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The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh Annual Collection  (The Year’s Best Science Fiction, volume 11)

Edited by Gardner Dozois 

26 Jan, 2023

The End of History


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1994’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh Annual Collection is the eleventh (!!!) volume in Gardner Dozois’ annual Best SF anthology series. 

Two immediate thoughts …

First: despite Dozois’ and St. Martin’s conviction otherwise, collections are not anthologies. IMHO, if you’re going to abandon the distinction between collections and anthologies, you might as well jump right into total social collapse, cannibalism, and filing books by the first letter of the author’s given name.

Second: while I strongly prefer that annual anthologies should mention the year from which the Best SF is being sifted, the absence of the publication year on the cover may help explain the unusual longevity of each volume. If one goes shopping for in-print volumes of competing best-of collections of similar vintage, one will usually not find them. A competing hypothesis is that readers find the Dozois series of higher quality than its competitors, which may explain why the Dozois series had thirty-five volumes, while other series struggled to get to a dozen1.

Depending on which edition one purchases, this volume comprises either 593 or 689 pages. However, because Dozois’ taste runs to longer works, this collection includes fewer stories than that page count might suggest. Here’s another Dozois trick; he managed to republish novellas. Other editors tried and failed at best-novella-of-the-year series; Dozois appears to have succeeded by including works of various lengths while not drawing attention to the fact that he had included novellas.

Given that I have the above reasons to like his collections, it’s a pity that Dozois and I don’t have similar tastes. Dozois liked the sort of thing he liked; there’s a lot of death and melancholia in this volume. However, that’s no surprise, given that it is edited by Dozois. I was also not super thrilled by his occasional forays outside Anglo-American culture. Points for acknowledging that the world is not entirely composed of white middle-class people, but it would been even more awesome if Dozois had included more stories by non-white-middle-class people, to replace stories about non-white-middle-class people by WMCPs.

There’s lots to reward readers here. Kress’s Dancing on Air, Reed’s Guest of Honor, and Williams’ Wall, Stone, Craft were of particular interest. In a positive sense, that is. In a negative sense, once again there was a Resnick that inexplicably occupied pages that in a better world would have been blank. The highlight for me was, as usual, the annual summation.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Eleventh 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, but since their search function (at least where this series is concerned) is crappy, I may have overlooked it.

Summation: 1993 • essay by Gardner Dozois

Dozois discusses developments in 1993, acknowledging that as editor of Asimov’s he has a dog in this fight. It’s a lengthy, detailed article, one that provides a snapshot of science fiction of almost thirty years ago.

Now for the stories.

Papa • (1993) • novelette by Ian R. MacLeod

An aged man manages an unexpected visit from his descendants.

This isn’t a horrible future: old age isn’t as awful as it could be and the kids are all right.

Sacred Cow • (1993) • short story by Bruce Sterling

A Bollywood director struggles to circumvent certain professional complications as he makes films in backwater England. (Backwater because depopulated by the Mad Cow plague.)

One wonders what actual Indians made of this?

Dancing on Air • (1993) • novella by Nancy Kress

Novel technology does not make professional dance less brutal. It only expands the battlefield.

A Visit to the Farside” • (1993) • short story by Don Webb

An American, chaffing under Soviet domination of the Moon, seeks out a world free of Russian dominance. He gets his wish. Be careful that you wish for.

This is not, as I feared, a victim of long publication lead times dropping a Cold War story into the post-Cold War era. It is, however, a reminder that many authors of the time felt that the Russians could be counted on to explore space whereas the Americans would not.

Alien Bootlegger • (1993) • novella by Rebecca Ore

Low level criminality and racial tensions in a backwater county are complicated when an alien enters the bootlegging trade.

If you don’t care for the N‑word, you may want to skip this one.

Death on the Nile • (1993) • novelette by Connie Willis

A tourist’s thoughts are drawn inexorably towards death.

Friendship Bridge • (1993) • novelette by Brian W. Aldiss

A British man witnesses the social and political chaos that follows the sudden collapse of Soviet rule in Central Asia.

Into the Miranda Rift • (1993) • novella by G. David Nordley

Trapped while spelunking in the moon Miranda, explorers are forced to make their way through the very depths of the tiny world.

Shades of Nourse’s Brightside Crossing, which featured a because it’s there” crossing of Mercury’s sunward side (Brightside Crossing dating from when Mercury was thought to be locked into 1:1 spin-orbit resonance). Nordley’s characters at least have the excuse of necessity. 

Mwalimu in the Squared Circle” • (1993) • short story by Mike Resnick

Coached by Mohammad Ali, President Nyerere accepts Idi Amin’s offer to settle the differences between Uganda and its enemies in the boxing ring. The diminutive Nyerere has righteous fury on his side. The hulking Amin, on the other hand, has the meagre comfort of knowing that he is Uganda’s light-heavyweight boxing champion.

What gruesome karma did I accrue that I have been punished by being forced to read Mike Resnick stories?

Guest of Honor • (1991) • novelette by Robert Reed

Too timid to explore the stars themselves, Earth’s cruel immortals create what they believe is the next best thing. The cost is high … but not to them.

Love Toys of the Gods” • (1993) • short story by Pat Cadigan

American men experience Close Encounters with aliens. Very close encounters.

Boom chicka-wow-wow.

Chaff • (1993) • novelette by Greg Egan

A remorseless agent is presented with a horrifying threat: an opportunity for personal improvement that casts doubt on the agent’s foundational beliefs.

Georgia on My Mind • (1993) • novelette by Charles Sheffield

An overlooked archive in New Zealand reveals that someone managed to build a working version of Babbage’s Analytical Engine back in the 19th century, then explored further developments in computer science, developments that the 20th century has yet to recapitulate.

Odd that there would be two stories in this collection that are essentially quests for alternate worlds more suited to one’s personal preferences. It’s not clear if the events of this story ended in a more comfortable conclusion that those of A Visit to the Farside.” They cannot have worked out worse.

Sheffield’s 20th century New Zealand seems more backward than I would have expected

Cush • (1993) • novelette by Neal Barrett, Jr.

A horribly deformed child finds its life’s purpose.

On the Collection of Humans” • (1994) • short story by Mark Rich

An alien researcher advises re best practices for gathering useful human specimens.

There and Then • [Silurian Tales] • (1993) • novelette by Steven Utley

Natural phenomena provide access to the Silurian, but not escape from human politics.

ISFDB reveals there were quite a lot of stories in this series. The Silurian isn’t the most interesting of periods but at least it’s not the Boring Billion.

The Night We Buried Road Dog • (1993) • novella by Jack Cady

The curious facts about a mysterious phantom of the roads.

Feedback • (1993) • novelette by Joe Haldeman

A talented artist accepts a commission from the wrong client and finds himself entangled in violent murder.

Lieserl” • [Xeelee] • (1993) • short story by Stephen Baxter

A young girl discovers that she was created for a very special purpose.

Flashback • (1993) • novelette by Dan Simmons

America’s inevitable decline is accelerated by American addiction to drug-fueled nostalgia, a flaw that the crafty Japanese have very likely facilitated.

This story was, I believe, later expanded into the awful 2011 novel of the same name. The xenophobia was there from the beginning.

A Child’s Christmas in Florida” • (1993) • short story by William Browning Spencer

A family celebrates Christmas in their very special way.

Whispers • (1993) • novelette by David B. Kisor and Maureen F. McHugh

A health worker does her best to assist the ill in a world transformed by a deadly pandemic, a pandemic whose origins may be very curious indeed.

Interesting detail: it only took a couple of years for the real world to give up and accept the pandemic as the new normal. I would wonder if this story was influenced by Garrett’s The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance, were it not that this story appears to predate that text.

Wall, Stone, Craft • (1993) • novella by Walter Jon Williams

Mary Godwin’s adventures with Shelley are enormously complicated when their path crosses that of dashing Napoleonic War hero, George Gordon Noël, the Marquess formerly known as Lord Byron.

Honorable Mentions: 1993 • essay by Gardner Dozois

A lengthy list of stories almost good enough to make it into this volume.

1: As far as I can tell, the longest running collection series were: 

The Year’s Greatest Science-Fiction and Fantasy2 (edited by Judith Merril). Twelve volumes, 1956 – 1968.

The Best Science Fiction of the Year2 (edited by Terry Carr). Sixteen volumes from 1972 to 1987, provided one does not count the two best novella volumes as part of the series. If you do, there would eighteen volumes in the series.

The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy2 edited by Rich Horton. 16 volumes from 2005 through 2020

Year’s Best SF (ed by David G. Hartwell, later joined by Kathryn Cramer). Eighteen volumes, 1996 – 2013.

World’s Best SF (edited by Donald A. Wollheim, with Terry Carr, later replaced by Arthur W. Saha). Nineteen volumes, 1972 – 1990. You might want to consider this series as a continuation of the Best SF series Wollheim that edited at Ace, 1965 – 1971. If you do, this would be a twenty-five volume series. 

However, I don’t know if early volumes of the above series were still in print by the time the later volumes appeared. In the case of this Dozois series, the entire series appears to be in print.

2: The series title on the cover varies, but in both cases, it was clearly one series.

(Note: duplicate 2s were not an error)