Published July 3, 2018, a little over a month after his death, Gardner Dozois’ 35th edition of The Year’s Best Science Fiction features a great introduction and in-depth chronicling of major SF publishers online and in print, large and small. As always, Dozois includes all necessary contact information to facilitate subscriptions. This final collection features new writers and old, with pieces first published in 2017 in professional print magazines like Asimov’s Science Fiction, Analog Science Fiction and Fact and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction; semi-pro magazine Interzone; and a myriad of online-only “ezines” including Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Uncanny, Apex Magazine and others.
Here’s part 2 of our review, offering some highlights from the Year’s Best 35th annual collection.
Sean McMullen delivers an entertaining Victorian steampunk detective story with “The Influence Machine.” Inspector Albert Grant investigates a device capable of generating a powerful amount of electricity and rigged to a kind of telescope in a case that will tax his Associate degree from the Royal College of Science. The principal character in the story is Lisa Elliot, who has devised a way of observing an alternate London with a different history in which science is far advanced. Her scheme to outsmart the male establishment of her day, who are mired in prejudice, is clever and satisfying. Even the title of the story is a mystery until the very end.
Nancy Kress has two stories in this collection. We greatly enjoyed “Canoe,” in which a long range exploration mission of a distant star system encounters the first evidence of alien life. The discovery of the aquatic ETs is realistically conveyed, and the story moves at a nice pace as the aliens turn out to be in need of rescue. We also loved the idea of extending the spirit of Polynesian exploration into the stars.
“The History of the Invasion Told in Five Dogs” by Kelly Jennings is quite simply a chronicling of an alien invasion told in five sections, each centered on the relationship the narrator protagonist had with a series of dogs she owned. The complete absence of any description of the aliens or any real details of the invasion was an effective twist on the invasion trope.
Eleanor Arnason’s story “Mines” deals with a war veteran on a colony planet recovering from PTSD with the help of a pet kangaroo rat capable of sniffing out landmines. There’s also a romance when the protagonist begins a relationship with another war vet suffering from different, more physical trauma. The story is moving in the way it describes the loss, loneliness and absence of the war vet, heightened by the fact that her implanted comm unit, once a source of endless chatter from fellow soldiers and the robots they controlled, has been switched off, leaving her in silence except for her pet rat Whiskers, with whom she can still communicate via mind comm.
Suzanne Palmer, whose novelette “The Secret Life of Bots” won the 2018 Hugo Award in August, contributes a moving story in this collection, “Number Thirty-Nine Skink.” The story centers on an AI who continues to 3D print new life (primarily lizards) on an alien planet that is supposed to be devoid of intelligent life long after human counterpart, Mike, fell to cancer and the other AI/human teams left the planet.
“A Series of Steaks” by Singaporean writier Vina Jie-Min Prasad is set in a cyber punk, near future Hong Kong. Helen, an expert in forgeries of meat, is blackmailed into providing a large amount of faux steaks for a fancy Hong Kong wedding. In this funny and entertaining story, Helen, with the help of a great sidekick, Lily, outwits the man blackmailing her and manages to escape the shady criminal world of forgeries.
Finbarr O’Reilly delivers a strong entry into the collection with “The Last Boat-Buildier in Ballyvoloon,” which takes place about half a century in the future after robotic squid designed to clear the oceans of plastic have evolved, self-replicated and essentially made the oceans of the world off limits to humanity. Although the Jurassic Park style message of the unitended consequences of not messing with nature clearly plays a role, this story has a deeper meaning that the notion of any technological panacea or perhaps even progress will always be at odds with the forces of adaptation, which require strife: “You can’t sharpen a blade without friction. You can’t strengthen a man, or a civilsation, without struggle.” O’Reilly does an excellent job of detailing the seaside town of the story’s title and creates memorable characters. And the notion of humanity seeking easy solutions like plastic-seeking robotic squid to solve our problems seems all too prescient.
In “Sidewalks” by Maureen McHugh, speech pathologist Rosni Gupta may have uncovered a time traveler or resident from an alternative present. McHugh does a nice job of realistically portraying Rosni’s gritty job, while also weaving in the mystery of a woman fluent in a thousand-year-old version of Old English.
The anthology ends with time jumping novella, “Nexus” by Michael F. Flynn, first published in Analog.
So ends an era. On a more positive note, St. Martin’s Press is scheduled to release The Very Best of the Best: 35 Years of the Year’s Best Science Fiction in February 2019, which will be a compilation of Dozois’ favorite stories from the last 35 collections.