The latest ‘The Mammoth Book Of Best New SF 25’ is now on the shelves, reprinting the US version, ‘The Year’s Best Science Fiction 29’, so don’t confuse the differing numbers, ours just started later and I guess balancing the numbers would have people seeking four non-existent books in the UK.
The summation at the beginning of the book, edited by Gardner Dozois, tells what happened in 2011 and the opening of 2012. One flaw that is increasingly disturbing is running books in paragraphs, because it becomes mind-numbing trying to read. Unless you’re looking for a particular author or novel, I really do think that it might be worth considering having them set in a list than a paragraph because it doesn’t serve the reader in that format and surely wouldn’t take up any more space than it currently does.
When it comes to the stories themselves, if you had anything published in ‘Analog’ last year, your expectations of getting a chance to be seen in this volume are low, with only one short story from there. However, if you were in ‘Asimov’s Science Fiction’ and ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’, your chances were greater. To be fair, though, there is a wider selection from other sources this year and surprisingly, even some ‘new’ writers, although at least two of them seem to be in my age range. Hardy encouraging to younger writers coming up and wondering if they are going to get a break into this anthology, although the way this book is going, that might seem like a bad move. Of these, Jim Hawkins ‘Digital Rites’ showed a lot of promise but could have been better realised. It might just be me, but as so many of them are novelists rather than short story writers, and they’re forgetting the art of the short form in ending sharp, rather than just a shortened version of what they normally do.
I was about half-way through the book, when I thought Jay Lake’s ‘A Long Way Home’ might have raised the level of the story quality. There are name homages to Heinlein in regard to certain long-lived colonisers called Howards, but the inconsistencies made little sense to the story. One of them was for an indefinite period exploring underground caves only to find most people had vanished when he came topside, and only a few odd dead bodies amongst the livestock. Lake gives some reference to the man having difficulties finding things to eat and drink and neglects to explain how he carried so much food underground for so long. What is equally worrying is that Lake doesn’t explain or come up with a reason as to what happened, which would have been the whole point of the story a couple of decades ago. The lead character doesn’t even consider that he might be the next victim and just becomes a survival story.
This year both Michael Swanwick and Ken MacLeod get a pair of stories each into the volume. MacLeod’s second story, ‘The Vorkuta Event’, actually showed promise and then missed by a mile with the big dumb object.
It’s all very well that many SF authors are moving away from faster-than-light travel, stellar empires and even aliens, but what they’re replacing it with is hardly innovating, and they are forgetting decent ideas and replacing it with literary dexterity instead. I doubt if this is the reason why people get hooked into Science Fiction in the first place, although does explain why film epics are doing so much better than written fiction. This isn’t to say that one has to copy the other, but there definitely needs to be a better balance than presented in this anthology.
There is also a loss of that sense of wonder from these stories and if I was using this book as a selector of which magazine or small press anthology to investigate, this would end up as a turn-off. Considering the declining sales of SF paper magazines, I do have to wonder on the selection process and how much say do the editors of the source material have in pointing out what they consider is the best.
Although I haven’t seen the American edition for a couple years now, there is also something rather telling about this edition is the lack of praise from various sources on the book cover or opening page. As I need to keep to my own uninfluenced opinions when reviewing, I don’t tend to seek out other reviews to compare what others are saying, but this in itself is am indictment that something is seriously wrong in the selection process and that it’s not named authors on the cover that sells, but good quality material. You can’t blame Constable-Robinson for that, but someone higher up at St. Martin’s Press ought to at least question the selection process.
(pub: Constable Robinson. 720 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78033-882-8)
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