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Science Fiction: The Best Of 2001
edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber
iBooks paperback £5.99 / $7.99
review by Steven Hampton
As the editors of this anthology openly admit in their introduction, a prestigious annual collection of short stories already exists in the form of Gardner Dozois' excellent series of books, published in the UK by Robinson. However, the overall high quality of SF in this volume supports the notion that there's room in the marketplace for a friendly rival, without much hint of serious competitive threat, and Silverberg and Haber have gathered together a richly varied assortment of space opera, time travel adventures, hard-SF thrillers, and other works far less easy to classify.
James Patrick Kelly gets the book off to a good start with Undone, a witty and enthralling tale of time warfare, UFO visitation in a distant future, and unfashionable true love. It's an excellent opener. Know How, Can Do by Michael Blumlein matches the engagingly good-humoured tone of Kelly's work, but its initial amusements eventually fade into the background to reveal a scenario that questions the morality of scientific experimentation. From Here You Can See The Sunquists by Richard Wadholm explores an older couple's romantic nostalgia via the strange virtual world of La Jetée (perhaps inspired by Chris Marker's film), where Mr and Mrs Sunquist voyeuristically observe their younger selves - only to discover some unsuspected truths about each other. Keepers Of Earth by Robin Wayne Bailey is arguably the weakest story here. It features robot caretakers of the home planet vacated by mankind when catastrophe threatens, and has these pacifist machines develop sentience, but never bothers to explain how. Leaving this central mystery intact is likely to frustrate many readers expectations.
Acclaimed novelist Gregory Benford's offering, Anomalies, is vintage fare that delivers an intriguing concept and close with a twist worthy of Arthur C. Clarke's best work. Ian Watson's story, One Of Her Paths, tackles some of the biggest ideas in SF with authorial genius operating at full tilt. Travelling through Q-space, the first human colonists reach Tau Ceti but, unexpectedly, this quantum leap separates the 100-strong crew from one another for the journey's six-month duration. Even stranger is the baby born onboard starship Pioneer en route, that turns out to be "a child of reality and probability" speaking in an alien voice. This is my favourite story, and it's worth the cover price alone!
Michael Swanwick's The Dog Said Bow-Wow is a hugely entertaining yet stylised adventure, set in a fully developed biotech future where the hero is a canine trickster plotting against retro imperialism. Returning from such a diverting realm, Nancy Kress brings us back to more contemporary issues in And No Such Things Grow Here, a hardboiled crime drama that involves two sisters' struggle for justice in a dystopian New York beset by eco-terrorism and draconian genetics legislation. Stephen Baxter's ambitious Sun-Cloud is another one of his wholly self-contained tales of non-human transcendence, imagining some utterly alien life forms on an unearthly planetoid, but also making us care about the central characters. Joe Grimsley's Into Greenwood sounds like fantasy but is strongly science fictional, and a brilliantly imagined study of trans-human sexuality. Dan Simmons has the final slot. His evocative climbing adventure, On K2 With Kanakaredes, sees human mountaineers helping a visiting bug-like alien to scale the world's most hostile peak. As you might expect, with Simmons' alien creations, there's an unexpected twist.
Thumbnail biographies of all the contributors are informative and very probably necessary for background details about such relative newcomers as Wadholm and Grimsley.
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