Book Review: The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-Third Annual Collection Edited by Gardner Dozois

This is a huge doorstopper of a book: almost 700 pages, more than 300,000 words of the editor’s selections of the best short science fiction published in 2015.  Unlike other best of the year editors, Dozois sticks strictly to science fiction.  No fantasy, magic realism, or any of those related genres in this anthology.  Still, with every volume Dozois manages to come up with plenty of good stories, although not all are to my personal taste.

As he does every year, Dozois starts the book with a fascinating and comprehensive look at the year’s accomplishments in science fiction.  This introduction is a monumental achievement and bespeaks a great deal of research.  He doesn’t just cobble his facts together.  The depth of his commentary makes it clear that he has invested a good part of the year in a thorough analysis of the field.  He discusses science fiction book lines, professional magazine markets, semi-pro markets, anthology markets, short story collections, books of interest to the science fiction field, and includes the addresses of the publishers of most of these.  He writes about science fiction films, TV series, conventions, and awards.  He lists and eulogizes science fiction notables and peripheral figures who died in 2015.  Besides all this material, he introduces each individual story with a brief biography of its author.

But it is the stories we come to the book for, and most of them do not disappoint.  Some touched me deeply.  Chief among these was a pair of novellas. “Gypsy” by Carter Scholz is the heartbreaking story of a starship on a desperate mission to escape a decimated Earth and start a new human colony elsewhere, as told by various passengers who wake up from cryogenic sleep at different points in their journey.  “Inhuman Garbage” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is a murder mystery set on the moon that calls into question the ethics of regarding clones as property.  Many of the shorter stories are exemplary as well.

The thirty-six stories in this book offer plenty of variety, although they lean heavily towards hard science fiction, in which the technology predominates.  In general, the strongest stories are those with coherent plots and characters, and the weaker stories come across as literary exercises rather than plotted stories.  One story that consists of a series of loosely connected vignettes detailing alien oddities I was unable to finish, and one other I slogged through but was glad when it was over.  That’s not bad: only two out of thirty-six that held nothing appealing for me at all.  Much better odds than a mainstream collection I read earlier this year that was supposed to contain some of the best short stories of the last one hundred years.

Although his selections may not always appeal to me, I think that Dozois does the science fiction field a great service in offering this collection year after year.  Every year hundreds if not thousands of science fiction stories are published, and somehow they have to be sorted for readers so that the better ones live on past their initial ephemeral appearances.  The abundance of best of the year volumes ensures that stories appealing to diverse tastes are selected and will live on in private collections and on library shelves, there to be discovered by future readers in search of wonder.

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