dinosaurs • (1987) • novelette by Walter Jon Williams

Perfected by millions of years of evolution, the human diplomat could be certain the inadvertent conflict between primitive aliens and his own race would be resolved properly. 

I could swear there’s a Greg Bear story that shares the idea of inflexible humans inconveniencing their neighbours. 

The Temporary King • (1987) • novelette by Paul J. McAuley

A bucolic community built over the ruins of old America is transformed by a charming, glib stranger from the stars. 

Perpetuity Blues • (1987) • novelette by Neal Barrett, Jr.

Despite the best efforts of the predatory men around her, a young woman finds fortune in New York City.

Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight • (1987) • novelette by Ursula K. Le Guin

A young girl survives a plane crash far from rescue. Happily, beings from myth and legend are willing to offer her succor. 

The Pardoner’s Tale” • (1987) • short story by Robert Silverberg

This is a short story by Silverberg. 

Glass Cloud • (1987) • novelette by James Patrick Kelly

An artist discovers that alien Messengers have taken a close interest in his potential works (alas, not his current project). 

The Evening and the Morning and the Night • (1987) • novelette by Octavia E. Butler

Lynn Mortimer’s future is certain to be both brief and grim. The Dilg Institute cannot save her. It can, however, offer a fruitful way to spend the handful of years she has left. 

Night of the Cooters” • [War of the Worlds Sequels] • (1987) • short story by Howard Waldrop

To quote Jeff Wayne, The chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one — but still they come!” Unfortunately for the Martians in question, they came to Texas. 

Angel” • (1987) • short story by Pat Cadigan

A human outcast befriends a fellow outcast from very far away. The friendship is sadly brief but transformative. 

Shades • (1987) • novelette by Lucius Shepard

A Vietnam War veteran returns to Vietnam to confront the ghosts of the long-over war.

A lot of Shepard stories are thinly veiled Vietnam War allegories. This is not thinly veiled.

The Faithful Companion at Forty” • (1987) • short story by Karen Joy Fowler

Years after their adventures ended, the Masked Man is determined to find his way back to the world of his youth. His Faithful Companion, not so much. 

Candle in a Cosmic Wind • (1987) • novelette by Joseph Manzione

On the verge of total nuclear disarmament, humanity was swept away by radiation and cold. A lone human survivor stumbles over amiable alien visitors, witnesses to the world’s doom. 

This is a mirror image of Dear Devil” … but downbeat.

The Emir’s Clock” • (1987) • short story by Ian Watson

The future Emir was alluringly exotic (or so he seemed to a young British woman) … but he might also be a danger to all humanity. 

Oddly for SF, the rather cliched view of the Emir probably says a lot more about the protagonist than the author. The narrator finds the Emir to be deliciously enticing, but isn’t interested in learning anything substantial about his culture. Her bold plan to save humanity may fail because of her smug ignorance. 

Ever After • (1987) • novelette by Susan Palwick

The naïve young woman believed she was actually re-living the old story about beautiful women, royal balls, and happy endings. She was living an ancient story, but not that one.

The Forest of Time • (1987) • novella by Michael F. Flynn [as by Michael Flynn]

The scout assumed that the English-speaking stranger in the German-speaking part of Pennsylvania was a foreign spy. The stranger was no spy but he was very, very foreign.

This is a fairly standard He Walked Around the Horse-style Piper-esque story (with a nod to Randall Garrett). Competent but it went on a bit long. 

The Million-Dollar Wound” • (1987) • short story by Dean Whitlock

America is still America, sending young draftees and volunteers off to fight in foreign wars. What has changed is the medicine. Soldiers banged up enough for a ticket home in 1967 can now be repaired and sent back to the battlefield… again, and again, and again.

The Moon of Popping Trees • (1987) • novelette by R. Garcia y Robertson

Settler technology gave whites an irresistible edge over the Native Americans. Science offered the natives escape from genocide. 

Diner” • (1987) • short story by Neal Barrett, Jr.

Famine-stricken American survivors of the US/USSR conflict are wearing thin the patience of the Chinese benefactors who are supplying the food. 

My sympathies are with the Chinese in this matter, having had their noses rubbed in food hoarding too overt to ignore. As far as foreign occupiers of the US go, they’re not all that awful. 

All the Hues of Hell” • (1987) • short story by Gene Wolfe

Explorers carry out a bold return mission to a shadow world. There are consequences.

This was Ray Bradburyesque. Of note, the editor’s bold claim:

[quote] His tetralogy, The Book of the New Sun (…), is being hailed as a masterpiece, quite probably the standard against which all subsequent science-fantasy books of the 80s will be judged; ultimately, it may prove to be as influential as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or T.H. White’s The Once and Future King . [/quote]

Halley’s Passing” • (1987) • short story by Michael McDowell

Dispassionate and methodical, the serial killer murders his way across America. 

The murders are described in more detail than I wanted and the twist at the end didn’t compensate.

America • [The Mormon Sea] • (1987) • novelette by Orson Scott Card

European America has been swept away, replaced after the war by a new Pan-American State. A Native American state. One Mormon helped bridge the two eras. 

This is part of the very sequence of stories that put me off Card (before the Sunstone article). This is the final one in the sequence and I feel like it plays with Mormon mythology in ways I don’t understand, particularly this passage.

[quote]Deseret, the last European state in America … [/quote]

Presumably, this is the Europeans suffering the fate of the Lamanites for the same reasons? That’s American as in North and South, not just the Usonians. 

For Thus Do I Remember Carthage” • (1987) • short story by Michael Bishop.

Augustus, who hopes to die of old age before barbarians sack his city, is brought unwelcome news of the scientific wonders and novelties of far Cathay. 

Mother Goddess of the World • (1987) • novella by Kim Stanley Robinson

An ex-pat gets drawn into a mad scene whose ostensible purpose is to protect the corpse of a mountain climber from desecration. The true purpose is quite different. 

Honorable Mentions: 1987 • essay by Gardner Dozois

Another impressively long list for Mt Tsundoku. How the heck did Dozois read as much as he did? 

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Fifth Annual Collection is available here (Amazon US),here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble) and here (Chapters-Indigo). I am not sure if it can be found at Book Depository.