The Year's Best Science Fiction, 6th Annual Collection

Edited by:

Gardner Dozois


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

June 20, 2020

had just finished reading The Year's Best Science Fiction - 35th Annual Collection edited by Gardner Dozois, and thought there were many fine stories in that volume. I wondered how the most recent collection of stories would compare the oldest collection that I own, which is the sixth collection. (I thought that I had the fourth collection, but I cannot find it on my shelves). I have been buying each annual collection as it came out, but did not find time to read them. I decided I would read the sixth collection and see how the stories compared. I especially wondered if they would seem "dated" - would the ideas seem as archaic as science fiction stories from the 1950s? Some of the old Heinlein and Asimov material has not aged well (however, the first Hugo Award (1953) winning novel, The Demolished Man, by Alfred Bester, is a great read.

After reading the entire volume, these stories feel relevant, that they have aged well. However, I didn't like that many of these stories, the stories in the 35th collection were stronger. Dozios won a Hugo award for best editor for this year, so I guess the judges liked his selections, so my opinion was not shared by the SF community of 1989.

Surfacing - Walter Jon Williams. Walter Jon Williams is one of those great authors that doesn't seem to get enough recognition. I remember reading a collection of short stories that included his story Dinosaurs, and I was quite impressed with it. More recently, Williams published Quillifer, an excellent fantasy novel that appears to be the start of an epic series. Surfacing was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards. It is the story of a man named Anthony on a watery planet inhabited by huge creatures that dwell in the vast depths. Anthony has already learned the language of whales on Earth, and now he uses microphones to listen to the mysterious creatures of this new planet, trying to interpret their alien voices. I thought this story did a great job depicting the deep sea dwellers and the challenge of interpreting the thoughts of alien creatures.

Home Front - James Patrick Kelly. In the near future, some high school kids are hanging around, trying to decide if they should enlist to fight a war. This was the first of many stories in this book that left me puzzled by Dozios' decision to include them - this is science fiction?

The Man Who Loved the Vampire Lady - Brian Stableford. Same comment as the previous story - this is science fiction? In an alternate history of 17th century England, vampires rule the country. Edmund Cordery is a craftsman that was once the lover of Lady Carmilla, a vampire. But he is aging, and now has a grown son. Carmilla, of course, doesn't age at all. Can the vampires be overthrown? Can men and not the undead rule humanity?

Peaches for Mad Molly - Steven Gould. Gould would soon (in 1992) release his first novel, Jumper, which I remember reading and enjoying. But at the time of this story, Gould was an unknown author. Here he tells an interesting story about societies of people who live on the outside of enormous skyscrapers. It seems implausible that so many people could cling to these massive structures, but Gould makes it work. The protoganist makes a climb down a few hundred stories to make a supply run, but this make him pass through the levels controlled by the Howler gang. There is a lot chase and climbing action in this story, with some surprises thrown in. Nominated for the Nebula Award for best novelette.

The Last Article - Harry Turtledove. In this alternate history, the Nazis are victorious - they have marched through British Egypt and kept rolling east. The story begins with the surrender of that last battalion of British troops in India. Field Marshall Walther Model has assumed control of India for the Reich. Model is confronted by two pacifists - Gandhi and Nehru. These two Indians are determined to use tactics of non-violent resistance to free India from foreign rulers. Can the Nazis quell this peaceful opposition to control of their new colony?

Stable Strategies for Middle Management - Eileen Gunn. I believe this story was meant to be humorous. It is not funny. People in a large corporation have agreed to be genetically altered, such that they grow the features and behavioral attributes of insects or other creatures. At least this was short. Nominated for the Hugo Award for best short story.

In Memoriam - Nancy Kress. A conversation between an old lady and her full grown son regarding a process that renews you biologically, but at the expense of your memories. I guess the story is suppose to provoke a question in the reader - would you sacrifice your memories in exchange for health / rejuvenation?

Kirinyaga - Mike Resnick. Winner of the Hugo Award for best short story, and nominated for a Nebula for best novelette. Resnick tries to make an argument here that EVERYTHING is relative in morality, there is no absolute right and wrong. Right and wrong are simply based upon what culture you are raised in. In this story, a culture of Masai live on an artifical (off-world) station where they have replicated their ancient beliefs. Thus, the second born of twin infants must be killed because it is a demon, and older members of the society are bashed in the head and left out on the savanna for the hyenas. The ruler of the tribe explains that these practices must continue, however heinous they seem to the Maintenance people who presumably keep the space station functional. If one little facet is changed, the careful balance of their environment will be disrupted and the whole environment will collapse. If the Masai did not bash old folks in the head and leave them for the hyenas, then the hyenas would starve and there would be no predators... etc. But this is a ridiculous argument. The old people will die eventually, and they can be fed to the hyenas then, there is no logical reason to hurry the process, the same number of bodies will be available to become hyena chow. Also, it is ridiculous to argue that a society can only survive if there is no change, because there is always change. A society that cannot handle change will collapse faster than one that stops killing infant twins because they are demons. What a stupid story. It make me angry, it was so bad, but maybe that was the emotion Resnick was trying to provoke in his readers? I am in disbelief that this won a Hugo award.

The Girl Who Loved Animals - Bruce McAllister. In the future, most animal species are extinct. But there are people who are attempting to revive these animals by growing them in wombs of similar creatures, such as implanting a wolf embroyo in a dog. This time, they want to bring back a primate, and so a human surrogate would be ideal. A young woman who really loved animals might volunteer for such a role.

The Last of the Winnebagos - Connie Willis. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novella, but I didn't really like it. This story seems famous, I am sure I have heard of it before, though I don't recall ever previously reading it. Willis has written much better stuff than this, I love her Doomsday Book. I found this story hard to follow - there are flashbacks and plot jumps without any indicator that the story timeline has shifted, the writing simply begins describing events from a different time or place, which confused me. It takes a while to figure out what is going on, though the sequence of the destroyed pictures at the end didn't make sense to me, so I must have misunderstood a couple of sequences. In the future, almost all species are extinct, so a humane society has become ultra aggressive at prosecuting anyone who harms the rare remaining animals. A journalist driving on a 10 lane freeway sees a dead jackal, someone has struck the animal. The journalist is going to see one of the last of the Winnebagos, driven by an old couple around the country as a tourist attraction. This is supposed to be a "tug at the heartstrings" story for dog lovers, but I was too confused about what was going on.

Love in Vain - Lewis Shiner. The author is Lewis Shiner, but it reads like a Stephen King story. Another entry that left me wondering what Dozios thinks is science fiction. In a Texas jail, the authorities have captured a notorious serial killer, who confesses to an unbelievable number of crimes. A detective trying to solve cold cases is trying to establish if this criminal is lying, so he invents a file about a missing girl. The killer admits that he did kill her, and leads the police team to the crime scene - and there IS a body there, just like the girl described in the made up file.

The Hob - Judith Moffett. One of my favorite stories in this collection, nominated for the Nebula award for best novelette. Jenny Shepherd is tramping across the English landscape in inclement weather, when she spots what she at first thinks is a sheep. But a sheep carrying a dead grouse in its mouth? In fact, Jenny has spotted Elphi, one of the last remaining members of his tribe, which the locals used to call the Hobs. Elphi cannot let his dwindling tribe of Hobs be discovered by modern humanity, and so he kidnaps Jenny and takes her back to his cave. There Elphi tells Jenny a fantastic story, while also apologizing that he cannot let her go with the knowledge she possesses of his existence.

Our Neural Chernobyl - Bruce Sterling. This story is presented as a book review of a work that describes how biological manipulation and gene altering led to a kid in his garage creating a virus that brought sentience to animals. Sterling always had good ideas, but the book review format didn't do anything for me. Nominated for a Hugo award for best short story.

House of Bones - Robert Silverberg. A grand master of science fiction delivers perhaps the best story in this collection. A time traveller has been trapped in ice age Europe. Fortunately, he was quickly found and adopted by a tribe of early humans. The tribe has heard rumor of an "old one" (a Neanderthal) lurking near their tribe. The king decides that the time traveller must be sent to confront this "old man", because it takes a stranger to find a stranger - and the king hands him a stone knife, and instructions to not come back until his task is done. I like this story very much, but apparently it was not nominated for the major award. Go figure.

Schrödinger's Kitten - George Alec Effinger. Winner of the Nebula Award for best Novelette. Another story that confused me. It is supposed to be the story of multi-universes - every choice, every decision, spawns another universe, so all realities happen. The story keeps wrapping back to Jehan's encounter with a would-be rapist in an alley. The story seems to be following different outcomes from different decisions, but then it circles back again at starts over. Which of these series of events actually occurs? Apparently all of them.

Do Ya, Do Ya, Wanna Dance? - Howard Waldrop. Another story intended to be funny, but the humor missed me entirely. Another story that seems completely devoid of science fiction elements. Before their 20th high school reunion, some old friends recall all the outrageous hi-jinx that happened in their school days. Nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards, so apparently the judges found this enjoyable.

The Growth of the House of Usher - Brian Stableford. Deep in the South American jungle, Rowland Usher has constructed a living house, full of bizarre creatures and biologically altered creatures. Usher has a rare incurable disease, and he needs his visiting friend to take up his work. Usher had a younger sister, Magdalen who died tragically years ago. Has Usher tried to revive/reinvent his long dead sister? The friend explores the unsettling and creepy living house.

Glacier - Kim Stanley Robinson. In the future, glaciers are once again crunching their way south. A family living in Boston sees the towering ice sheet slowly, inexorably, advancing on their city. Most of the citizens of Boston have already left, but the Goldbergs have hung on. The star of the story is Stella the stray cat.

Sanctuary - James Lawson. Cardenas is an empath, he can sense and anticipate human behavior from subtle clues. Cardenas works as a detective on the toughest crimes, solving cases that no one else can crack. There are two geniuses that have died in their offices, apparently their minds have been wiped. The bodies remain, but their minds are gone. Both these dead men were working on high powered software for corporations, can Cardenas figure out what happened to them? A long story that didn't do much for me.

The Dragon Line - Michael Swanwick. Swanwick has written so many great things (The Iron Dragon's Daugher, Stations of the Tide) that I was disapponted when this story failed to rise to his usual high level of excellence. Its a story of Merlin and Mordred in modern times. It is hard to come up with new material when the King Arthur tales have been written and rewritten from every angle.

Mrs Shummel Exits a Winner - John Kessel. Another story without any discernable science fiction content. Maybe it would belong in an urban fantasy anthology? A horror story collection? Mrs Shummel attends her traditional bingo game. Across from her sits a mute kid that wins every single game of bingo - no matter what number is called, it is on the kid's card. Nominated for the Nebula Award for best short story.

Emissary - Stephen Kraus. After a string of mediocre stories in the collection, this one was better. Roger stops by his friend's home with a long story about exploring an old mine, just as his ancestors had done. Roger inherited an old manuscript, and went exploring and discovers something astonishing.

It Was the Heat - Pat Cadigan. Yet again, Dozios selects a story that doesn't appear to contain any science fiction elements. A woman attends a business conference in New Orleans when it was really hot. The heat makes her decide to drop her inhibitions and hookup with a good looking young man.

Skin Deep -Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I liked this story about a native, Cullaene, on a distant planet that has been colonized by humans. The native is a shape shifter, capable of assuming human form. Cullaene has been working on a farm with a human family, the Fieldings, when a group of concerned colonizers show up - they appear to have found a human skin down by the river, and foul play is suspected. Cullaene really doesn't want them to investigate this...

Dying in Hull - D. Alexander Smith. Set in the far future of 2004, this story describes an old woman, Ethel Godwin Cobb, who lives in the drowned city of Hull. Climate change has melted the ice, and the waters have risen. We follow Ethel as she takes a brief boat tour around the old city, looking at the devastation. Certainly a story that was ahead of its time.

Distances - Kathe Koja. It was unclear to me what was happening in this story. I think that some brilliant people have been somehow augmented with quantum devices, which allow them to control instruments over vast distances, with no time lag. In this instance, the idea is to control a space probe sent to Proxima Centauri, which is a pretty neat idea. Except there seems to be zero story material about the space probe or Proxima Centauri. Instead, the story focuses on Halloran, the "handler" of Michael, the augmented human. Halloran has a health crisis, and the story is about how her health gets worse.

Famous Monsters - Kim Newman. An aging Martian reflects on his film career. Apparently, the War of the Worlds really happened, and the Earth won. There was a second War of the Worlds, and Earth won that one too. While this was going on, the narrator tells about all of the B-rated movies he acted in, always as the sidekick or the bad guy. Movies so bad that they were funny, so low budget that everything was just pieced together. I was not amused.

The Scale Hunter's Beautiful Daughter - Lucious Shepard. Dozios ends his collection with an excellent contribution from Shepard, nominated for best Novella for both the Hugo and Nebula awards (The Last of the Winnebagos won both awards). A humongous dragon named Griaule has been frozen in the landscape for centuries, and now the woods and towns have grown up around it decaying body. Although Griaule is frozen and disintegrating, his evil menace lays over the surrounding countryside. Catherine is the beautiful daughter of a man who earns a living by scraping scales off of dragon's body and selling them as charms. Catherine grows up carefree and thoughtless, until one day she is assaulted by one of the Willen brothers. In her fight against the rapist, she kills Key Willen. When the Willen brothers come after Catherine, seeking revenge, she hides in the open mouth of the dragon, and eventually escapes inside and discovers a vast and strange world. I liked the bizarre interior that Shepard describes, the creatures and the parasites and the unique inhabitants that Catherine discovers there. Apparently this story is one of several stories about the dragon Griaule that Shepard wrote, which are now all collected in a book called The Dragon Griaule. I wonder if I could find a copy.