The Year's Best Science Fiction: 2008 Edition
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by Rich Horton, Michael Swanwick, Karen Joy Fowler
Category: Science Fiction
Description: The 2008 Edition of The Year's Best Science Fiction contains: INTRODUCTION, Rich Horton (Editor) DARK INTEGERS, Greg Egan * A PLAIN TALE FROM OUR HILLS, Bruce Ster AN EYE FOR AN EYE, Charles Coleman * Finlay ALWAYS, Karen Joy Fowler AN OCEAN IS A SNOWFLAKE, FOUR BILLION MILES AWAY, John Barnes * VIRUS CHANGES SKIN, Ekaterina Sedia WIKIWORLD, Paul Di Filippo * ARTIFICE AND INTELLIGENCE, Tim Pratt * JESUS CHRIST, REANIMATOR, Ken MacLeod * NIGHT CALLS, Robert Reed * EVERYONE BLEEDS THROUGH, Jack Skillingstead * ART OF WAR, Nancy Kress * THREE DAYS OF RAIN, Holly Phillips * BRAIN RAID, Alexander Jablokov * FOR SOLO CELLO, OP. 12, Mary Robinette Kowal * PERFECT VIOLET, Will McIntosh VECTORING, Geoffrey Landis * THE SKYSAILOR'S TALE, Michael Swanwick
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press/Prime Books, 2009 USA
eBookwise Release Date: March 2009
22 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [600 KB]
Reading time: 357-500 min.
THE YEAR IN SCIENCE FICTION, 2007 Rich Horton
The best novel I read this year is a novel that has the rare--dare I say unique?--distinction of being quite plausibly a contender for the Pulitzer Prize and the Hugo and Edgar Awards at once: Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union, at once a brilliant alternate history novel, a gripping murder mystery, and a moving portrayal of a man's life and his love for his ex-wife. Now, Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy the past few years urging more attention to what might be called "genre values"--most simply, a greater emphasis on plot. And there is no doubt he has practiced what he preaches--his novels are worth reading anyway, but SF fans ought to try, in addition to The Yiddish Policemen's Union, his other 2007 book, Gentlemen of the Road (not really fantasy, but quite exotic and adventurous historical fiction), his 2002 YA fantasy Summerland, and his wonderful Pulitzer winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)--mostly a mainstream novel, but about a pair of comic-book writers.
I'll be honest--I am always keeping an eye on the reception of SF within the so-called "mainstream" literary audience. I admit that in the past my eye was often jaundiced--or aggrieved--hard to avoid some of that feeling on encountering phrases like that opening Sven Birkerts's review of Margaret Atwood's SF novel Oryx and Crake: "I am going to stick my neck out and just say it: science fiction will never be Literature with a capital ''L,'' and this is because it inevitably proceeds from premise rather than character." But for all that mainstream critiques of SF often stem either from ignorance (perhaps they don't like SF movies, or Michael Crichton, but have not read the best SF) or false premises (why does proceeding from premise rather than character preclude a work being Literature?), we must also admit that they sometimes have at least half a point. For one, much SF, even much that we love, is deeply flawed in both characterization and prose--and these flaws can be addressed, can be fixed. And for another, SF readers are often as ignorant of the mainstream as mainstream readers are of SF.
So, Chabon's advocacy and his own work aside, is the mainstream really embracing SF? Or even Fantasy? Well, there have been other notable recent SF novels in the mainstream, including last year's Pulitzer Prize winner, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy. And the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Doris Lessing, has written a lot of science fiction--and she's not afraid to admit it! (Even her most recent novel, The Cleft, is SF.) I don't think there is any doubt that SFnal concepts have become more respectable than ever for use by the wider literary world. But actual in-genre work still tends to be ignored by mainstream critics. And there is still outright hostility towards even the idea of writing SF in some corners. For example, some critics complained that Lessing had been lured away from serious work by SF. And some writers (this year's example was Jeanette Winterson--a past example was Atwood) continue to insist that their rather obviously SFnal stories somehow aren't really SF.
I have to say, in the end there is no real point taking offense at sneers from the "mainstream" world. The works survive. I'm glad--thrilled--to see SF from Chabon and McCarthy and Lessing--and even from those less willing to openly embrace the genre, like Winterson and Atwood. The field is richer for it--and all readers are richer for the wider imaginative palette available to writers. And SF writers (and readers) are better too for serious criticism from any source--good writing does matter, characterization does matter, avoiding clichés matters.
As for short fiction, this year I saw a first-rate Stephen Millhauser SF story in Harper's; as well as a Stephen King SF story from a genre source, Postscripts--but remember that King also publishes in The New Yorker. (Indeed, King is a writer with at least some mainstream cachet who openly promotes genre writing, and at the same time a writer whose clear genre roots--and, let's be fair, occasional genre-sourced faults--have been a reason for his lack of acceptance in some literary quarters.) Alas, neither story was available for reprinting.
I began this introduction to a collection of short stories by talking about a novel ... let's continue by mentioning other significant SF novels of 2007. Ian McDonald's Brasyl is in one sense a sort of companion to his excellent River of Gods, in that it describes a future Brazil in terms that recall the earlier novel's look at a future India. And, just as that novel was also a fascinating exploration of a cool SFnal idea (AI), Brasyl quite stunningly treats such notions as alternate worlds and the idea that we might be actually a simulation. Several novels are sequels--and well worth a look on their own terms: Jo Walton's Ha'Penny is another mystery set in the scary Nazi-influenced alternate history of last year's Farthing; Robert Charles Wilson's Axis takes us to the other planet revealed at the close of his Hugo-winner Spin; Karl Schroeder's Queen of Candesce is tremendous fun, a sequel to Sun of Suns in which the somewhat villainous Venera Fanning now takes center stage; and Tobias Buckell's Ragamuffin is wonderful space adventure, a sequel to Crystal Rain, featuring scary aliens and space pirates and illegal human uploads and lots of action. I suppose we could also mention that none of the writers above was born in the US--one is from Northern Ireland, one from Wales, two from Canada, one from Grenada. We can add Ken MacLeod's The Execution Channel, Charles Stross's Halting State, William Gibson's Spook Country, and Jay Lake's Mainspring to the list of significant SF novels of 2007--and while that adds two more writers born in the U.S., each of them (Gibson and Lake) have spent much of their life outside this country. (And indeed, when you consider that Gibson and Walton both now live in Canada, that makes four major novels by Canadians--not even mentioning Robert J. Sawyer's Rollback, one of his better novels, another Hugo nominee for him. It is indeed a boom time for SF in Canada.) It has been clear for years that there has been an explosion of outstanding SF--hard SF and space opera included--from the U.K. and the former Commonwealth countries. It is perhaps not quite as clear, but I think it is true that while there is still plenty of fine work being done by Americans, they have done less of the very best work, by percentage, than ought to be expected. I have no good reasons to offer--except to suggest that the experience of living in multiple places, and among different cultures, has to be useful for an SF writer.
I'm not sure I need say much here about the best shorter fiction in the field--just read this book! These are, after all, my favorite stories of the year. Though of course there were many fine pieces I couldn't fit. In particular I had no room for novellas this year. My favorite SF novellas were "Memorare" by Gene Wolfe; "Dead Money" and "Stars Seen Through Stone" by Lucius Shepard; and "Womb of Every World" by Walter Jon Williams. Other stories I really wished I could have squeezed in here included "The Lustration" by Bruce Sterling; "The Prophet of Flores" by Ted Kosmatka; "do(this)" by Stephen Graham Jones; and "Finisterra" by David Moles.
It must be said, from a business viewpoint, that the print magazines still seem on shaky ground--circulation in general is either declining or stable. Still, the fiction at Analog, Interzone, Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Asimov's was as solid as ever in 2007. And more optimistically, there are increasingly exciting sources of fiction online. Two newer sites that publish a lot of SF (and fantasy as well) are Jim Baen's Universe and Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show. Both have published some very fine work. Strange Horizons is the longest running online fiction site (that I know of) and they continue to do excellent work, and the much newer Helix has also been very interesting. And you can find very good SF at such other sites as Ideomancer, Abyss and Apex, Aeon, Clarkesworld and Challenging Destiny, among others.
Among the smaller print magazines, Postcripts continues in fine fashion, as does Electric Velocipede, On Spec, and Talebones. (Noting that each of these also publishes lots of fantasy.) And I will also mention one intriguing revival: Thrilling Wonder Stories, of which I saw one thick new issue (as much a book as a magazine), featuring a number of reprints and some nice new stories.
The clear best SF anthology of last year was The New Space Opera, edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan, just chock full of excellent and intelligent space opera. Other fine outings were Eclipse One, edited by Jonathan Strahan (though that was largely fantasy); Fast Forward 1, edited by Lou Anders; The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, edited by George Mann; and Alien Crimes, edited by Mike Resnick.
It may be harder than before to keep track of all the best short science fiction--between the magazines both large and small, the anthologies, and the many online sites. But the best SF is as good as it has ever been--and what follows is the best of 2007.