1992’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection is the ninth volume in the Gardner Dozois series of annual anthologies of noteworthy science fiction.
Once again into the Dozois Best SF mine, each volume of which feels about four times as long as volumes from competing series . This volume draws from 1991, which is recent enough that some of the works foreshadow modern SF. What is not modern: the TOC is very white. About a quarter of the authors are women, which is average for a Dozois Best SF annual (which range from 14 to 35 percent women).
There are a few duds here — I don’t understand what Dozois saw in “Eyewall” or the Resnick — but more hits. Of particular interest to me are:
- the summation (I am a sucker for genre history), even though it is constrained by Dozois’ vow to say only positive things about rival magazine editors;
- the following stories: Living Will, “Blood Sisters”, “The Moat” (yes, two Egans!), and Desert Rain.
The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Ninth Annual Collection is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), here (Book Depository), and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: Note to self: I really should find room for the Best SF annuals of my youth [Carr’s and del Rey’s]. Pretty sure the del Rey will be a bitter disappointment.
As for the stories themselves:
“Summation: 1991” • essay by Gardner Dozois
This is Dozois’ annual assessment of the state of the field; it is lengthy and detailed. He also notes the passing of the Soviet Union, the dominant form of the Russian Empire in the 20thcentury.
Dozois’ irritation at shared universes seems to have ebbed, perhaps because the crest of that particular approach had passed. Instead, Dozois is concerned about book prices. He asserts “you can break a ten-dollar bill buying a paperback and only get a buck or two back.” The assertion raises a contrary notion: given that 1 1991-USD is worth about 2.15 2022-USD, has the price of books kept up with inflation? If not, where’s the missing margin coming from?
(I joke! It’s always at the expense of authors and junior staff)
Poking through ISFDB shows book prices in 1992 were five or six dollars, which would suggest modern prices should be about 11 to 13 USD. I had a surprising amount of trouble finding modern examples of paperbacks on ISFDB but the ones I did find were in the neighborhood of ten dollars. So perhaps a little underpriced but also apparently nearly extinct. Displaced by higher priced trade paperbacks and ebooks?
Beggars in Spain • [Sleepless] • (1991) • novella by Nancy Kress
Genetic engineering produces a breed of humans clearly superior to the masses. How will these improved humans live with the second-hander masses?
I hated this and when the novel came along, I hated that too. I am nothing if not consistent.
Living Will • (1991) • novelette by Alexander Jablokov
Faced with inevitable cognitive decline, a once-brilliant man creates a software emulation on which he can count to make the decisions that the living man will soon be incapable of formulating.
Contrary to quite a lot of SF, the story does not assume a high-definition copy is the same as the original, although in this case the emulation is functional enough for need.
“A Just and Lasting Peace” • (1991) • short story by Lois Tilton
Harsher peace terms transform the American south into an embittered land. Each new generation of whites embraces endless terrorism. Ultimately, of course, they ally with the Nazis.
I’ve seen a number of stories along these general lines. It’s not clear to me how you get a worse reality in the US South than the one the US’ comparatively gentle past approach delivered. It’s hard to worry that a sterner outcome would have produced Nazis when the one that was used also produced Nazis.
“Skinner’s Room” • [Bridge Trilogy] • (1990) • short story by William Gibson
Gibson explores an American anarchist community, perhaps inspired by Freetown Christiania in Copenhagen.
Prayers on the Wind • (1991) • novella by Walter Jon Williams
As interstellar crisis looms, the Forty-First Incarnation of the Bodhisattva Bob Miller, the Great Librarian, dies as all incarnations do. However, the Forty-Second Incarnation is a complete monster. How then will the traditions of the great library be carried on?
“Blood Sisters” • (1991) • short story by Greg Egan
How could twins infected with the same disease, provided identical medication, have different outcomes? The answer is straightforward and alarming.
I suspect it’s quite possible for identical twins to have very different outcomes even when all factors are as identical as possible, but in this specific case, the explanation is simple: a horrifying ethical lapse in the name of SCIENCE!
“The Dark” • (1991) • short story by Karen Joy Fowler
A rescued feral child provides Vietnam-era America with unique opportunities for charity and ruthless exploitation.
Nicely written but is it science fiction?
Marnie • (1991) • novelette by Ian R. MacLeod
A romantic do-over fails to take into account the fact that the characters of the participants haven’t changed.
A Tip on a Turtle • (1991) • novelette by Robert Silverberg
This is a Robert Silverberg story.
Don’t worry! Once he dies, I will start reviewing his stuff again. Tick tock.
“Übermensch!” • (1991) • short story by Kim Newman
A reporter interviews the Nazi superman. The interview that is a cover for a much darker goal.
Exploring what would happen if Superman’s rocket landed somewhere other than Kansas is a fairly popular what-if. This example is jam-packed with references to well-known old time SF characters, pulp and otherwise. Newman is an energetic delver into the genre past, despite which as far as I know he has not enjoyed the public attention Alan Moore’s similar efforts have received. I don’t understand why.
Dispatches from the Revolution • (1991) • novelette by Pat Cadigan
The simple application of well-timed revolutionary violence transforms 1960s America.
This isn’t an ideal USA but at least it is better than soc.history.what-if’s For All Time.
“Pipes” • (1991) • short story by Robert Reed
A glorious plan to rewild swathes of North America is sabotaged by an Indigenous plumber’s disinclination to see his people forcibly removed or confined to small reservations to prevent them from hunting megafauna.
The depiction of the plumber has not aged especially well, but the plot point (it never occurs to the scientist that a Native American might object to Trail of Tears 2: This Time with Mammoths) is probably spot on.
Matter’s End • (1991) • novelette by Gregory Benford
An American scientist ventures into darkest India to see whether an extraordinary science breakthrough is fact or fiction. It’s fact but not of the sort one long enjoys.
I liked this better when it was called “The Nine Billion Names of God.” Clarke liked Indians a lot more than Benford seems to.
A History of the Twentieth Century, with Illustrations • (1991) • novelette by Kim Stanley Robinson
A historian wrestles with the grim reality of Twentieth Century history before cracking under the strain and succumbing to optimism.
“Gene Wars” • (1991) • short story by Paul J. McAuley
Genetic engineering seems to offer corporations and oligarchs the means to rule the world. But as is often noted, the street finds its own uses for technology.
The Gallery of His Dreams • (1991) • novella by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
An artist enjoys a rare perspective on his artistic legacy.
“A Walk in the Sun” • (1991) • short story by Geoffrey A. Landis
Marooned on the Moon, all an astronaut need do is wait for rescue … provided she can walk around the entire circumference of the Moon while waiting, so that her solar panels remain in sunlight.
There were interminable arguments on the relevant USENET newsgroups about whether or not the math in this works.
Fragments of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria • (1991) • novelette by Ian McDonald
I am going to plead intellectual bankruptcy on this one. I understand the sequence of events but not the significance.
“Angels in Love” • (1991) • short story by Kathe Koja
Obsessed with the sounds of sex from the apartment next door, infatuated with the man who lives there, a horny woman makes discoveries she’d have been happier not making.
“Eyewall” • (1991) • novelette by Rick Shelley
Visionary meteorologists travel to an alien planet to master the art of nuking storms into submission. Success comes at a terrible price.
This was an oddly 1962ish story for a 1992 anthology. I’d wonder if the Former Guy got the idea of nuking hurricanes from this story if it weren’t that he doesn’t read for pleasure.
“Pogrom” • [Home Front] • (1991) • short story by James Patrick Kelly
An oblivious Boomer transforms intergenerational and class differences from a source of irritation into violent conflict.
A recurring theme in this book are passing mentions by Dozois when an author’s book underperformed. In this case, it was the passing phrase “mostly ignored Planet of Whispers.” I didn’t ignore it!
“The Moat” • (1991) • short story by Greg Egan
A medical mystery’s solution has deeply disquieting implications, particularly in the context of a society embracing virulent xenophobia.
This is the mirror image of another story in this collection, “Eyewall,”
which could have been ripped from today’s headlines. Not in the sense that genetic engineering is advanced enough to duplicate the trick, but that a small group of oligarchs might use cutting edge technology to enable culling the proles without risking their own lives.
“Voices” • (1991) • short story by Jack Dann
A wild tale from a pathological liar unexpectedly yields revelations about death.
FOAM • (1991) • novelette by Brian W. Aldiss
Properly packaged, memories can be valuable commodities … for the seller, not for the person from whom the memories were stolen.
Jack • (1991) • novella by Connie Willis
As German bombs rain down on London, a rescue worker is increasingly curious how it is that his co-worker manages to find victims buried under rubble and why it is that so many of them have been drained of blood.
This wasn’t horrible, although like many Willis works it could have been shorter. IMHO, most longer Willis works should be one category shorter: novel to novella, novella to novelette, novelette to short story. Tragically, Willis’ obsession with WWII (or at least a cartoon version of it) combined with the frankly undiscerning adulation of her fans would inspire and enable her to write the execrable Hugo winner Blackout/All Clear. [**Editor’s note: James, why don’t you tell us what youreally think?]
Willis fans should be happy I have not yet reviewed Lincoln’s Dreams.
“La Macchina” • [The Holy Machine] • (1991) • short story by Chris Beckett
Encounters with malfunctioning Italian robots provide a tourist with unrequested learning experiences.
“One Perfect Morning, with Jackals” • [Kirinyaga • 1] • (1991) • short story by Mike Resnick
Outraged by Kenya’s modernization, an inflexibly traditionalist would-be witch-doctor resolves to emigrate to a deep-space re-creation of pre-colonial Kenya.
The popularity of Resnick’s stories about Kenya makes me extremely bitter about the judgement of fans. If turnabout were fair play, someone would commission a series of stories about the US written by a Kenyan who had visited Disneyworld a couple of times.
Desert Rain • (1991) • novella by Pat Murphy and Mark L. Van Name
An artist is recruited by her programmer boyfriend to test what modern readers would call a “smart home.” The AI seems to offer a sympathetic ear … but what is its true goal?
In other stories about smart homes the AI turns out to be either hostile or incompetent. (Incompetence not unknown in the real world; witness complaints about Alexa or autocorrect.) In this story the software turns out to be well designed and its effects beneficial. At no point does this take a sudden detour into horror or cautionary tale. No, really — this is an SF story about something that makes life better.
Honorable Mentions: 1991 • essay by Gardner Dozois
A lengthy list of works that almost made it into the anthology. I wonder how many are still in print?