Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Year's Best Science Fiction, ed. Gardner Dozois

As a child I read science fiction constantly.  In the third grade the first adult novel I checked out from the library was Clifford Simak’s Step to the Stars, and for the next six or seven years I read as much sci-fi as I could find, before drifting on to other kinds of writing.  Recently, on the Facebook recommendation of Georgia science fiction writer Michael Bishop, I read The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirtieth Annual Collection (ed. Gardner Dozois; St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013).  It was interesting to find that in some basic ways sci-fi had changed very little over the five decades, and that in others it had advanced and matured significantly.  As standards of comparison, I should add that I have few, not having read widely in sci-fi for 45 years.  Maybe what seems significant progress to me is no surprise at all to other readers.  By matured and advanced I probably mean in prose style and quality.  Many of the stories in the anthology at least had literary qualities—strong prose, characterization, plotting, and themes.  But many of the scenarios in the stories seem similar, and they tend to replicate one another.  Many of the stories concern far-advanced civilizations, some human and some not, completely removed in time and space from earthly origins.  Writers go to extremes to describe the ecosystems of alien worlds, and the results are fascinating if sometimes not quite convincing menageries of creatures.  The stories have in common a concern with technology and how it can transform if not entirely distort or destroy the humans who create it.  Technology in many of these stories means bio-technology, or the fusion of silicate and bio-technology.  Writers imagine self-healing, genetically engineered humans who live for thousands of years, living starships, robots, androids, and so on.  Many of the stories reflect concern with the environment and with the ecology of alien worlds.  Most describe worlds in which attitudes towards sex, gender, and human relations have changed considerably.  A number of the stories seem to come to no particular end.  One of the most fascinating, the final story, “Eater of Bones,” by Robert Reed, goes on for too long.  Among my favorites was Michael Bishop’s “Twenty Lights to the ‘Land of Snow’,” about the settlement of a New Tibet on a distant planet.  “Old Paint,” by Megan Lindholm, is a humorous story about a family car that takes on a life of its own. “In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns,” by Elizabeth Burns, is a murder mystery set in a futuristic India in which a hybrid cat-parrot with amnesia plays a significant part.  Christopher Barzak in “Invisible Men” retells the famous H. G. Wells story from the point of view of a chamber maid who herself feels invisible.  I was interested in how many of the writers had day jobs in physics, and how many had studied Elizabethan literature in graduate school.  Women and writers from places other than the United States were well represented.  These stories were entertaining and diverting.  The best of them were intelligent and evocative.

No comments: