"The Year's Best Science Fiction" edited by Gardner Dozois (2003)
This is a BIG book. The subtitle promises "more than 300,000 words of fantastic fiction" and I can believe it. This "twenty-first annual collection" clocks in at well over 600 pages, and the print was so small that I found myself wishing I had a magnifying glass handy.
Not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but well worth the effort. As with any such collection, the stories can be divided into the "terrible," "average," "good," and "great" categories, and I'm thankful to report that most of the stories below can be assigned to the "good" category. There are even a couple great ones to be found in their midst.
1. "Off on a Starship" by William Barton
A teenager finds himself stranded on the other side of the universe, with only a robot to turn to for companionship. Definitely the worst story here, by turns boring and juvenile.
2. "It's All True" by John Kessel
A time traveler journeys back to the distant past to make Orson Welles a proposition. Well written, but fails to do anything interesting with either the time travel premise or Orson Welles.
3. "Rogue Farm" by Charles Stross
Bioengineering leads to an almost unrecognizable future. This is one of the great stories in this collection. Gloriously weird.
4. "The Ice" by Steven Popkes
A cloning experiment leads a young hockey player to question his individuality. An engaging story, though the scientific elements aren't really necessary.
5. "Ej-es" by Nancy Kress
A group of medics travel to a distant planet to heal the sick. Solidly written and worth seeking out.
6. "The Bellman" by John Varley
A detective story set in space. A killer is attacking pregnant women, and three police officers attempt to find out why. Fairly predictable, and not all that good.
7. "The Bear's Baby" by Judith Moffett
A race of extraterrestrials transform the Earth into their private nature reserve for a sinister purpose. The protagonist is annoying and so is the story.
8. "Calling Your Name" by Howard Waldrop
An aging widower finds a door to another universe. It's an excellent story that doesn't feel the need to beat you over the head with the concepts involved.
9. "June Sixteenth at Anna's" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Another widower finally examines the hologram that was his dead wife's obsession. Boring and depressing.
10. "The Green Leopard Plague" by Walter Jon Williams
This one was just trying to hard. The idea of photosynthetic humans is interesting, but the converging narratives don't seem to converge properly. Two halves of two good stories that don't add up to a convincing whole.
11. "The Fluted Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi
My favorite story in this collection. A pair of sisters are transformed into musical instruments by a scheming matriarch. Like an extremely vivid nightmare that's hard to forget.
12. "Dead Worlds" by Jack Skillingstead
A terrestrial observer uploads his consciousness to a space probe light years away. It's a great idea for a story, but the romantic elements in it don't amount to a satisfying conclusion.
13. "King Dragon" by Michael Swanwick
One of the weirder stories here - by turns futuristic, by turns medieval. Not bad, but not great.
14. "Singletons in Love" by Paul Melko
A symbiotic organism falls in love with another organism that isn't. It starts out well, but the ending feels wrong.
15. "Anomalous Structures of My Dreams" by M. Shayne Bell
An AIDS patient witnesses an outbreak of nanomachines. An excellent story and probably my second favorite after "The Fluted Girl."
16. "The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge
Several people wake up to the virtual nature of their reality. This story has some great ideas in it, but it's hard to buy into the fact that they so quickly agree on what is taking place.
17. "Joe Steele" by Harry Turtledove
A fictional labor leader, Joe Steele, wins the election instead of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Brings to mind the far superior "Man in the High Castle."
18. "Birth Days" by Geoff Ryman
One of the worst stories here. A homosexual comes to terms with his homosexuality, and along the way devises a way for two men to conceive and give birth. The author should have better researched the science involved, because many of the ideas he proposes don't make any sense.
19. "Awake in the Night" by John C. Wright
I thought this was brilliant in the beginning - until I found out that the brilliant ideas were borrowed from another author. As a work of fan fiction, it degenerates quickly into a ponderous story with a predictable ending.
20. "The Long Way Home" by James Van Pelt
Man contemplates his place among the stars, with the broad sweep of history as a backdrop. Not terrible, but kind of like warmed-over Arthur C. Clarke.
21. "The Eyes of America" by Geoffrey A. Landis
Another alternative history story, along the lines of the above-mentioned "Joe Steele." William Jennings Bryan hires Nikolai Tesla as his science adviser, initiating a grudge match between himself and the other candidate, Thomas Edison. Seemed like this story needed something more.
22. "Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst" by Kage Baker
Two immortals from the future visit the Hearst Castle on assignment. Something like an Agatha Christie story with super-powered cyborgs. Not very good.
23. "Night of Time" by Robert Reed
A human helps an alien remember something it's forgotten. Also not very good. Derivative stuff like this is what keep many thinking people away from science fiction.
24. "Strong Medicine" by William Shunn
An unemployed doctor contemplates suicide on the eve of a disaster. Short but to the point.
25. "Send Me a Mentagram" by Dominic Green
One of the best stories here. An antarctic expedition encounters the beginnings of a world plague. Ghoulishly great.
26. "And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon" by Paul Di Filippo
Another great one. A surveillance specialist loses his girlfriend to his home appliances. Yes, that's right. His home appliances. Weirdly great along the lines of the above-mentioned "Rogue Farm."
27. "Flashmen" by Terry Dowling
I suppose the author was trying to be enigmatic by leaving out most of the details. To me it seems like lazy writing. What's this story about? I'm still not sure!
28. "Dragonhead" by Nick DiChario
A young man suffers from "information addiction." That's it. That's the whole story.
29. "Dear Abbey" by Terry Bisson
A group of underground environmentalists attempt to solve the world's problems through a combination of time travel and genetic manipulation. A good story, but not as disarmingly eccentric as some of the other stories in this collection.