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

I found this book, a hardcover in excellent condition, in a boxful of books that one of my sons was planning to donate to Goodwill. When I pointed it out, he told me he was going to offer it to me before he gave it away. I definitely wanted to keep it. Gardner Dozois died recently after an amazing career as a writer and editor. He edited best-of-the-year collections of science fiction for over thirty years.

Currently three or four best-of-the-year collections come out every year covering science fiction or a mix of science fiction and fantasy. Others cover fantasy only, horror, and other more specialized subgenres. What made Dozois’ anthologies different was their comprehensiveness. Besides hundreds of thousands of words of fiction, he also included introductions that summarized major publishing events during the year (the introduction to this book runs almost thirty pages of small print) and a long list of stories that in his opinion merited honorable mention. These books stand as important literary milestones of science fiction’s achievements year by year. They are not only valuable collector’s items, but they also contain hours of entertainment in their many stories.

As with any editor’s best-of-the-year collections, I don’t agree with all of Dozois’ selections in any of the anthologies of his I have read. Especially because of the sheer volume of stories in these anthologies, there are bound to be some that readers favor over others. However, as usual, in this particular collection there are enough gems to make a great reading experience. This anthology has Dozois’ selection of the best stories from 2003. Here’s a brief summary of some of my favorites:

“The Ice” by Steven Popkes is an intriguing story about a man who is a clone of a famous hockey player. For a time he plays hockey and is a star, but after he becomes too obsessed with the sport he realizes he has to forge a unique, individual life for himself.

In “The Bear’s Baby” by Judith Moffett, aliens have invaded Earth and restricted access to certain areas of wilderness to all but a few naturalists. One of these naturalists discovers a sinister reason why the aliens have marked off the wilds for themselves. This story starts off a bit slowly, but gets more and more intriguing as it progresses.

In “The Fluted Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi, the world is ruled by an aristocratic elite who can use the rest of humankind however they want. The fluted girl of the title has been altered so that her body itself is a musical instrument. This leaves her intensely vulnerable to injury. How the fluted girl gets revenge upon her mistress is the subject of the story.

I think my favorite story in the volume is “Welcome to Olympus, Mr. Hearst” by Kage Baker, which concerns the visit of a team of time-traveling immortals to William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, at his palatial complex on the hillside near the town of San Simeon in California. Hearst’s gluttony for power and the trappings of power was the inspiration for Orson Wells’ cinema classic Citizen Kane. In this story, Baker presents Hearst as a dynamic and complex character who receives a most unusual offer from the time travelers.

The closing novella, “Dear Abbey” by Terry Bisson, is another time traveling story. This time a team of academics ride a time machine all the way to the end of time, stopping at all sorts of interesting locations on the way. The most fascinating aspect of this story, though, is how Bisson presents God as an AI unit created by man that infiltrates the Earth.

Whenever you come across one of Gardner Dozois’ best-of-the-year anthologies, you can be assured of plenty of thought-provoking entertainment.

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