I have a confession to make. Though I write a lot of science fiction and fantasy, I read very little of it. Many years ago I existed almost solely on a diet of SF and F, but not anymore. First of all, there is so much else to read: mainstream fiction, history, general nonfiction, memoirs, and so on. But apart from that, when I have read science fiction of the sort that has been published in the last decade or so, even award-winning stuff, I have been generally disappointed.
Notwithstanding, I do write it, so I figured I should have some sort of idea what is happening in the genre – that is, what sort of stories are considered the best. Gardner Dozois as both a writer and an editor I greatly admire, especially as a writer. He has an elegant writing style, every word expressed with absolute precision. So if there were anyone I would trust as a judge of what is best in the field, it would be him.
Well, I read the book and overall I was – sigh – disappointed. Don’t get me wrong. With very few exceptions the stories are well-crafted and adequate. But that is all. They are not exceptional. They are not stories that set the heart pounding and the blood coursing through the veins – stories, in other words, that change your life. They are merely good stories. The one I remember most clearly as exceptional was “The Egg Man” by Mary Rosenblum, not so much that it was original but that the setting in futuristic Mexico was very nicely portrayed. The story itself reminded me of “Of Mist, and Grass, and Sand” by Vonda McIntyre. Both stories posit super-creatures that dispense pharmaceuticals to heal disease; I have to admit, though, that it is cooler for the healing animals to be snakes rather than chickens. A couple of other stand-out stories were “The Political Prisoner” by Charles Coleman Finley, and “G-Men”, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Here I have a further confession to make: I was spoiled by the late sixties and seventies, by the so-called “new wave” in science fiction, by Harlan Ellison and Samuel Delaney and Roger Zelazny and James Tiptree Jr and Robert Silverberg and Cordwainer Smith and other writers who wrote back then, (not to mention editors like Damon Knight and his incomparable “Orbit” series of anthologies) who thrilled me with attempts to expand the genre, to burst out of convention, to create literature and not just cheap thrills. I felt a vitality in their work that I did not feel as I read these modern stories. There’s nothing wrong with telling a good story; actually, telling a good story is vital, but I want more. I want dynamic explosions of the mind and heart. I want to be intellectually and emotionally thrilled. I want writers to attempt great things, even if they fail.
So, yes, I was disappointed. But perhaps it’s partly my fault. Perhaps I set my expectations too high. As I said, these stories were readable and entertaining. But let’s get back to life-changing, as well as world-shaping.