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The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 17
editor: Gardner Dozois
Robinson paperback £9.99

review by Christopher Geary

If you only buy a single SF book each year, just make sure this is the one. A frequent Hugo Award winner, the series boasts approx a quarter-million words worth of short stories per volume and, with the ever astute Gardner Dozois at the helm, steers a path through the content of each previous year's batch of genre magazines and anthologies to bring home the bacon, skim off the cream and, with its pre-Christmas UK publication date, offers more than enough reading pleasure to deliver us from the evils of silly-season boredom.

This annual collection from Constable and Robinson is known in the USA as The Year's Best Science Fiction (from St Martin's Press) where, as it's been published for a while longer than it has in Britain, the series has reached its 21st outing. After the 10th British edition the title changed, adding The Mammoth Book Of... to Best New SF, when its UK publisher switched from the Raven imprint to the current Robinson line). The format has not changed much over the years, but such consistency is actually one of the book's selling points. The opening Summation of 2003 notes genre events and surveys trends comprehensively in both print and media, while the book's closing list of Honourable Mentions points to other worthwhile fictions in print and online sources. With 29 stories from a dazzling variety of talents, there's bound to be some of your favourite veteran or new writers here, and each gets a short intro even if they're famous enough not to need one.

John Kessel is a master of the quirky time travel story and It's All True concerns an attempt to salvage the career of Orson Welles. Rogue Farm by Charles Stross, whose Singularity Sky gets my vote for the best debut novel of 2004, packs a mind-boggling hundredweight of sagely clever ideas and savagely wry humour into a mere 12 pages. The Cookie Monster by Vernor Vinge is practically indescribable without giving far too much detail away, but suffice to say that it's a Hugo winning novella approaching VR and the post-cyberpunk milieu from a psychological standpoint instead of focusing on the hardware, and is probably the very best story here.

John Varley makes a welcome comeback with The Bellman, a quite enjoyably nasty serial killer thriller set on the Moon. Walter Jon Williams' The Green Leopard Plague is a wholly different kind of detective story, combining a mermaid's Internet research for a biography with startling discoveries about how an illegal biotech invention spawned an offbeat post-human society. Michael Swanwick conjures much cross-genre strangeness in King Dragon, a spinoff from his acclaimed novel The Iron Dragon's Daughter. Night Of Time by Robert Reed is ostensibly about memory retrieval yet covers more territory than can sensibly be lost or found within one head, and is linked to the author's 'Great Ship' sequence that includes his novels Marrow and The Well Of Stars.

Send Me A Mentagram by Dominic Green is a smart medical-thriller variant on The X-Files, as Antarctic tourists encounter a mysterious virus. Paul Di Filippo's wryly amusing And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon posits a future (in the manner of a Rudy Rucker technophile satire) where 'smart' household gadgets develop cliques and amities of their very own. Paranoia leaks off the page. This book's curiosity value is greatly enhanced by a batch of tales from the anthology, Stars, inspired by the songs of Janis Ian, and here we have the likes of Nancy Kress, Howard Waldrop, and Harry Turtledove as just some of the luminaries who contributed to that project. Among several newer names featured strongly in this volume are Jack Skillingstead, Paul Melko, John C. Wright, and Nick DiChario - all writers to watch out for in future. The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF is the genre book of the year, [nearly] every year - so don't miss it!
Mammoth Book of Best New SF 17

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